Maybe Everest Needs A Traffic Cop; At Least Four Climbers Dead

May 22, 2012
Originally published on May 22, 2012 1:45 pm

It's called the "traffic jam." The weather near the summit of Mount Everest clears, and everyone who has ploughed up the slopes leading to the world's highest peak tries to climb to the top at once. There are only a few hours to complete the last steps over the narrow way before climbers must turn back for the safety of their camps. Sometimes they run into trouble in the crowd.

That's what happened to four climbers last weekend. Dr. Eberhard Schaaf of Germany, Song Won-bin of South Korea, and Canadian Shriya Shah died while trying to descend from the peak. There are new reports today that the body of Ha Wenyi of China was also discovered, according to USA Today.

More climbers are attempting to summit the peak every year during climbing season between late March and the beginning of June. They spend weeks getting used to lower levels of oxygen at different camps at increasingly higher altitudes, carrying their packs. The Telegraph reports this year, favorable conditions for climbing to the top didn't occur until last Friday, which was later than usual.

Some 150 climbers then tried to summit at the same time. Here's the trouble: Only so many people can ascend (and descend) the dangerous rock face known as the Hillary Step at the same time because only one rope is available. Some climbers are successful, including the oldest woman ever to scale Everest.

But while climbers wait hours for their turn to go up — and down — danger crops up. The Guardian talked to expeditionist Tom Briggs, who observed, "That's a hell of a lot of standing around. That certainly increases the dangers of frostbite and other problems like high-altitude sickness."

Supporters of Everest climber Jon Kedrowski are blogging his progress. They cite an unconfirmed report that as many as seven climbers may have died over the past weekend. Kedrowski tried to reach the peak on Sunday but "aborted due to a combination of 300 climbers on the route and high winds returning." Conditions were reportedly "brutal."

Kedrowski compares conditions to May 1996, when eight people died on the Everest climb. The deadly event is recounted in Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air, which traces his own journey to the top.

Kedrowski and others will make a fresh attempt on the peak this weekend. The Guardian estimates about 200 people will try to reach the top between Friday and Sunday. Even if weather conditions are at their best, a new traffic jam of climbers will form, creating dangerous new conditions for them.

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