Is it easier to climb Everest these days

Despite Corona - again rush on Mount Everest

By Larissa Königs | April 19, 2021, 11:16 a.m.

It is located in the middle of the Himalayas, the way to its summit takes weeks and at 8,848 meters it is the highest mountain in the world: Mount Everest. Hardly any other region in the world is as hostile to life as this giant. Nevertheless, people always take the risk of climbing. There is another rush this year, despite the corona pandemic. How is it currently on Mount Everest? How exactly does an ascent actually work? And what does the future of Mount Everest look like? TRAVELBOOK has peeked behind the facade of the "Mount Everest myth".

Despite the corona pandemic, dozens of mountaineers now want to climb the highest point on earth. Among them is a prince from the Kingdom of Bahrain and a Qatar woman who wants to be the first woman in her country to climb the 8,848.86 meter peak of Mount Everest. A year ago, the government of Nepal had closed Everest shortly before the start of the season - because of Corona. But now the adventurers from abroad are very welcome again.

TRAVELBOOK knows what Mount Everest tourists can expect.

The first ascent of Mount Everest

Some say it was the most beautiful moment of their life, a dream come true. The others tell of corpses paving the way, of chaos and the fear of falling asleep because they feared they would never wake up again. Impressions left by climbing Mount Everest.

Climbing to the top of the highest mountain in the world: this is what many have wanted. The first attempts were made in the 1920s. At that time, the British George Mallory discovered a first route to the summit that seemed feasible. Incidentally, this is the route that is most commercially used today. But in 1924 both Mallory and his companion Andrew C. Irvine died on the ascent. Mallory's body was not found until 1999. It is still unclear today whether he made it to the summit.

If it had been so, he would have been the first to conquer Mount Everest - and not Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who only made it to the summit in 1953 and who went down in history with the first ascent. Either way, the long period between the first attempt and the first successful ascent to the summit shows how demanding and also dangerous it is to climb to the top of the world.

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In fact, by 1980 there were only 99 people who had made it to the summit. Among them was Reinhold Messner, who was the first person to conquer Mount Everest in the early 1970s without additional oxygen support. After the 80s, the number of Everest expeditions seemed to explode: In the 90s, 100 people a year reached the summit for the first time - more than in the 30 years after the first ascent in total.

An expedition is anything but cheap. On average you pay around 50,000 euros, quite a few even pay more than 90,000 euros for their expedition - there are hardly any upper limits. The previous record season was 2018: At that time, 807 people had climbed the highest mountain in the world. It is likely that this record was topped in 2019; on the Nepalese side alone, around 750 people are expected, even if exact figures are not yet available. But how does such an ascent actually work?

The base camp is already at more than 5000 meters

There are several camps from the foot of the mountain to the top. The first are the northern and southern base camps. The southern base camp on the Nepalese side is particularly popular with tourists. It is at an altitude of 5365 meters. For comparison: the highest mountain in the Alps, Montblanc, is 4810 meters high.

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Reaching the base camp alone from Lukla, the small town where the nearest airport is located, takes around five to six days and is not only quite time-consuming, but also very physically demanding. Many inexperienced mountaineers have to break off this expedition. Nevertheless, this part is still the easiest part of an ascent, in 2015 alone almost 40,000 tourists took on the hardships.

Four more camps follow after the base camp: Camp 1 at 5943 meters, Camp 2 at 6400 meters, Camp 3 at 7162 meters and Camp 4 at 8000 meters.

The expeditions to the summit start from the first base camp. On the south route, the standard route, it first goes into the Khumbu Icefall. Here the glacier ice falls in a crevice up to 600 meters - it is crossed on ladders. Those who have overcome this part cross the valley of silence and the Lhotse flank and finally arrive at the south saddle, which is 8,000 meters above sea level. There is the fourth base camp, from which it goes directly to the summit.

Usually, mountaineers only need a few hours for this last stage. But the path can only be followed in a short time frame, the “window days”. They occur, if at all, in spring between April and mid-June. However, there are also years in which no one makes it to the summit, for example in 2015 when a severe earthquake struck Nepal.

The life-threatening ascent takes more than a month

It's hard to believe, but the entire ascent takes an average of 60 (!) Days. This is not only due to the long and difficult route, but also to the fact that the participants first have to acclimatise themselves in order to avoid falling victim to the dreaded altitude sickness. There are two methods for doing this: on the one hand, only a few meters of altitude can be covered per day, on the other hand, climbers sometimes have to climb down and up again the routes that were previously climbed. With a so-called hypoxia tent, which mimics the low oxygen saturation, you can prepare at home before climbing and thus save a few days.

But even that does not prevent the danger of the so-called death zone, in which mountaineers are from the fourth camp. Here it becomes acutely life-threatening. At this altitude, the risk of dying from altitude sickness or edema is very high. The reason: the oxygen content at this level is too low for the human body. This is one of the reasons why the last stage to the summit is implemented in one day. The mountaineers set off early in the morning for this. It is all the more dramatic when you have to stay in the death zone longer than necessary. However, this happens again and again - and there are two reasons for this.

Hundreds of deaths while climbing

One cause is waiting too long. Because even if it seems unbelievable, the rush to the summit is sometimes so great that the climbers have to wait too long in icy temperatures on the last stage to the summit. This is exactly what happened twice in 2019, as TRAVELBOOK reported. When there was a traffic jam in the spring of 2019, at the very top of the death zone, where the human body breaks down and cannot recover, eleven people died. A photo of the traffic jam went around the world - and brought criticism to the Nepalese government for allowing too many people upstairs who were not suitable for the adventure. The reason was that last year there were only two window days, in 2018 there were eleven.

A second cause is inexperience. Many trekking tourists underestimate the descent back to the next base camp, which is just as exhausting as the ascent. In both cases, the situation is at least life-threatening and often even fatal. In 2019 alone, eleven people died on the way to the summit, eight people are still missing today. Sad overall result: there have been more than 300 deaths since the first ascent.

The corpses point the way to the "roof of the world"

The experienced mountaineer Elia Saikaly described drastically on his Instagram channel in 2019: “Death. Mass extinction. Chaos. Queues. Corpses on the way and in Camp 4. ”The German mountaineer Luis Stitzinger also reported on BILD:“ I counted six deaths myself. ”Particularly disturbing: Many of the corpses are still lying on the roadside, preserved and frozen. Because salvage on the roof of the world is complicated.

For example, six to eight Sherpas are necessary to recover a single corpse, explains the mountain guide Kari Kobler, who has already led 17 Everest expeditions, to the Swiss newspaper “Blick”. That's because the frozen corpses get heavier, up to 150 pounds. As macabre as it may be, some of the corpses are now so well known that they have become legends - and signposts.

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The legend of "Green Boots"

Hardly any Everest corpse is as well known as "Green Boots". She wears a red fleece sweater and got her name because of the bright green mountain boots. It has been around 8,500 meters on Everest for 20 years. It is an important signpost on the north route. About 80 percent of climbers who choose the north route also take a break in the “Green Boots Cave”, as Irish adventurer and filmmaker Noel Hanna told the BBC.

The identity of “Green Boots” has not yet been clarified. However, it is now assumed that it is the Indian mountaineer Tsewang Paljor, who wore the same green boots on his expedition. He is one of the eight dead in the "Mount Everest Disaster of 1996" when mountaineers got caught in a blizzard. This tragic story is the basis for several films, including the blockbuster "Everest" with Hollywood stars Keira Knightley and Jake Gyllenhall.

This story, like the fate of “Green Boots”, should actually urge caution. But the opposite is the case. It seems like more and more people are taking the risk of climbing Mount Everest.

Criticism of commercialization

According to a recent study by US researchers published in the specialist magazine “PLOS One”, the chance of successfully climbing Mount Everest is now twice as high as it was about 20 years ago - with an almost unchanged death rate. Nevertheless, many experienced mountaineers are extremely critical of the trend towards climbing the highest mountain in the world. Reinhold Messner criticized more than 15 years ago that Mount Everest was becoming “a fairground” for tourists. His companion at the time, Peter Habeler, said in an interview with “Spiegel” in 2018: “The mountains can't take so many people”. What he meant by that becomes clear when you look at the amount of rubbish that many climbers leave behind on expeditions.

On the highest mountain on earth there are masses of broken tents and empty oxygen bottles. In 2018 alone, China collected more than eight tons of rubbish from Mount Everest in an expedition. Of that alone, two tons were human feces. Since 2015 there has even been a law that every mountaineer has to take some rubbish, at least eight kilos, with them when descending. Those who resist have to pay a fine of 100 to 4000 dollars - which many wealthy and above all exhausted mountaineers accept. But if both the garbage that comes with increasing commercialization and the mortal danger of tourists are such a problem, why is tourism not restricted?

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The reason is simple: tourism is an important economic factor for China and especially for the desperately poor Nepal. In Nepal, trekking and high-altitude mountaineering tourism is the country's most important industry. Restrictions would be fatal for the local population.

New proposal should better protect mountaineers on Mount Everest

As a result of the dramatic traffic jam in 2019, the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has now announced several rules. One of them is that the daring could take photos and videos of themselves and their group - but not of other people on the mountain. The responsible boss, Mira Acharya, told the German Press Agency that this was an old rule that no one had adhered to so far. There is now a penalty, she said - but without specifying it when asked.

In addition, the mountaineers must submit a medical certificate and take out rescue and corona insurance before the ascent. If they are recovered, they would have to be flown to well-equipped hospitals. In addition, all those entering the country should be vaccinated against corona or submit a negative PCR test. At the airport in Kathmandu there will be a quick test, it said.

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However, it is not clear whether fewer climbers want to climb Mount Everest as a result. And so it remains to be seen how tourism will develop on the highest mountain on earth. Or as mountaineering legend Peter Habeler said: "I can't say where this is going."

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