Everest ‘traffic jam’ survivor calls for tougher rules

Ameesha Chauhan, a survivor of the Everest “traffic jam” who is in hospital recovering from frostbite, said climbers without basic skills should be barred to prevent a recurrence of this year’s deadly season on the world’s highest peak.

Ten people have died in little more than two weeks after poor weather cut the climbing window, leaving mountaineers waiting in long queues to the summit, risking exhaustion and running out of oxygen.

Nepal issued a record 381 Everest permits this season, and several hundred of the summiteers are not properly trained, take poor decisions and “put their own life in risk and also the Sherpa guides”, Chauhan said.

The 29-year-old Indian had to wait 20 minutes to come down from the 8 848-metre peak, but others were held up for hours.

“I saw some climbers without basic skills fully relying on their Sherpa guides. The government should fix the qualification criteria,” she said in Kathmandu’s general hospital, all the toes on her left foot black and blue and her face weather-worn.

“Only trained climbers should be granted the permit to climb Everest.”

As well as the Everest deaths, nine climbers have died on other 8,000-metre Himalayan peaks, while one is missing.

At least four deaths on the world’s highest mountain have been blamed on over-crowding with teams waiting sometimes for hours in the “death zone” where the cold is bitter, the air dangerously thin and the terrain treacherous.

This year’s Everest toll is the highest since 2014-15 when huge earthquakes triggered devastating avalanches.

The crowding was laid bare in a photo taken last week by Nirmal Purja, a former Gurkha soldier, of a long queue of climbers snaking up to the summit.

The photo by the head of the Project Possible charity aiming to climb the 14 8000 metre-plus peaks in the world in seven months has gone viral from his @nimsdai Twitter handle and highlighted the dangers amidst the mania to climb Everest.

“Many climbers’ oxygen was running out,” Chauhan said.

“Some climbers died due to their own negligence. They insisted on reaching the top even if their oxygen is running out, which risks their life,” she said.

Another climber, the “adventure filmmaker” Elia Saikaly, posted on Instagram on Sunday that he had reached the summit of Everest and “cannot believe what I saw up there”.

“Death. Carnage. Chaos. Lineups. Dead bodies on the route and in tents at camp 4. People who I tried to turn back who ended up dying. People being dragged down. Walking over bodies,” Saikaly wrote.

“Everything you read in the sensational headlines all played out on our summit night.”

$11 000 ticket 

Mountaineering has become big business since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent of Everest in 1953, with the mountain becoming a favourite “bucket list” feat.

Nepal’s permits this season cost $11 000 each, providing the impoverished Himalayan country with much-needed foreign currency.

At least 140 others were granted permits to climb from the northern flank in Tibet.

Although final numbers are yet to be released with the season set to wrap up this week, this could take the total past last year’s record of 807 people reaching the summit.

The dead included four climbers from India and one each from the United States, Britain and Nepal. An Irish mountaineer is presumed dead after he slipped and fell close to the summit.

Another Austrian and an Irish climber died on the northern Tibet side.

One of the Indians who died on the Nepal side, 27-year-old Nihal Bagwan, had to wait for more than 12 hours and died on his way back from the summit.

Donald Lynn Cash, 55, collapsed at the summit as he was taking photographs, while Anjali Kulkarni, also 55, died while descending after reaching the top.

Kulkarni’s expedition organiser, Arun Treks, said heavy traffic at the summit had delayed her descent and caused the tragedy.

“She had to wait for a long time to reach the summit and descend,” said Thupden Sherpa. “She couldn’t move down on her own and died as Sherpa guides brought her down.”

Ashok Dahal
Ashok Dahal
Ashok Dahal is Kathmandu based journalist, currently working with Republica English Daily.
Paavan Mathema
Paavan Mathema
Paavan Mathema is a multimedia journalist at AFP who is based in Nepal.
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