Sunday, May 26, 2019

People will keep dying on Mt. Everest.

It's in the news again, people are dying on Mt. Everest. I'm not surprised. The photo that is being circulated this year ( of the summit ridge traffic jam is pretty crazy. For perspective, when I summited at 4:35 AM on May 21st, 2016, there were three mini groups of 2-3 people each ahead of my Sherpa Tshering and I. In other words, my ascent was totally unencumbered by traffic. I have always had more traffic on the Casual Route on Long Peaks than I did ascending Everest. However, on the way down we passed the approximately 35-40 other people who summited Everest from the south side May 21st, and 40 is a very manageable reasonable number. Even 50 or 60 is probably no big deal, but when I see 80+ doing it on the same day, that's just too many.

Because Everest is the tallest, it's going to keep attracting people with the time and the money... and not necessarily the experience. I don't have a lot of sympathy for most of the people that die on Everest, the way I do for starving people in South Sudan, disabled veterans, Ebola victims, victims of gun violence and car accidents. When you go to an 8000 meter peak, you need (in my opinion) to think about all of the different ways you could die, and how that would affect people you are leaving behind, and then either go or don't go. Maybe 5-10 percent of the people that show up at Everest basecamp every season leave and go home when the full reality of the possible consequences (their death) hit them. I respect that. It's better to realize that when you are within a half mile of camp two or in the Khumbu ice fall than on the summit ridge.

That harsh attitude being said, there are some accidents, such as people who die alone in their tent of a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, that do make me feel sympathetic. Especially since last year, when I had a pulmonary embolism, what if I had another one on an ordinary day at base camp? You can't predict that.

What are some possible solutions to reduce crowding and deaths?

  • Extend the season. With better weather forecasting, instead of waiting only for the eight perfect days a year we need to start using those days, and then the next best eight days, and probably extend the season into June a week or two.
  • Limit the number of climbers each day. It would not be that hard to put a human check point 200 yards outside of camp four where the fixed ropes for the summit start, and limit it to 60 or so people per day. Since you don't want to start a fist fight, people (Sherpas and Nepalis included) would be banned for life from getting a permit if they went past the check point after 60 people. (While it can be confusing to identify people in down suits, it's not that hard.) I realize this sounds nearly impossible to have a staff of say four people at the south col for a month, but with increasing helicopter technology it would not be impossible to drop off oxygen bottles. Plus, there are plenty of loose rocks at the south col, a makeshift stone hut could be built to protect a little area from the wind. Difficult? Yes. The potential to save lives? Yes. The possibility to do fascinating human research? Yes, definitely.
  • Start fixed ropes on another route, probably the west ridge. Actually, you could avoid the deadly Khumbu ice fall by going straight up to the ridge from base camp. I guarantee that announcing fixed ropes on the west ridge would attract a higher caliber of climber, because it will be hard, it's steep above 7000 meters. At this point, anything that takes the pressure off the south col route would be good.

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