This is How Mount Everest Got So Overcrowded
Before 1953, no one in recorded history had reached the summit of Mount Everest.
This wrinkle in the Earth’s crust is the farthest from sea level you can get and still have two feet planted on the Earth. This was first determined in 1852 by mathematician and surveyor, Radhanath Sikdar, after decades of exhausting and deadly surveys into the inhospitable and often impassable Himalayas.
But it wasn’t until 1885 when English mountaineer, Clinton Thomas Dent, speculated that it would be possible to scale this mountain, reach the top, and not die doing so.
And the race to conquer Mount Everest began.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, various British expeditions tried to scale the mountain. The first recorded deaths happened at this time as well. One of whom was George Mallory who went missing while attempting to reach the summit in 1924. His body was found 75 years later, preserved and undisturbed, 2000 feet from the top of Mount Everest.
Nearly 10 years later, wealthy British philanthropist and aviation pioneer, Lady Houston, financed an aircraft expedition to the mountain, making Air Commodore and Scottish Nobleman, Sir Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the first person to fly over Mount Everest.
But it wasn’t until 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay actually set foot on the summit. They became instant celebrities. Hillary was knighted and Norgay became a life peer of Britain — not to mention having the singular glory of being the first humans to conquer the highest peak on planet Earth.
But they wouldn’t be the last.
Almost exactly three years later, another expedition would make it to the top. And another one the very next day.
But then the numbers soared.
Throughout the 80s, about 180 people set foot on the summit. Over the course of the 1990s, that number would more than quadruple.
Now the mountain has been conquered nearly 8,000 times by over 4,000 people. In 2018 alone, 800 people made it to the summit.
And this can be mostly attributed to money.
Since the 1990s, the commercial mountaineering industry has exploded at Mount Everest. Wealthy tourists would pay big bucks to sherpas and mountaineers to successfully guide them up the mountain.
Where in Hillary and Norgay’s time, expeditions were non-profit, expensive affairs financed by governments or wealthy philanthropists or the climbers themselves, much of today’s mountain traffic is fueled by an industry that makes its living ferrying as many paying customers as possible up the mountain.
What had been regarded as a nearly miraculous feat of human endurance and ingenuity has been reduced to a very expensive and uniquely deadly amusement park ride — complete with long lines and high ticket prices.
This isn’t without its benefits.
The commercialization of Mount Everest has brought steady wages and employment to local sherpas and boosted the regional economy. Commercial summiting trips have an incentive to minimize the danger and discomfort of scaling such a treacherous mountain in order to attract more customers. These companies provide ample oxygen, they choose the most familiar and well-traveled routes, and provide all the necessary equipment to make the journey as painless as possible. Therefore, climbing to the highest peak in the world might be safer than ever.
But the increasing influx of tourists has led to a proliferation of trash, turning the slopes of Mount Everest into an impromptu garbage dump. The need for shelter, firewood, and the rapid development of the region into a tourist hub has led to deforestation and ecological destruction all around the Himalayas.
Not to mention that global warming is changing the very character of the mountain. The snow and ice that has enshrouded mount everest for centuries is melting, leading to more avalanches and floods.
While these mountaineering companies have made the trip to the top of the world safer and easier, it is hardly devoid of danger. The shear amount of people attempting the feat means that there is more opportunity for tragedy. 3 of the deadliest disasters in Mount Everest’s history have happened in the last thirty years. Avalanches killed more than a dozen people in 2014 and 2015. 11 were killed in 2019, many of whom died of altitude sickness and exhaustion while waiting in line to get to and from the summit.
Mount Everest is named for Sir George Everest — a British surveyor who didn’t even want to the mountain to bear his name. But it has many local names that predate Everest. Some of these names mean “Holy Mountain” or “Holy Mother.” In the 60s, the Nepalese government named it Sagarmatha which means “Goddess of the sky.” Whatever the name, it is clear that the region holds a deep reverence for the mountain. It is so much more than a lucrative money making venture or an extravagant tourist destination. it is The stunning result of two tectonic plates smashing into one another for the last 55 million years or so. It’s also the base of an ecosystem and environment unlike nearly anything else in the world. this makes it a sacred, one-of-kind spot on our planet — the kind of thing you’re not supposed to put a price tag on. But alas, we have, and now we’re paying for it.
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