Climbing Mount Everest truly is a feat of human endurance. As such, it’s become a symbol of achievement against the odds. “That’s my Everest,” you might say about anything from finishing a marathon to eating a particularly large donut. Meanwhile, the actual Everest has taken on almost mythical properties — the sort of adventure that straddles the line between badass, insane, and plain dumb. Anytime you make the choice to enter something called “the Death Zone” — an altitude that humans cannot survive in — you need a little madness in your thinking.
But in its legendary status, it can be easy to forget that Mount Everest’s dangers are very real. Monday, American climber Christopher John Kulish died up there — making him the eleventh climber to lose their life to Everest this year alone. So why are so many folks dying on Everest this year? Many say, congestion. There are too many people attempting the summit and it’s a massive issue. This is, in part, thanks to the Nepali government issuing a record number of permits (381) this season.
It may be confusing to understand why more people climbing Everest is leading to more danger — we normally imagine high-trafficked hikes to be safer, there are more people around to help. But Everest isn’t a normal climb. To successfully (and safely) climb and descend Everest, you need to keep moving, and that’s something that’s not happening as fast as it should be right now. Over 200 people were waiting in line to reach the summit in a single day last week. People literally died in that line because, again, they were in the Death Zone and their bodies couldn’t take it anymore. Hundreds of climbers had to walk over people who had just died and were still tethered to safety ropes. That’s horrifying.
Walking over corpses has always been part of the Everest experience. People die up there every season and it’s damn near impossible to remove the bodies. Which is another problem about its overcrowding, it’s hard to remove anything. There’s mounting human waste and piles of garbage. Mountains of garbage. The garbage situation has gotten so bad on the Nepali side of Everest that each climber is required to carry out ten kilos of waste when they leave Base Camp. And, sadly, that’s barely making a dent in the trash issue up there.
This isn’t anything new. The first expedition to Everest in 1922 saw seven climbers die thanks to an avalanche. In 1924, four more died trying to summit the peak. More climbers died in the 1930s. Then, it was quiet up there until 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully summited the world’s tallest mountain.
Then, in the 1970s, expeditions started gaining popularity for their danger and extreme experience, and in the 1990s, things really started to skyrocket. Non-sherpa guides started selling rich westerners programs to climb the holy mountain. This, ultimately, has led to very inexperienced climbers attempting the peak simply because they can afford to. Of course, many die up there.