A traffic jam at the top of the world has led to several deaths on Mt Everest. Should Nepalese authorities restrict access?
Before Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first ascent of Mount Everest, many had tried and failed, and the names of some climbers who attempted the impossible, such as George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, passed into mountaineering folklore. Like the Poles before it, Everest was considered one of the pinnacles of human physical achievement and reverence. But like so many other things in the world today, increased accessibility has made the world’s tallest peak, known as Sagarmatha in Sanskrit or Chomolungma in Tibetan, as a must-do feat and is now being climbed by hundreds every single year. While it is not something for beginners, there is no doubt that it is easier than ever before to summit the top of the world.
That doesn’t mean going close to nine kilometres above sea level is easy on the human body. Other than some local Sherpas, whose specially adapted physiology has made them almost impervious to the conditions, most humans would die without breathing aids in a few minutes. And when there is a traffic jam on top of the mountain, as happened over the past week when the skies cleared over the mountain, it was inevitable that people would perish given the prolonged exposure to death zone conditions of freezing cold and no oxygen. At last count, over ten climbers, including some from India, have perished, victims of the deadliest traffic jam in history. Their exhausted bodies were unable to deal with the waiting thanks to the impossibly thin air, killer cold and depleting oxygen tanks. Over the past few years, several mountaineers and environmental activists have questioned the Nepalese government for allowing so many climbers up on the mountain. A literal mountain of trash from discarded oxygen tanks to frozen human waste is making this iconic peak into an environmental disaster. Many environmentally-minded expeditions have been mounted to try and clean up the mountain as well as other peaks. But now this worst tragedy, coupled with the human cost in lost lives up at the top, has led to a campaign to restrict access and fix qualification criteria. Some are advising norms on capability, health status and phasing out numbers. Some are advocating expert climbers be allowed as the inexperienced end up slowing down and risking others. However, the Nepalese government is in a bind. Frightfully poor, the country still exports thousands of its young men to build the glamorous stadiums and buildings of the Arabian peninsula just in order to earn foreign revenue. Mountaineering expeditions to the highest peaks have provided a huge amount of revenue for the government as well as to the local economy in poverty-stricken Sherpa villages. Restricting access will have an adverse economic impact but if it isn’t done, then climbing Mount Everest will be like going to any filthy theme park, killing off the thrill of the chase. The fees to climb the mountain must go up manifold, too. If Nepal is to preserve the Peak of Heaven, it must act now and while restricted access might seem unfair, it is the price that has to be paid if people and the environment have to be protected.
Courtesy: The Pioneer