The Swarm to Everest

With the 2015 Nepal earthquake dismantling the Hillary Step, a 40-foot vertical traverse of rock and ice on the South Ridge of Everest, meters from the summit, one would think reaching the top of the world would become safer and easier. Commercialization and overconfidence, however, have fogged the view of many people attempting the prestigious climb, leading to tragedy in the death zone. 2023 marked the highest yearly death toll on Everest, surpassing both the disaster of 1996 and the earthquake of 2015, leaving 17 dead in the thin air.

Just 70 years ago, the summit of Everest was a thing of fairy tales. Only those hardened and seasoned enough would attempt the climb: the likes of Hillary, Mallory, Norgay, and Irvine. These days, however, the 29,035-foot peak seems to be a goal people turn to in a midlife crisis. To supplement this, Nepal was extremely relaxed with the issuance of climbing permits, sometimes granting them to climbers with no high-altitude experience climbing with low-cost, unresourced expeditions. The government issued a record number of permits in 2023. Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants, the same agency involved in the 1996 disaster has been particularly direct about the issue: “Mount Everest is an extremely challenging and dangerous environment that requires proper training, experience, and physical and mental fitness. There has been an increase in inexperienced climbers attempting the summit without adequate preparation". Many Sherpas, indigenous people native to the mountains of Tibet and Nepal naturally accustomed to the high altitude, also blame "impatient foreigners" for the high death toll this year. Sherpas, who accompany almost every expedition and set the ropes each year before climbing season, are invaluable to the climbing community and their points surely come from a place of experience.

The larger issue is that these inexperienced climbers not only pose a threat to their own safety but also to the safety of the other climbers and Sherpas. Climbing Everest at some point comes down to serendipity: the weather may or may not open up for a legitimate summit attempt during the climbing season, the falling seracs of the Khumbu Icefall can kill in an instant, and high altitude sickness can strike in an instant. The overcrowding of the peak only increases the chances of tragedy. The long line up the fixed ropes from camp 4 to the summit, in what is known as the "death zone" above 27,000 feet, causes bottlenecks and leaves climbers vulnerable to weather, frostbite, and pulmonary or cerebral edemas.

Another byproduct of the swell in climbers is the trace they leave behind on the mountain. Even the most skilled climbers do not have the wherewithal to stop and pick up trash on their way down, as their bodies are too exhausted. Oxygen cans and garbage heavily litter the mountain, so much so that the Nepalese Army sent a special operation to remove trash from the peak.

The commercialization of Mount Everest has brought to the forefront a complex issue, intertwining the dreams of countless adventurers with the harsh realities of environmental and cultural impacts. The mountain, once a remote and pristine symbol of nature's grandeur, now bears the scars of human excess, evident in the growing problem of trash and waste left behind. No one person is to blame for the 2023 climbing season, yet as we move forward, it is imperative that sustainable practices, strict regulations, and a renewed respect for both the mountain and the local communities become the pillars of any expedition.


Article by    sanjib adhikari  An adventurer, Adhikari, S., & adventurer, A. (2023, August 25). Deadliest season: 17 deaths reported in Mount Everest in Spring 2023. Heaven Himalaya.,for%20climbing%20Everest%20this%20year.

September 2, 2020. (2020, September 2). 10 facts about Everest success and death rates, based on scientific data. Mark Horrell.

Squire, P. (2023, June 14). 2023 was one of the deadliest years on Mount Everest. sherpas say the tragedies could have been avoided if “impatient” foreign climbers were more careful. Insider.