Lethal traffic jamThe rising death toll of climbers has exposed previously unthought-of dangers on the highest peak on earth.
Ascending Mount Everest is considered to be as holy as any pilgrimage to a religious site. But almost year after year, the number of deaths in the world’s highest peak seems to be increasing, particularly due to overcrowding at the top. However, the conflicting explanations of whether the deaths were due to a traffic jam or something else have mystified the adventurous value of Everest.
The mystification begins with CNN reporting the death of two climbers on May 24 as an outcome of a traffic jam on Everest. One of them was identified as Anjali Kulkarni, an Indian climber, and the other as Donald Lynn Cash—an American national. The former is said to have collapsed while returning. Cash is reported to have died of altitude sickness. Another casualty due to the same cause was a British national named Robin Haynes who died after running out of supplementary oxygen while waiting for the jam to clear. These reports have shown a negative light on Everest as something that is turning in to a death trap.
Putting forth an alternative testimonial from tourism officials, The New York Times wrote, “Tourism officials, however, rejected the notion that the summit had become deadlier because of overcrowding related to a large number of climbers receiving permits. In recent years, concerns have also grown about how loosely regulated the expeditions are, with some organisers using old equipment, particularly oxygen cylinders, to maximise profit.” This reasoning opposes any crisis of traffic management but blames the expedition organisations for their money-driven business attitude rather than well-equipped advanced essentials for safety and security during the climb.
Danduraj Ghimire, the director general of the Tourism Department, bluntly refutes the idea of a traffic jam and consequent deaths as ‘baseless news’. Instead, he cites the unstable and deceptive weather conditions of the Himalayan region as the primary cause for the human casualties, “It’s not because of a traffic jam. The number of climbers was a bit high this year, and most climbers wanted to climb during a short weather window.” His explanation sounds convincing as the expedition needs to study the weather before proceeding. When the weather turns fine, all climbers rush to ascend during a single window leading to the crowded procession. However, on the flip side, legendary mountaineer Tshering Jangbu Sherpa who has a record of climbing Everest many times claims, “I have climbed Everest so many times, but this spring’s traffic jam was the worst.”
Merging all these explanations from the international media and domestic authorities generates confusion and dilemma among domestic and international tourists who long to mount an expedition due to the mystifying information. Such conflicting narrative consequently discourages the growth of tourism, crippling the economic status in the long run. As per official records, around 19 climbers have lost their lives in the Himalaya this year alone. The constant news of the death of climbers exposes our security weakness and poor safety to the world.
Weaving all the accounts together from both sides at least helps us to conclude that the rise in the number of deaths of climbers is due to the passiveness of the concerned authority. The unaccountable and irresponsible management in recognising, recording and resolving the challenges and making scientific analysis of any disaster for future prevention must be instantly reformed. The gravity of safety and security in the promotion and expansion of tourism as a business should be the immediate focus of the government. The best way to control possible traffic jams is to introduce a quota system so that the number of climbers is minimised to an appropriate size.
What’s more, the expedition companies should be committed to providing trained guides and advanced modern equipment under the stern surveillance of the government. More importantly, the government must form an investigation committee instantly to probe the causes and inform the world with an authentic explanation for its immediate settlement. It is easy for the government to declare the year as Tourism Year, but it demands equal energy and commitment to fundamentally balance everything to maintain the glory as a mountainous land.
Chalise holds a Master’s in Literature from Tribhuwan University.