Human Traffic on Mt Everest

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Almost 4,000 people have successfully climbed Mount Everest since 1953

The June issue of National Geographic has a photograph which shows a crowd in high-altitude mountaineering gear along a narrow path on a steep incline. What makes the image seminal is that it is nearly at the top of Mount Everest on Hillary Step, a tricky bottleneck on the way to the summit.

It is such crowds that forced one famous mountaineer, Simone Moro, who was attempting a unique climb of Everest and Lhotse without supplementary oxygen, to give up. He returned to base camp and in an interview with said that it was “like being in an amusement park”. He could see 200 climbers above and below him. He tried to overtake them but didn’t succeed. “I then got back in line and people looked at me disapprovingly... in short, I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he was quoted as saying.

The human traffic at Everest keeps increasing every year. Since Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing’s first successful climb to the summit in 1953, almost 4,000 people have done the climb, according to one estimate, and thousands more have attempted it. One reason for increased crowds is that the mountain can only be climbed for a few weeks, usually in May, every year. Even then, it offers only some windows of opportunity when the weather is amenable. Queues, where the path is narrow, is a familiar sight on those days. There are companies that take you on guided climbs on Everest for prices which start from $50,000. The peak is no longer the unknown impossible frontier.

One of the climbers from India this season was Arunima Sinha, a former national level basketball player. Two years ago, she had been pushed off a moving train by robbers and lost a leg. She climbed it with a prosthetic leg.