Long Lines and Overcrowding Are Creating a Deadly Climbing Season on Mount Everest

mount everest
Mount Everest PRAKASH MATHEMA / AFP / Getty Images

Overflowing trash, long lines, and hours-long delays—that’s what Mount Everest is looking like these days, and the consequences have been serious. This season’s death toll has climbed to 11, making it one of the deadliest on record, CNN reports. The world’s highest peak confronts climbers with all kinds of dangers, from brutal weather to a lack of oxygen, but unprecedented crowds on the mountain are making the already unforgiving peak even more dangerous.

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According to The New York Times, Everest has become nearly overrun with climbers from across the globe attempting to reach the summit. Facing short weather windows (May is generally the best time to climb), mountaineers have clogged the routes up the mountain. Even the summit itself has become dangerously overcrowded, leading to lines and delays that last for hours. Veteran climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja captured the situation on the peak in an Instagram post from May 22. On that day, he estimated there were around 320 people all trying to reach the top at the same time.

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On 22 nd of May, I summited everest at 5:30 am and lhotse 3:45 pm despite of the heavy traffic ( roughly 320 people ). Today I have just arrived at the Makalu base camp, I will be going for the summit push from the base camp directly. . Like it, tag it and share it if you love how the project possible 14/7 is rolling 🤙🏼 . I will update more once I’m done with Makalu . Much love to all my supporters and sponsors. @antmiddleton @bremontwatches , DIGI2AL, @hamasteel , @summitoxygen Royal Hotel, Ad construction group, MTC/FSI , @everence.life @brandingscience Premier Insurance, OMNIRISC, Intergage @inmarsatglobal . . . . #nimsdai #believer #uksf #sbs🐸 #projectpossible #14peaks7months #persistence #humanendeavour #selfbelief #positivemindset #beliveinyourself #elitehimalayanadventures #alwaysalittlehigher

A post shared by Nirmal Purja MBE – Nimsdai (@nimsdai) on

Ed Dooring, an American doctor who recently climbed the mountain, had to fight for space with other climbers taking selfies on the summit and dodge a dead body on his way back down.

“It was scary,” he told The New York Times. “It was like a zoo.”

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While delays and crowding are a nuisance anywhere, on Everest, they can be deadly. Experienced climbers and Sherpas have pointed out that at least some of the deaths this year occurred when people ran out of supplemental oxygen while waiting in line to summit. At that altitude, humans can only survive for a few minutes without a breathing apparatus. But many of the climbers shouldn’t have been there in the first place, experts say. There are no regulations on who can climb Everest, and tour companies are increasingly bringing novice, unprepared climbers up the mountain.

“The major problem is inexperience,” veteran climber David Morton told CNN, “not only of the climbers that are on the mountain but also the operators supporting those climbers.”

Nepal, where Everest is located, is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and tourism is its biggest industry—it accounts for nearly eight percent of the country’s GDP, CNN reports. Climbers represent a lucrative source of revenue for the country’s economy, and the government has so far been reluctant to limit the number of people attempting Everest. According to The New York Times, the Nepali government issued 381 climbing permits this year, the highest number yet.

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For many, climbing Mount Everest represents the ultimate achievement, and with the increasing popularity of mountaineering and images of the climbers atop spectacular summits circulating across social media, it can be hard to resist the call of the mountain. Despite its popularity, Everest remains an incredibly dangerous place, mountain guide Adrian Ballinger told CNN.

“Humans just really aren’t meant to exist there,” he said.

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