Record number of Mount Everest climbers prompts safety concerns 

Mount Everest sees climber traffic jam
There’s only a small window when it’s safe to summit Mount Everest. But as Allison Vuchnich reports, with a record number of climbers looking to scale Everest, there are concerns overcrowding could heighten the danger.

Sherpa guides struggled with high winds and snow to prepare the final route to the top of Mount Everest, with a record number of climbers hoping to reach the summit this season, officials said.

The bad weather was slowing the work but the first attempt could occur as soon as Sunday, said government mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha, who is stationed at Everest’s base camp.

The sherpas were fixing ropes above the last camp before the final approach to the summit at South Col at a height of around 8,000 metres (26,240 feet), he said.

The Nepalese Tourism Department issued a record 371 permits this year to people to scale the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain. An equal number or more Nepalese Sherpa guides will accompany them.

READ MORE:  85-year-old man dies trying to regain title of oldest person to scale Mount Everest

Last year, the government issued permits to 289 climbers. Some mountaineers blamed crowding and poor planning for bottlenecks that delayed climbers at high altitudes and possibly contributed to several deaths.

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Overcrowding and safety concerns

There is a record number of climbers attempting to summit this season, and the skill level of some climbers has led to concerns from more experienced mountaineers.

Laurie Skreslet was the first Canadian to summit Everest in 1982, he has returned several times since.

Canadian Laurie Skreslet on Everest in 1982.
Canadian Laurie Skreslet on Everest in 1982. Laurie Skreslet

With a narrow route up the mountain, it means climbers could be forced to wait. This concern is most intense in the area known as the “death zone.”

“That’s why there is this gridlock and these traffic jams up high,” Skrelet told Global News from his home in Alberta. “If you’re unlucky enough to stay out too long, you can suffer the lethal effects of high-altitude illness.”

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The increased number of climbers this year is likely because of many who are returning after being unable to climb in 2014 and 2015, said Dinesh Bhattarai, chief of the Tourism Department that handles all mountaineering affairs in Nepal.

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Others believe that in addition to experienced mountaineers, there are other adventurers who want to check Everest off their bucket list.

“These aren’t particularly what you’d call climbers — they’re clients. They’re people looking for adventure in their lives,” said Gordon Konantz of Everest Trekking Canada. “They’ve done everything else, so now is the time to climb Everest. So they need a lot of help from the sherpas – it tends to be a single-file climb up a very dangerous mountain in extreme conditions.”

Gordon and his wife Gail Konantz led treks for 25 years, guiding hundreds of trekkers to Nepal, Everest and base camp. They have recently released a memoir about their experiences, Hasten Slowly. All funds raised from sales of the book go towards helping the Nepali people.

Gordon and Gail Konantz led treks through Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet for more than two decades.
Gordon and Gail Konantz led treks through Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet for more than two decades. Gordon and Gail Konantz

The 2015 season was scrapped after 19 climbers were killed and 61 injured by an avalanche at the base camp, triggered by a massive earthquake. In 2014, an avalanche at the Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Sherpa guides.

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“A lot of the focus is on the Westerners and their achievement of climbing Everest, but for the sherpas, it’s an everyday job, and they’re not as celebrated as they need to be,” Gail Konantz said.

Climbers who had permits for the 2014 season were allowed to receive a free replacement permit valid until 2019, while climbers with 2015 permits were given only until this year.

The best time to climb Everest is in May, when there are usually several periods of favourable weather on the summit.

Everest and tourism provides a critical boost for the local economy.

For those familiar with Everest, they hope something will change to make it safer, and still help the local community – suggesting the number of permits to climb the mountain needs to be reduced.

“I don’t see any other method right now that would reduce the number of casualties that are going to continue to happen on the mountain,” he said.

— With files from Associated Press