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May 26, 2019

Mountain jam


May 26, 2019

We think of the world’s tallest mountains as bleak, lonely spots, isolated in their majesty and standing alone to tower above the rest of Earth. But, going by recent photos, nothing could be further from the truth. A traffic jam of climbers on Mount Everest, at 8,848 meters the world’s highest mountain, has caused growing concerns over safety and the propriety of allowing hundreds each season to make their way up the mountain. Nepal, a country which earns a large chunk of its GDP from tourism has this year issued a record 381 permits to scale Mt Everest, with each permit costing $11,000. The income brings in much needed resources for the impoverished Himalayan community – but it may be putting lives at risk. Pictures from Everest have shown long queues of climbers lined up to take their turn to ascend or descend the mountain. The scenes are reminiscent of a ‘Black Friday’ sale at a crowded retail business. On May 24, two Indians and a Nepali died on the Nepalese side of the mountain, and an Austrian died on his way down on the Tibetan side. These deaths take the toll to eight in a week on Everest.

Some of the deaths occurred while climbers, with their sherpa guides, waited for up to two hours to climb or come down key points on the peak. Some of the deaths occurred due to the effects of high altitude experienced for far longer periods than is safe, or due to rapidly changing weather conditions. There are on average barely five days in the summer climbing season when it is considered safe to make an attempt to reach the peak. On these days, excited mountaineers clamour to be among those who can claim having reached the highest spot in the world.

Adventure tourism being promoted worldwide has increased the numbers making this attempt. We understand the quest for adventure and for glory in a time when less and less of the world remains unexplored. There are also more attempts at record setting, with the first black African woman to climb Everest reaching the summit this week. We however wonder whether safety should be put ahead of all other concerns. There have also been complaints of garbage being dumped along the pristine snowscape of Everest, with sherpas each year collecting and removing the remains. It is important that people be permitted to take on challenges and that countries such as Nepal benefit from its unique mountains. But safety must be considered and the toll of deaths underscores the need to keep people safe and prevent destruction of the terrain that makes Everest.

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