- The Mountain
With a summit height of 29,035 feet, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. It sits along Nepal’s northern border with China, as part of the towering Himalayan Range that divides that part of the world. The mountain is so tall that the average climber will not reach the summit until about two months from the date of their arrival at Base Camp. This is due to the extreme lack of air pressure at this altitude, which requires any climber to acclimatize for weeks before heading further up the mountain. As climbers ascend higher, the air gets thinner and it becomes harder to breathe and even make rational decisions. Once a climber passes the 8,000 meter mark in altitude, they have entered the “Death Zone” which is named for the lack of oxygen to sustain life. Too much time above 8,000 meters will kill without question. That is why many climbers choose to use supplemental oxygen.
- Distribution of Deaths
Looking at the distribution of known deaths on Everest, it becomes apparent that there are two problem areas that are especially good at killing climbers. These are the Khumbu Icefall and the space between Camp IV and the summit. The Khumbu Icefall is notorious for being erratic and extremely dangerous. It is home to large chunks of shifting ice that can weigh millions of pounds. To mitigate the threat of being wiped out by a block of ice, climbers often navigate this portion very early in the morning, before the sun has a chance to shine on the ice and loosen things up. The space between Camp IV and the summit is dangerous for different reasons. Its position in the “Death Zone” means that there is literally not enough oxygen up there to keep you alive, but it is also very cold, windy, and the site of some of the more technical points of the climb, so falls are a common cause of death here.
- Sherpa Strikes
In 2014 and 2015, Everest experienced back to back avalanches that each killed about 20 people. The 2014 disaster was a result of the failure of a serac above the Khumbu Icefall, which sent millions of pounds of ice and snow tumbling down into a group of Nepalese guides, known as Sherpas, killing 16. In 2015, the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal caused avalanches that killed 22 people, including at least 10 more Sherpas. Below is an image of the Everest Sherpas organizing at Base Camp to go on strike and demand more rights and better protections in the event of another disaster.
- The Environmental Impact
Since climbing Everest is such a physical challenge, and infrastructure for transport in and out of the region is virtually non-existent (trek in – trek out), much of the trash that is produced by the thousands of climbers and guides every year is left on the mountain. Items range from empty cooking and fuel materials to spent oxygen tanks from the upper portions of the climb. Many agencies have called attention to this issue and made expeditions to haul trash off the mountain in an attempt to preserve the international landmark that is Everest.