The great Everest gamble - and why so many people are willing to take it

AFP Photo/HO/Courtesy of Neal Beidleman
This year the flow of hopeful mountaineers reached its peak with 169 climbers making the summit in just one day, but 10 people have also died on the mountain, the most for more than 15 years.

­At the peak of the climbing season in May up to 1000 climbers can be on the mountain, going up, coming down or waiting their turn at base camp.

The rush to the top is compounded by the weather. Climbers have only a few weeks each year in spring when the weather breaks when they can attempt the summit.

This May a queue of people on the mountain in bad weather was blamed for the deaths of 4 climbers.

Simon Lowe, a climber and director of Jagged Globe, which he asserts has got more people safely up and down Everest than any other company, told RT that since the 1990’s Everest has been made accessible to ordinary climbers and not just the elite.

Since 2002 the number of ascents each year has risen from under 200 to over 600 by 2007, and has remained roughly at this level since then.

But it doesn’t come cheap; guides offer an inexperienced climber the chance to scale the world’s highest summit for $120,000.
George Mallory summed up the attraction of Everest before his fatal 1924 attempt to climb it:  “because it’s there.” These have become the three most famous words in mountaineering.

Since Everest was first successfully ascended in 1953 by Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzig Norgay three thousand climbers have successfully climbed it with 220 people perishing in the attempt.

Climber Kenton Cool believes that too many inexperienced and unfit climbers are attempting Everest. 10 people have died on the mountain in 2012 and Mr Cool, who is co-director of Dream Guides, one of a handful of companies which take customers up Everest, believes companies have a responsibility to limit the number of attempts.

He told the UK newspaper the Independent, “without doubt the number of people didn’t help what happened this year, and it’s getting dangerous.”

The German mountaineer Ralph Dujmovits told reporters that he had seen as any as 600 people jostling for space on the peak. “I had a strong sense that not all of them would come back. I was also filled with sadness for this mountain, for which I have immense respect. People these days treat it as if it was a piece of sporting apparatus, not a force of nature.”

He has pleaded with the Nepalese government to limit the number and quality of climbers but many doubt this will happen. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and tourism is a big money earner.

However, Mr Lowe does not believe the Nepalese or any of the companies involved in Everest are to blame. He told RT, “why should they be bothered about someone’s health and welfare, it’s up to the climbers themselves.”

He said poor leadership and poorly resourced teams were the main cause of death on the mountain, “people die because of bad decision making, joining an ascent when there are already 200 people going up is poor leadership.” He added that if a climber is not fit enough or unprepared then it is “their own fault”.

He did not believe that the growing number of people attempting to scale the peak and the resulting increased number of deaths would put people off having a go for themselves.

Mr Lowe however has never reached the top of Everest himself, although he was quick to add that he attempted the West Ridge, a notoriously hard route up to the summit, and had to bury one of his team on the descent.  He added that although he’s getting on he is tempted to “have another go”.