Mount Everest Is Open for Business — But Should It Be?

Credit: Feng Wei / Getty Images

For the first time since April's disastrous earthquake in Nepal, which killed nearly 10,000 people in the country and set off an avalanche that killed 18 at Everest Base Camp, Sherpa have returned to Everest to rebuild the climbing route up the world's most sought-after summit. A team of four Icefall Doctors — the most specialized Sherpa — arrived at Base Camp last week to conduct a ground survey, then begin fixing rope through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall. If all goes well, the fall climbing season will officially begin on September 23, the autumnal equinox.

The re-opening of Everest comes on the heels of a high-profile statement by Jon Krakauer — author of the bestseller Into Thin Air, about the 1996 Everest disaster — saying that he regretted his time on Earth's highest mountain. "Climbing Mount Everest was the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life," he told HuffPost Live.  "I wish I'd never gone. I suffered for years of PTSD, and still suffer from what happened."

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Krakauer's comments were in response to a question from an 11-year-old with aspirations of summiting the peak, and he seemed to warn against it. "It's a serious, serious choice," he said. "If you do it, if you go for it, you'll be making really important decisions where your brain isn't functioning because of hypoxia or you haven't had enough to eat. Meru [a Himalayan mountain that is the subject of a recent documentary] is a much harder mountain to climb, but in some ways Everest is much more dangerous. The dangers are more insidious. They're not as obvious."

Those dangers have been on full display the last two years, when the mountain was closed after avalanches (16 Nepalese guides and porters died in an avalanche in 2014). But the recent opening is clear evidence that there are still plenty of people lining up to make a summit push. "Anytime something bad happens on Everest, it seems people get even more into it," says Jon Kedrowski, a mountain geographer and author who summited Everest in 2012 and was at Base Camp when the earthquake-induced avalanche hit in April.

For Nepal's fall climbing season — which is less popular than the spring due to shorter, colder days — five teams have applied for permits for various peaks, including one for Everest by a two-man team from Japan. (The Tibet side remains inaccessible, according to the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, due to road construction following the earthquake.) Info on the number of Nepalese permits for the spring 2016 season is not available yet, but the dangers don't seem to have dissuaded anyone. Kedrowski says he gets at least one email a week from climbers ranging in age from teens to their late 50s looking for advice on climbing Everest.

As for Kedrowski, he has yet to decide whether he'll return. "I'm waiting to see what happens," he says. "No one knows how much the routes on the mountain have shifted, or if our permits from this year will still be valid next spring."

"In terms of dangers, Everest is actually one of the safer mountains — Mont Blanc, Aconcagua, and Denali some years, all have more deaths than Everest," says Alan Arnette, a mountaineer who has summited most of the world's notable peaks, including Everest. "But because it's the highest, it gets disproportional attention."

The real issue with Everest, according to both Kedrowski and Arnette, isn't natural disasters; it's the commercial climbing process. "Climbing Everest has serious problems with how it is currently run all the way from corrupt Nepal government officials to unqualified guides to unqualified climbers," says Arnette. "But this is nothing new to anyone who has either been there, or followed it for years."