After Everest’s Deadliest Season, and a Record 18 Dead, How Many Will be Climbing This Year?

Why were there so many deaths last year on Everest? And will it deter people from climbing this year?

Or is the danger just part of the appeal?

Once the weather was good last year, the ropes were fixed by 14 May. The weather window extended for weeks and no massive events occurred that would endanger a host of climbers all at once. It felt colder than usual as many reported, but Everest is never exactly warm and while you may get frostbite, as long as you keep moving, it shouldn’t be life threatening.

The season did start ominously, with Lakpa Rita Sherpa, Pemba Tenjing Sherpa and Dachhiri Sherpa buried in the Khumbu Icefall while carrying loads up to Camp 1. It was a sad and tragic opener for a season that just proved to get progressively worse.

On a rotation through the Khumbu Icefall, headed for Camp One. Sometimes you are more in the belly of the beast than on top of it. Photo: Robert Mads Anderson

With Everest becoming a playground for those seeking the ultimate challenge, pushing themselves beyond their limits to complete their finite goal, more climbers were able to climb higher, and it seems, get in more trouble, than ever before.

However, amidst the majestic allure, is the challenge and its’ potential dangers also part of the appeal? Has the danger, and ultimately, the finality of dying, become an integral element of the adventure?

Everest, with its challenging terrain, extreme altitude, and unpredictable weather, has become a symbol of human resilience and the pursuit of making the impossible, possible, and is marketed as such.

The appeal of Everest still lies (hopefully) not in the prospect of dying, but rather in the quest for triumph over adversity. It is a test of human endurance and of conquering one’s fears. The dangers associated with Everest serve as a crucible, forging a sense of accomplishment and self-discovery. It is the willingness to confront death and survive that transforms a mere climb into the personal journey.

Yet Everest is also often a very public journey, where success turns the focus back on the individual, in many cases extolling there worth, and in some cultures, even their value. So while the numbers of people dying go up, as much as it is a caution, it is also an allure. 

With some successful business people, having achieved professional success, they find themselves grappling with a sense of existential dissatisfaction or longing for more meaning. Or perhaps they are just a bit bored?

And with the ever burgeoning numbers of Asian climbers joining commercial expeditions, with mixed skill sets, the journey is sometimes less of a personal journey and more a search for societal recognition.  

Everest, Kangshung Face, Robert Mads Anderson, Ed Webster
Descending into the “Jaws of Doom”, only slightly melodramatic. Kangshung Face, Everest. Photo: Ed Webster

Everest presents an opportunity to confront fears, regain a sense of purpose and confront your own mortality. Then the mountain becomes a representation for overcoming the metaphorical summits, as climbers strive to reclaim a sense of vitality and purpose.

So while the numbers of people climbing Everest will always be affected by larger world events, the personal desire and those who think they can follow and attain the dream, be it deadly or not, could well be ever increasing.