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Climbers ignore overcrowding fears in Everest bid

In this photo, released by Neal Beidleman in 2011, unidentified mountaineers are seen walk past the Hillary Step while pushing for the summit of Everest. More than 200 mountaineers are set to head for the summit of Mount Everest on Friday and Saturday, risking perilous overcrowding just a week after four died on the packed trail in bad weather. (AFP Photo/Neal Beidleman)
In this photo, released by Neal Beidleman in 2011, unidentified mountaineers are seen walk past the Hillary Step while pushing for the summit of Everest. More than 200 mountaineers are set to head for the summit of Mount Everest on Friday and Saturday, risking perilous overcrowding just a week after four died on the packed trail in bad weather. (AFP Photo/Neal Beidleman)

KATHMANDU(APF): More than 200 mountaineers are set to head for the summit of Mount Everest on Friday and Saturday, risking perilous overcrowding just a week after four died on the packed trail in bad weather.

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, allowing a window of opportunity to conquer the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak.

In a single weekend starting last Friday, 150 people reached the top of the world before a severe windstorm set in, according to Nepalese government official Gyanendra Shrestha.

The sheer numbers trying reach the summit make the climb more treacherous. The deaths last weekend, when there were tailbacks and delays, took the toll of Everest’s victims to more than 220 — half of those in the past 20 years.

“Two hundred people climbing the mountain is too many for one weekend. Twenty-five to thirty 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.

Among those setting out for the summit on Friday is American adventurer Jon Kedrowski, 33, who turned back last weekend after helping to rescue four exhausted climbers in the so-called death zone above 8,000 metres.

He spoke of turn-back times being ignored, oxygen running out, a two-hour wait at a choke-point in ferocious winds and “disoriented, frostbitten, sick, and totally exhausted” climbers.

“He’s getting ready for the climb of his life,” Chris Tomer, his climbing partner of 15 years who is not on the expedition, told AFP via email.

“They will skip two intermediate camps and head straight for the summit. They have a 24-hour weather window at best.”

Nima Nuru Sherpa of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said the increase in the number of commercial expeditions was increasing pressures.

“The reason behind the traffic jams is that there will be hundreds of climbers and we can’t just say ‘this group of ten can go and that group of ten can’t’.

“Everyone wants to reach the top. But increasingly there are these commercial expeditions. Those genuine climbers are fewer and the number of commercial expeditions is increasing.”

Clients pay about $25,000 to expedition organisers plus between $10,000 and $25,000 for an Everest permit, and Nima Nuru Sherpa said they were increasingly ignoring their guides when advised to turn back.

Traditionalists also worry about the growing tendency of expeditions to set records and achieve “firsts” — this year’s crop of summiteers has included the oldest woman ever to achieve the feat, 73-year-old Japanese Tamae Watanabe, who beat her own record.

For the Nepal government, Everest is a lucrative revenue earner and officials in Kathmandu have played down concerns about overcrowding.

“A climber has to meet certain criteria such as experience of scaling a 6,000-metre peak before the ascent of Everest,” said tourism ministry spokesman Bal Krishna Ghimire.

“They come to us via mountaineering agencies. We can’t turn down those who meet the criteria. We are not limiting the numbers of climbers.

“I don’t think that the overcrowding has led to deaths. It depends on the weather and this season it has been bad.”

Since the first ascent on May 29, 1953, by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, about 10,000 people have attempted to climb the ultimate peak, almost 4,000 successfully.

Published Date: Thursday, May 24th, 2012 | 11:56 PM

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