More than 4,000 people have climbed the highest mountain in the world. Up to 50 people have reached the summit on a single day and even at 8,848 meters traffic jams are a problem. In other words, the popularity of Mount Everest is a big killer.
When every minute counts
The extreme altitude at Mount Everest makes traffic jams and congestion a dangerous combination. Every minute counts and due to climbers pushing themselves too hard to make the top, the majority loses their life during the descent.
A series of natural disasters have made the journey even more dangerous. 18 April 2014, an avalanche killed 16 people and made it the deadliest year ever on Everest. Thirteen of the victims were Sherpas, an indigenous ethnic group famed for their ability to withstand high altitudes. The Sherpas had been finding their way through the Khumbu Icefall, one of Everest’s most dangerous passes, and was fixing a route for mountain tourists when the avalanche hit them.
One of the world’s most dangerous jobs
Tourists at Mount Everest pay up to $100,000 to climb the world’s highest peak and make their dream come true. For the Sherpas between 2004 and 2014 it was a job with a death rate 12 times higher than US military personnel in Iraq between 2003 and 2007.
After the incident in 2014, many Sherpa guides refused to work and called for a strike both to get the attention of the Nepalese government and to show respect to the victims’ families. The government limited access to mountain permits to experienced climbers only but the Sherpas still wanted more recognition for their work and important role.
The deadliest year on Mount Everest
Just about a year later, 22 people died in the aftermath of a 7.8 Nepalese earthquake when an avalanche hit the Everest South Base Camp at 5,364 meters. At the time, there was between 700 and 1,000 people on or near the mountain and 359 climbers at Base Camp, many of whom had returned after the aborted 2014 season. Many people were killed as the avalanche swept into the camp and blew the tents across the Khumbu Glacier towards the lower Icefall.
The Australian film maker Jennifer Peedom was on Mount Everest in 2014 making a film about the Sherpas and telling the story of their important role in getting tourists to the top. When the accident occurred, the film changed into a story about the conflict between sherpas, foreign expedition leaders and the Nepalese government. Some sherpas did not want to climb out of respect for the dead and others pushed for better working conditions. As a result, the 2014 climbing season was cancelled and this happened again in 2015.