Sunday climbers and corrupt operators mean death: Mount Everest was always an accident waiting to happen, says summit veteran

Sunday climbers and corrupt operators mean death: Mount Everest was always an accident waiting to happen, says summit veteran

When Kusang Dorjee Sherpa, first stepped on to the Everest summit in 1993, all he remembers is the feeling of victory. With about three teammates, the then 26-year-old Sherpa recalls being surrounded by pristine white snow, chilling winds and a sense of achievement. After all, he did run off in his early teens to work as a porter on an expedition that was passing through his village in Nepal. He didn't know back then that he would go on to become the first person ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest from three sides. He also didn't know that the Everest expedition would go on to become known for fatal jams. 

"It is sad and heartbreaking to think about," he said of the recent 11 deaths that have been reported; the latest one being that of 62-year-old Colorado attorney Christopher Kulish. Sherpa attributed the deaths to the rampant commercialization of the peak and to ill preparation. Coupled with the dangerously low levels of oxygen, fatigue and absolute exhaustion, fatalities are bound to happen, he said. 

Sherpa celebrates the completion of his climb to the Everest summit in 2003. (Kusang Dorjee Sherpa)

"When I climbed the Everest peak for the first time back in 1992, there were just a handful of climbers, perhaps 50, and we all came prepared and with experience of peaks. Fatalities aren't uncommon, but with so many people and just one rope to go back and forth, one can only imagine what it is like," he told MEA World Wide (MEAWW). He attempted the climb seven times but reached the peak in four of those attempts. 

The Nepal government issued a record high of 381 permits this year, beating last year's 347. The regulation system in the country is almost non-existent, owing to the fact that Nepal relies majorly on tourism. Each permit cost approximately $11,000, which would make the revenue for this year $4,19,1000 in permits alone. Additional revenue through the Everest also includes tourist dollars spent on food and lodging, which according to climbers, does not come cheap. Unlike the Tibetan side of the Everest, where regulations are much more stringent, there is no limit here. The government has also recently said that they have no plans to do so in the future. 


Sherpa warns that the peak shouldn't have any more than 15 to 20 climbers in a day, which would make the ideal permits for the summit around 40, with the Everest's summit window being a maximum of two days if the weather is amicable. He said that there's a sense of doubling profits from one year to the next, among the many agencies that include many fly-by-night agents in Nepal and surrounding areas. "They don't check if a person is equipped enough to climb the summit, it isn't an easy walk up there," he says.

n this photo made on May 22, 2019, a long queue of mountain climbers line a path on Mount Everest. About half a dozen climbers died on Everest last week most while descending from the congested summit during only a few windows of good weather each May. (Nirmal Purja/@Nimsdai Project Possible via AP)

The Sherpas that come along on the summit are only allowed two oxygen cylinders while the climbers get three and Sherpa says that in spite of the extra cylinders, majority of the time the tourists have to be revived by the Sherpas. Each cylinder lasts up to approximately six hours, he says. "The concept of making the Everest into a trophy and being named and famed is what lies at the root of this problem," he says.  


Climbers say that while scaling the Everest is a no easy feat, it isn't the holy grail for mountaineers. "There are so many peaks that are more difficult and will actually pose as a challenge like Annapurna and K2," he says. Another climber, who went up to the Everest Base camp said that often there are tourists that end up not adhering to the rules. While on the route, the Sherpa's advice is crucial since they know the lay of the land and the altitude does things to your body, he said. "You cannot think straight. It is hard for even veteran climbers," said Sherpa, who is a retired veteran director of field training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. Tenzing Norgay was the first director of field training for HMI. His book on his journey 'The Long Walk from Darkness to Light' is available on Amazon. 

The quest for the Everest comes under scrutiny every time only when there is either an unavoidable disaster, like the 2014 avalanche that took 16 lives or the April 2015 Nepal earthquake that claimed 22 lives or an avoidable one like the recent deaths. "It's a long term change that the problem needs, not just a quick spotlight," he said. Ironically, today in history, May 29, 1953, also marks the day Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first conquered the peak. 


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