Everest braces for record year amid overcrowding fears

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KATHMANDU: The tented city at the foot of Mount Everest is bustling as mountaineers brace for potentially the busiest year yet on the world’s highest peak, prompting concerns about overcrowding and safety.

Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent in 1953 more than 4,000 climbers have reached the top of Everest, according to the authoritative Himalayan Database.

Recent years have seen especially rapid growth, with the mountain opening up to more people as competition between expedition organisers has caused costs to plummet.

But rising numbers mean greater risk — a higher chance of bottlenecks as larger teams lumber their way to the summit, potential shortages of oxygen tanks, and increased risk of frostbite and even death.

A photo of a huge traffic jam below the summit in 2012 prompted calls for better crowd management and even a cap on the number of permits issued annually.

Nepal currently grants permits to all who apply and are willing to pay $11,000 to scale the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak. This year the government has handed out 378 climbing permits according to the tourism department.

That tops the previous record of 373 in 2017.

Most Everest aspirants will need the help of Nepali guides to reach the summit, meaning about 750 climbers will tread the same path to the top in the coming weeks when the weather is expected to be most favourable.

And at least 140 others are preparing to scale Everest using the northern route from Tibet, according to expedition operators, taking the potential total past the 2018 record of 807 when five people died.

Many of the climbers are now completing their acclimatisation ascents.

Among them is accomplished mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa, 49, who is planning his 23rd ascent of the peak, breaking his own record for the most summits of Everest.

This season, the Nepal route will also see more women than ever before, with 76 female climbers attempting the feat.

“This is not easy to break in a male-dominated industry, but we are here to climb and prove that we can do it,” Nima Doma Sherpa told AFP last month before leaving for base camp.

American climber Cory Richards and Ecuadorian Esteban Topo Mena are attempting to establish a new route on Everest, a decade after a South Korean team successfully ascended the mountain after carving a new path along its southwest face.

“Our bodies and minds feel strong and we are getting our spirits ready for the adventure of our lives,” Mena said in an Instagram post on Tuesday. The duo will climb “alpine style” — without supplemental oxygen.