Mount Everest deaths: 'traffic jam' blamed for fatal weekend

May 22, 2012
Ben Raworth

Critics call for limit on number of climbers allowed to attempt summit at the same time

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MOUNTAINEERS have called for limits to be imposed on the number of climbers attempting the summit of Mount Everest after four deaths at the weekend were blamed on a "traffic jam" on the ascent.
The four climbers died on Saturday on their way down from the 8,850m summit after apparently suffering exhaustion and altitude sickness. The dead climbers are German doctor Eberhard Schaaf, 61; Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah, 33; Chinese climber Ha Wenyi, 55; and South Korean Song Won-bin, The Times reports. The toll is the worst in one 48-hour period on Everest since 1996, when eight people died.
Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said that the body of the Chinese climber was spotted not far from where the other three climbers died, in the mountain's 'death zone', above 8,000 metres, where oxygen is very thin.  
The fatalities have raised concerns about overcrowding in the death zone. Many of those who headed to the summit over the weekend had waited at a staging camp for several days for the weather to improve enough to attempt the climb. A brief window of good weather on Friday and Saturday led to a 'rush hour' even by Mount Everest's congested standards, with an estimated 150 climbers attempting to reach the top.
"There was a traffic jam on the mountain on Saturday. Climbers were still heading to the summit as late as 2.30pm, which is quite dangerous," Shrestha said. Climbers normally are advised not to try for the summit after 11am.
"With the traffic jam, climbers had a longer wait for their chance to go up the trail and spent too much time at higher altitude" Shrestha said. "Many of them are believed to be carrying a limited amount of oxygen, not anticipating the extra time spent."
According to The Wall Street Journal, the climbing season runs from late March to the first week in June, and the Nepalese government places no limits on how many climbers can be on the mountain at any one time.
The season's first clear conditions were on Friday and Saturday, but that window was already closing by Saturday afternoon with windy conditions at higher altitudes.
Ang Tshering, an Everest expert and former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said the government should impose schedules so that scores of climbers are not trying to head for the summit on the same day.
He said the race to the summit on Saturday meant that climbers likely expended all their energy on the way up and had little left for the descent.
Mountaineering forums have been alive with talk of the tragedy. Most contributors have been critical of the sheer number of climbers now seen on Everest every year.
"There are lots of companies who will take you up for a large fee," one poster on Single Track Forum wrote yesterday. "They also have a bonus for getting you there. All without asking any questions about ability or experience."

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Scaling Everest is a task not to be taken lightly though it appears some climbers do just that. The rush to the top, by 150 people over the course of two days, seems especially naive regardless of the skill level of those mountaineers. Aesop's hare and tortoise tale come to mind.