This year could see a record number of deaths on Mount Everest, and experts say warming temperatures and overcrowding are to blame. But that hasn’t stopped Nepal from issuing more permits than ever, even as Himalayan glaciers are melting at an “alarming rate.”
Already, 12 people have been confirmed dead with five more missing and presumed dead. Previously, the record for Mount Everest deaths was 17 in 2014, but that was primarily due to an avalanche at Khumbu icefall that killed up to 16 local sherpas at once. On an average year, Mount Everest claims between five and 10 victims.
“Altogether this year we lost 17 people on the mountain this season,” said Yuba Raj Khatiwada, the director of Nepal’s tourism department, who confirmed the number to the Guardian. “The main cause is the changing in the weather. This season the weather conditions were not favorable, it was very variable. Climate change is having a big impact in the mountains.”
Melting glaciers mean that sherpas often have to find new, safer paths up the mountain, according two professional sherpas who spoke with Al Jazeera last year. Routes are forged and maintained by a group of sherpas called icefall doctors, who find that their ropes are now falling out of the melting ice and need to be replaced every few days.
Rising temperatures are also impacting the Khumbu glacier, where the Everest base camp is located—so much so that officials considered moving the camp further down the mountain. However, that plan was ultimately abandoned due to pushback from sherpas, who argued that it would add up to three hours to the journey to the summit and make it even more treacherous.
Exacerbating the effect of climate change is an overcrowding issue, as the government of Nepal issued a record 479 permits in 2023. In addition to putting extra pressure on the mountain, more inexperienced climbers are now attempting the trek. And though the small country relies on the revenue from those permits, which cost £12,000 each, the number of fatalities will almost certainly climb if not reigned in.
“The climbing has pattern has changed, it used to be hardened climbers but now it is a lot of novice climbers who want to get to the summit of Everest,” Ang Norbu Sherpa, the president of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association, told the Guardian.
The influx of permits and inexperienced climbers has likewise led to an increase in trash and litter being left behind, despite the government charging a “garbage deposit” that only gets returned if climbers return with their waste.
“When snow and ice melts, we are losing the mountains, we’re losing so much of connection to the mountains, the intergenerational connections to the mountains,” anthropologist Pasang Yangjee Sherpa explained to Al Jazeera. “Our children are not going to experience the mountain the way I did, the way my parents and my grandparents did. And that kind of realization is quite saddening.”