At over 29,000 feet, Mount Everest is the world’s highest summit – the utmost challenge for mountaineers. But with the high altitude comes a high risk of danger and death. So far this climbing season, there have been eleven fatalities, double the number of deaths from last year.
Experienced hikers have cited overcrowding and long lines near the peak as part of the problem, but Nepal’s Board of Tourism has so far issued no plans to change the permit process or limit who can climb.
This season 381 permits, a record number, were distributed for the Nepal side of the mountain, the area with the most fatalities.
To discuss the intense journey and the problems contributing to the spike in deaths, mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears – who has trekked to the top five times – joined Jim Braude on Greater Boston on the 66th anniversary of the first-ever summit climb by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
“I ask people, ‘why are you here?’ And they just say, ‘Everest,’” explained Breashears. He understands the mystique and draw of the mountain. At eleven years old, Breashears was inspired by a photograph of Norgay on the peak, “I hadn't seen a mountain where a man needed an oxygen mask and an oxygen tank to survive.”
Following his childhood dream, Breashears made his first climb to the top in 1983 in what he describes as a “deeply emotional moment.” Over the next two decades, while documenting different expeditions, he became a veteran of the mountain and an expert climber, navigating sudden blizzards, avalanches, and even a rescue effort.
As an experienced hiker, Breashears believes one of the central problems causing the high death toll this year is the number of new climbers taking on the highest mount. “The clients that you see on the mountain are woefully inexperienced. They have no experience.”
Asked if the Nepalese government should step in to further regulate who should be allowed to hike, the veteran climber described the importance of self-policing and self-reliance. “I don't think you should be on that mountain if you can't look after yourself,” he warned.
“If you can't get up on that mountain on your own, what is the point? What is the reward?”