‘It Was Like a Zoo’: Death on an Unruly, Overcrowded Everest

NEW DELHI — Ed Dohring, a physician from Arizona, had dreamed his entire lifetime of reaching the highest of Mount Everest. But when he summited a few days in the past, he was shocked by what he noticed.

Climbers have been pushing and shoving to take selfies. The flat a part of the summit, which he estimated at in regards to the measurement of two Ping-Pong tables, was filled with 15 or 20 folks. To stand up there, he needed to wait hours in a line, chest to chest, one puffy jacket after the following, on an icy, rocky ridge with a several-thousand foot drop.

He even needed to step across the physique of a girl who had simply died.

“It was scary,” he mentioned by phone from Kathmandu, Nepal, the place he was resting in a lodge room. “It was like a zoo.”

This has been one of many deadliest climbing seasons on Everest, with not less than 11 deaths. And not less than some appear to have been avoidable.

The downside hasn’t been avalanches, blizzards or excessive winds. Veteran climbers and business leaders blame having too many individuals on the mountain, on the whole, and too many inexperienced climbers, particularly.

Fly-by-night journey corporations are taking on untrained climbers who pose a danger to everybody on the mountain. And the Nepalese authorities, hungry for each climbing greenback it could get, has issued extra permits than Everest can safely deal with, some skilled mountaineers say.

Add to that Everest’s inimitable enchantment to a rising physique of thrill-seekers the world over. And the truth that Nepal, certainly one of Asia’s poorest nations and the positioning of most Everest climbs, has a lengthy file of shoddy laws, mismanagement and corruption.

The result’s a crowded, unruly scene paying homage to “Lord of the Flies” — at 29,000 ft. At that altitude, there is no such thing as a room for error and altruism is put to the check.

To attain the summit, climbers shed each pound of substances they’ll and take with them simply sufficient canisters of compressed oxygen to make it to the highest and again down. It is tough to assume straight that top up, climbers say, and a delay of even an hour or two can imply life or loss of life.

According to Sherpas and climbers, a number of the deaths this yr have been brought on by folks getting held up within the lengthy traces on the final 1,000 ft or so of the climb, unable to stand up and down quick sufficient to replenish their oxygen provide. Others have been merely not match sufficient to be on the mountain within the first place.

Some climbers didn’t even know tips on how to put on a pair of crampons, clip-on spikes that improve traction on ice, Sherpas mentioned.

Nepal has no strict guidelines about who can climb Everest, and veteran climbers say that’s a recipe for catastrophe.

“You have to qualify to do the Ironman,” mentioned Alan Arnette, a distinguished Everest chronicler and climber. “But you don’t have to qualify to climb the highest mountain in the world? What’s wrong with this picture?”

The final time 11 or extra folks died on Everest was in 2015, throughout an avalanche.

By some measures, the Everest machine has solely gotten extra uncontrolled.

Last yr, veteran climbers, insurance coverage corporations and information organizations uncovered a far-reaching conspiracy by guides, helicopter companies and hospitals to bilk millions of dollars from insurance companies by evacuating trekkers with minor signs of altitude sickness.

But despite complaints about safety lapses, this year the Nepali government issued a record number of permits, 381, as part of a bigger push to commercialize the mountain. Climbers say the permit numbers have been going up steadily each year and that this year the traffic jams were heavier than ever.

“This is not going to improve,” said Lukas Furtenbach, a guide who recently relocated his climbers to the Chinese side of Everest because of the overcrowding in Nepal and the surge of inexperienced climbers.

“There’s a lot of corruption in the Nepali government,” he said. “They take whatever they can get.”

Nepali officials denied any wrongdoing and said the trekking companies were the ones responsible for safety on the mountain.

Danduraj Ghimire, the director general of Nepal’s department of tourism, said in an interview on Sunday that the large number of deaths this year was not related to crowds, but because there were fewer good weather days for climbers to safely summit. He said the government was not inclined to change the number of permits.

“If you really want to limit the number of climbers,” Mr. Ghimire said, “let’s just end all expeditions on our holy mountain.”

Climbers themselves, experienced or not, are often so driven to finish their quest that they may keep going even if they see the dangers escalating.

A few decades ago, the people climbing Everest were largely experienced mountaineers willing to pay a lot of money. But in recent years, longtime climbers say, lower-cost operators working out of small storefronts in Kathmandu, the capital, and even more expensive foreign companies that don’t emphasize safety have entered the market and offered to take just about anyone to the top.

Sometimes these trips go very wrong.

From interviews with several climbers, it seems that as the groups get closer to the summit, the pressures increase and some people lose their sense of decency.

Fatima Deryan, an experienced Lebanese mountaineer, was making her way to the summit recently when less experienced climbers started collapsing in front of her. Temperatures were dropping to -30 Celsius. Oxygen tanks were running low. And roughly 150 people were packed together, clipped to the same safety line.

“A lot of people were panicking, worrying about themselves — and nobody thinks about those who are collapsing,” Ms. Deryan said.

“It is a question of ethics,” she said. “We are all on oxygen. You figure out that if you help, you are going to die.”

She offered to help some of the sick people, she said, but then calculated she was beginning to endanger herself and kept going to the summit, which is currently measured at 29,029 feet. On the way back down, she had to fight her way again through the crowds.

“It was terrible,” she said.

Around the same time, Rizza Alee, an 18-year-old climber from Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, was making his way up the mountain. He said he was stunned by how little empathy people had for those who were struggling.

“I saw some people like they had no emotions,” he said. “I asked people for water and no one gave me any. People are really obsessed with the summit. They are ready to kill themselves for the summit.”

But Mr. Alee himself took some chances; he has a heart condition and says he “kind of lied” to his expedition company when they asked if he had any health issues.

Mr. Dohring, the American doctor, represents the other end of the spectrum.

At 62, he has climbed peaks all over the world. He read about explorers as a boy and said he had always wanted to get to the “one spot where you can stand higher than any place else on earth.’’

To prepare for Everest, he slept at home in a tent that simulated high-altitude conditions. His total Everest experience cost $70,000.

Still, there was only so much he could prepare for. Last month, when he hiked into base camp at Everest at an altitude of more than 17,000 feet, Mr. Dohring said he was overcome with awe.

“You look at a circle of mountain peaks above you and think, ‘What am I doing here?’’’ he said.

He pressed on. After long, cold days, he inched up a spiny trail to the summit early on Thursday and ran into crowds “aggressively jostling for pictures.”

He was so scared, he said, that he plunked down on the snow to keep from losing his balance and had his guide take a picture of him holding up a small sign that said, “Hi Mom Love You.’’

On the way down, he passed two more dead bodies in their tents.

“I was not prepared to see sick climbers being dragged down the mountain by Sherpas or the surreal experience of finding dead bodies,” he said.

But on Sunday, he had made it out. He boarded a helicopter after reaching base camp and flew back to Kathmandu.

He counted his blisters at the Yak and Yeti Hotel, where he said he treated himself to a thick steak and cracked open a cold beer. “Everest Lager, of course,” he said.

Source link Nytimes.com

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