Global Warming and Tourism Turning Mt. Everest Into a Death Trap

Four climbers recently tumbled to their deaths while attempting to scale the world's highest peak. And this time, the culprit wasn't just Mt. Everest's challenging terrain—it was a "traffic jam" made up of over 150 tourists and mountaineers. The path was so clogged that climbers struggled to maneuver, and the ensuing tangle resulted in death.

So, Everest has become a craggy adult amusement park for the intrepid wealthy. This is hardly news, though the staggering extent to which that's true, shown in this bizarre photo, could be. Just look at that line—it's like the entrance to a Jimmy Buffet concert was moved to the Himalayas.

Meanwhile, climate change is melting the mountain. There's less snow pack, which keeps stray rocks from falling on climbers' heads, and huge fissures are spreading in massive ice blocks. With a mountain packed with thrill-seeking—and often amateur—climbers, that's trouble brewing.

So much so that one leading climbing outfit canceled its lucrative trek up the mountain this year. It was just too warm, and too dangerous. Stephen Lacey reports:

"Russell Brice, head of the leading Everest climbing operation Himalayan Experience, announced that he would pull his team off Everest, citing unprecedented temperatures that made climbing too dangerous. Heeding advice from experienced Sherpas worried about the warmth, Brice decided to cancel his 2012 expedition because of unstable ice."
He then points to Brice's blog, which outlined some of the concerns:

  • When we first arrived at base camp at the beginning of April, the crack in the ice block on the West Ridge was pretty small – now it is probably between 5 and 7 metres wide. This means that the pressure within the ice blocks is huge. So far, we only had small pieces come down, however, there is certainly the potential for a huge collapse, which could kill and injure a large number of people.
  • We have been recording the temperature at 2am when the Sherpas are usually leaving to go through the icefall. There have only been a few days when it was colder than -10 C, which is unusual and not really cold enough to be moving through the icefall
  • Now, it is only the beginning of May and lakes are forming at base camp. Today, on 8th May, it is as warm as it is normally at the end of the season and it will only get warmer, which means the danger in the icefall will increase.

See Lacey's post for more details. Suffice to say, these kinds of dangers will only grow in scope as climate change continues to advance. Meanwhile, the Guardian's Jonathan Jones notes that improved technology, the adventure tourism boom, and a culture of confidence is leading more and more ill-equipped trekkers to Everest every year:

The picture of Everest's numerous ascendants reveals not only the excess of commercialised adventure tourism but the mind-warping impact of technology: why on earth do we believe there should be "progress" in ascending Everest? That this of all things should become easier and more accessible?

We believe it because we believe everything is becoming easier, faster, and more democratic. Technological advances, better clothes, better oxygen supplies, make what once took years of planning and a nationally-sponsored exhibition possible for anyone with the cash – we assume. Nature, from being a terror, has become a tame toy in the modern imagination.

Which is, of course, an illusion.

To recap—Everest is growing more unpredictable and difficult to climb every year. Yet we possess this romanticized, semi-fanatical belief that it's easier than ever before. I can tell you right now, this one doesn't end well.

Global Warming and Tourism Turning Mt. Everest Into a Death Trap
Mt. Everest is losing both snow cover and respect.

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