Everest Summit Queues and Carrying Capacity
We have all seen the news headlines in recent days and weeks. Adventurous tourists are placing themselves in mortal danger for the brief thrill of fulfilling their bucket list dream of summiting the world’s highest mountains. Most have made it to the top but too many have died attempting to reach the summit of Everest and other Himalayan peaks in Nepal and India. The window of opportunity to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest is brief. Late May and early June is that time of the year when weather conditions are most favourable to attempt the summit.
However, as anyone who has experienced alpine regions knows, the best time of the year still poses very real dangers to climbers and guides alike. Sustainable tourism emphasises carrying capacity. The extraordinary photos we have seen of hundreds of climbers literally queueing to reach the summit of Mt Everest is like viewing a disaster waiting to happen.
While climbers sometimes wait for hours, for their turn to reach the top, they are vulnerable to sudden changes in weather conditions including high wind gusts, blizzards and falling loose rocks which at worst, can trigger an avalanche. Climbers and adventure tour operators should recall, that during the 2015 earthquake 29 adventure tourists were killed when the quake triggered an avalanche which inundated Everest Base Camp. Mt Everest is not the place to be running mass tourism expeditions. I fully appreciate that adventure tour operators and their staff of Sherpas, guides and porters all want to make a living. However, the apparently uncontrolled rush of climbers presents a range of dangers to all people who venture into this very fragile and harsh environment.
Nepal has done well to recover from the damage caused to the county and the tourism industry by the 2015 earthquake. Tourism to Nepal has recovered to record levels. In 2018 1.25 million international tourists visited Nepal (an all time record). However, the perception of greedy operators who appear prepared to risk lives by allowing swarms of cashed up tourists ascending the Himalayan peaks could potentially damage Nepal’s reputation as a tourist destination which cares about the safety of its vistors.
Mountain tour operators need to be certain that their “mountaineers” are physically fit enough to undertake the rigour of a climb. The Nepalese government authorities need to ensure that there is a manageable limit of summit climbers at any one time. Climbers should be required to demonstrate they have appropriate clothing, equipment and supplies of food and oxygen.
If Nepalese and Indian authorities do not impose some real controls over mountain expeditions and carrying capacity in this fragile environment I fear that we could be reading far worse headlines from the Himalayas than we are seeing now.