Everest: The perils of taking on the world’s highest peak

Bottlenecks of climbers pose extra challenge to those taking on Mount Everest

A queue of mountain climbers waiting to stand at the summit of Mount Everest this week. Photograph:  Handout/Project Possible/AFP/Getty Images

A queue of mountain climbers waiting to stand at the summit of Mount Everest this week. Photograph: Handout/Project Possible/AFP/Getty Images

 

The world’s highest mountain peak, which has claimed the lives of two Irish men in the last ten days, has long been known as one of the most dangerous feats for adrenaline seekers.

Since deaths on Mount Everest were first recorded in 1922, more than 200 people have died attempting to climb the mountain.

Summiting at 8,848 metres, Everest is located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas, which spans across six countries, including Nepal and China.

Avalanches, cracking ice flows and deadly crevices are just some of the obstacles faced by climbers.

The real danger however, is extreme altitude sickness, at more than 8,000 metres high, the level is known as the “death zone”. It was in this area that Trinity academic and father of one Séamus (Shay) Lawless fell last week, along a particularly treacherous path known as the Balcony area.

The lack of oxygen can disorientate the most experienced climbers, and many perish at this point. When a climber dies on Everest, the logistics of retrieving their body can be extremely difficult, and many bodies are never recovered from the mountain.

Climbers spend about three weeks at base camp acclimatising, to try and avoid experiencing altitude sickness when attempting the summit.

Climbing season

The window to climb Mount Everest is narrow, with the spring season usually just a number of weeks around the month of May. This year high winds have made conditions worse than usual, giving climbers a more narrow time frame to complete the expedition.

Last year a record 807 people reached the summit, and the number of climbers taking on the challenge has increased in recent years.

However, the growing numbers have created further risks, with unprecedented queues of climbers delayed behind each other, seeking to reach the famous summit and then descend.

A photograph taken this week shows a long stretch of climbers tailing back from the summit of the mountain.

Rory McHugh (42), was born in Dublin but is now living in London, and climbed Everest in 2017. During his trip, their group managed to avoid the massive crowds seen on the mountain at the end of the current season.

“We tried to go up right at the start of the season, to avoid the crowds. But we had some problems, one of our Sherpas got injured, and we had to retreat. And we ended up doing it at the very end of the season, so we were one of the last groups on the mountain,” he said.

To take on Everest, a climber should have up to a decade of experience of serious mountaineering, he said.

From around 7,000 metres, climbers begin to rely on oxygen masks to help them to breath.

“That may have been another problem this year, if people are stuck in those bottlenecks they might be worried about their oxygen, as you only have a certain amount,” he said.

“If one or two people start becoming slightly unwell, if there is a bottleneck that can cause a problem. It can be quite an effort to get those people back down the mountain, and that then slows everyone up,” Mr McHugh said.