The Nepalese government is reassessing its rules for permitting mountaineers to climb an increasingly overcrowded Mount Everest after human traffic jams may have contributed to 11 deaths this climbing season.
“It’s time to review all the old laws,” Parliament member Yagya Raj Sunuwar told the New York Times on Wednesday, on the 66th anniversary of the first successful ascent up to the 29,035-foot peak by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953.
While more than 4,000 climbers have successfully summited to the “roof of the world” on the highest mountain on Earth (above sea level), more than 200 people have died challenging Mount Everest’s peak since 1922. And the 2019 Everest climbing season, which ends Friday, has been marred by the most deaths since a 2015 avalanche on the mountain killed 17 people at the base camp, and injured 61 others. Colorado attorney Christopher Kulish, 62, died at a camp below the summit on Monday, just days after fellow American Donald Lynn Cash, 55, from Utah collapsed from altitude sickness on his way down the mountain.
Related: Another American dies as human traffic jams form near the summit of Mount Everest
Several Nepalese government officials also told the Times that they were considering requiring all climbers to show proof of their mountaineering experience, and a verifiable certificate of good health, before being allowed up the mountain. A record 381 climbing permits for 41 teams were issued this year, and the crowds plus a tight window of good weather to attempt the climb this season led to dangerous lines and bottlenecks at the final push to the peak at 8,000 meters above sea level (26,246 feet), which is also known as the “death zone” because most people can only spend minutes at that high altitude without extra oxygen supplies.
The son of Indian climber Anjali Kulkarni, 55, who died on her journey back down last Thursday, told CNN that she became stuck in the “traffic jam” above Camp 4 (the final camp before the summit at 26,247 feet).
“Certainly there will be some change in the expedition sector,” Mira Acharya, a senior official with Nepal’s tourism department, told the Times. “We are discussing reforming some issues, including setting criteria for every Everest hopeful.”
But she also noted that, “We raised the issue of inexperienced climbers.”
Yet just last week, Danduraj Ghimire, director general of Nepal’s Tourism Department, told CNN that such claims are “baseless,” and pinned the recent losses on inclement weather.
Everest climbers who have witnessed the logjams up the mountain firsthand have taken a different stance, warning that crowds of inexperienced climbers are making the already deadly mountain even more dangerous.
Ed Dohring, a doctor from Arizona, told the Times that when he summited a few days ago, he saw people pushing and shoving to take selfies, and he had to step around the body of a woman who had just died. “It was scary,” he said. “It was like a zoo.”
Sadly, British mountaineer Robin Haynes Fisher, who died of what appeared to be altitude sickness while descending from the summit last Saturday, had addressed the crowds in one of his final Instagram post.
“I am hopeful to avoid the crowds on summit day and it seems like a number of teams are pushing to summit on the 21st,” he wrote on May 19.
“With a single route to the summit, delays caused by overcrowding could prove fatal so I am hopeful my decision to go for the 25th will mean fewer people. Unless of course everyone else plays the same waiting game.”