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Overcrowding leading to deaths on Everest?

Deaths of four climbers in two days and a total of six this season has again exposed the danger of overcrowding at Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak. Utpal Parashar reports. Risky business

world Updated: May 23, 2012 01:32 IST
Utpal Parashar

Deaths of four climbers in two days and a total of six this season has again exposed the danger of overcrowding at Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak.

Eberhard Schaaf (Germany), Song Won Bin (South Korea), Ha Winryi (China) and Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah died on Saturday and Sunday while coming down after successful ascents.

Exhaustion and altitude sickness are believed to have led to the deaths.

All four climbers were part of the nearly 250—150 from the Nepal side and another 100 from the Tibet side—who reached the peak on Saturday during a small window of opportunity provided by favourable weather.

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“One reason for rush among climbers was the small weather window and many people had to wait longer at the Hillary Step to cross,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, former President of Nepal Mountaineering Association.

Hillary Step is near vertical rock face about 40 feet high close to the peak which climbers from the Nepal side have to ascend and descend with help of ropes fixed before start of each climbing season.

Due to increase in number of climbers in recent years, every season a traffic jam is witnessed at this point as they have to wait longer for their turns leading to delays and dangers.

“Snow was too soft to fix ropes during the beginning of May and as some big expeditions withdrew there was confusion on fixing them. The next weather window was between May 17 and May 19 but fixing of ropes was completed only on May 18,” said Sherpa.

While 30 climbers reached the peak on May 18, there was a rush among those waiting to ascend the peak on Saturday as the next weather window was available only towards the end of the month.

“Apart from the delay in fixing of ropes, warm weather made climbing Hillary Step long and difficult this season,” he said.

Sherpa said that due to their zeal in reaching the peak, many climbers don’t think much about coming back and all their efforts are concentrated on the way to the top.

“Due to the delay and exhaustion some collapse on the peak. Tiredness leads to altitude sickness and it results in deaths in some cases. Moreover, on Saturday (May 19) the weather suddenly turned cloudy and windy adding to the problems of climbers,” he said.