The tented city at the foot of Mount Everest is bustling as mountaineers brace for potentially the busiest year yet on the world’s highest peak, prompting concerns about overcrowding and safety.
Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent in 1953 more than 4,000 climbers have reached the top of Everest, according to The Himalayan Database.
The past few years have seen especially rapid growth, with the mountain opening up to more people as competition between expedition organizers has caused costs to plummet.
However, rising numbers mean greater risk — a higher chance of bottlenecks as larger teams lumber their way to the summit, potential shortages of oxygen tanks, and increased risk of frostbite and even death.
A photograph of a huge traffic jam below the summit in 2012 prompted calls for better crowd management, and even a cap on the number of permits issued annually.
Nepal grants permits to all who apply and are willing to pay US$11,000 to scale the 8,848m peak.
This year the government has handed out 378 climbing permits, according to the Nepalese Department of Tourism.
That tops the previous record of 373 in 2017.
Most Everest aspirants would need the help of Nepalese guides to reach the summit, meaning that about 750 climbers are to tread the same path to the top in the coming weeks when the weather is expected to be most favorable.
At least 140 others are also preparing to scale Everest using the northern route from Tibet, expedition operators say, taking the potential total past last year’s record of 807 when five people died.
Spring is the busiest time of year on the mountain as the icy winds and bone-chilling temperatures are more forgiving than at other times.
Even so, the climbing season is short, with ascents expected to begin in the coming days and usually wrap up by the end of this month or the first week of next month.
Ice doctors, the elite Sherpa mountaineers who set the ropes to the summit for hundreds of paying clients to climb, are waiting for a favorable weather window to begin their ascent, but powerful jet streams raging around the top of Everest have expedition operators worried about the number of summit days, raising the likelihood of many climbers going up at the same time.
Mountaineering blogger Alan Arnette said that problems could arise at the end of the season due to overcrowding when desperate climbers push onward to the summit despite a narrowing weather window.
“Perhaps Nepal should put a limit like China has done or the US Park Service for Denali,” Arnette said.
“But I doubt Nepal ever will do this because there is too much money at stake and they seem unable to refuse business, regardless of the risks,” he said.
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