Three years ago, a blockbuster called “Everest” courted public attention to the dangers of climbing the world’s highest mountain. “Everest is another beast altogether,” said Rob Hall, the expedition leader in the film. Seemingly, this movie and the ever-present human desire to be the best has resulted in more than 800 people attempted to climb Mt. Everest in 2018. With an annual increase of 20%, Everest has become the holy grail for novice mountaineers, and at what cost?

Between 1921 to 2018, 293 people died on Everest. The dangers of the mountain are regularly underestimated or ignored by many climbers, especially those who have little or no high-altitude mountaineering experience. Climbers often ignore the extreme weather, natural disasters and altitude sickness, in the search for self-gratification, ultimately endangering themselves and their team. And, therein lies the controversial issue: should Everest be open to all?

When it comes to Everest, Sherpas, the indigenous residents who act as guides for climbers, are significant stakeholders. They support their families by guiding climbers to the summit and carrying almost all the equipment and food. Every day, Sherpas walk back and forth through the most dangerous areas of Everest carrying their clients’ heated tents, food and other equipment. Can you imagine a 60kg man loaded with a equivalently weighted pack trekking through some of the most challenging terrain on earth? That’s what Sherpas do regularly.

Many climbers believe Sherpas are naturally acclimated to altitude, and while this has some truth the reality is that Sherpas get sick like anybody else, especially at extreme altitudes. In fact, statistics show that more than 1/3 of the deaths on Everest are Sherpas. Each year, widows are forced to raise their children alone and all wives know that “goodbye” at the start of a trek can quickly turn into farewell forever. 

In light of these facts, isn’t it time that trekkers start asking themselves, is Everest worth the cost of other people’s lives and their families’ happiness?

The local population regards Everest as a holy mountain where the Tibetan Goddess of Mountains lives. Tourists, however, are gradually turning her into a garbage dump. Each year, tents, climbing equipment, cans and plastic bags are left behind as trekkers and teams make rapid descents to lower altitudes and safety.

Last year, China removed 8.5 tonnes of rubbish from Everest, contributing to the closure of access from the Tibetan side of the mountain. While the Nepalese Government has enacted legislation to force mountaineers to each bring back at least 8kg of rubbish or face a $4,000 fine, the reality is that the rubbish is still piling up. What’s worse, 1 out of every 10 climbers who make the summit die. Their bodies are often left behind and due to the freezing temperatures, they never decompose.

On top of the issue caused by rubbish, one of the most sparsely populated areas in Nepal now confronts the problem of over-tourism. Many experienced climbers are complaining about “traffic jams” and bottlenecks on busy parts of the mountain. This not only affects their adventure experience, but also puts lives in danger. Last year, two Nepali guides lost toes while waiting in line to summit and there has been recent speculation that traffic jams are costing lives. These tragedies could definitely be avoided if the Nepali Government simply limited who and how many people were allowed to summit Everest. 

Nepal is undoubtedly one of the poorest countries in the world, and the economy does rely on tourism to support development, which begs the questions of how these problems might be resolved. A few of the things we thought of were:

  • Mt Everest is not the only attraction or big mountain in Nepal. Expedition companies could be encouraged to unveil new travel routes rather than solely focusing on Everest.
  • Conversely, trekkers could be forced to demonstrate that they have the qualifications and experience to attempt a summit on the highest mountain in the world before they are issued a permit. One of the conditions that could be imposed on trekkers, could be that they successfully summit a number of big mountains in Nepal before they attempt Everest; ultimately spreading the number of tourists to selected areas across the country and increasing revenue by incentivising people to visit Nepal multiple times.  

Nepal has so much more to offer than Mt Everest. By encouraging tourists to visit Nepal’s many other attractions, Tour Companies can reduce the impact of over-tourism on Everest so that this magnificent mountain can be enjoyed for many years to come.

About the author

Min is studying International Hotel and Tourism Management at the University of Queensland. She enjoys writing, photography and visual design.

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