More than 50 climbers reached the top of Mount Everest yesterday at the start of a two-day window that has raised fears of perilous overcrowding on the world’s highest peak after four deaths last week.
The 48-hour stretch of forecast good weather was expected to see more than 200 climbers try a final push to the 8,848m (29,029ft) summit, despite warnings of potentially deadly bottlenecks in the “death zone” above 8,000m.
“So far 52 people have summited and there were a total of 150 ready to climb at camp four,” said tourism ministry official Tilak Pandey.
“Yesterday only half went up because they were fearing traffic jams and those remaining will start their ascent on [Friday] evening and will be back by tomorrow.”
Mountaineers are taking advantage of the spring climbing season, when jet streams that rage over Everest for most of the year abate for a few weeks.
Four climbers from Germany, South Korea, China and Canada died while descending from the crowded summit area last weekend, which saw 150 people reach the top of the world before a severe windstorm set in.
Experts say the sheer numbers of climbers exacerbates the already substantial dangers of tackling Everest, which has now claimed more than 220 lives — half of those in the past 20 years.
“200 people climbing the mountain is too many for one weekend. 25-30 a day is okay but 200 is too many,” said Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who holds the eight-year-old record for the fastest ascent of Everest.
“You have many people waiting and waiting. They spend too long waiting at the top and they get frostbite. Waiting around on Everest is dangerous.
“Running out of oxygen can be a big problem.”
Blog posts and reports sent by satellite telephone from base camp spoke of queues at precarious ridges and jostling as people tried to pass each other.
“The problem is not in fact that too many people might be on the mountain but rather too many people attempt to reach the summit on the same day,” Dawa Steven Sherpa said by email from the base camp.
A 73-year-old Japanese woman has become the world’s oldest woman to climb Everest, repeating her own record set 10 years ago, the company that organised the climb said. Tamae Watanabe reached the summit with a Japanese partner and three Nepali Sherpa guides.
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