Reaching the Summit Safely - Overcrowding on Mount Everest

Reaching the Summit Safely - Overcrowding on Mount Everest

June 5, 20192 min read

With at least 11 deaths, Mount Everest is having one the deadliest climbing seasons to date. Typical causes such as avalanches, blizzards, and high winds are not the leading causes, but instead, an overabundance of climbers on the mountain, and in particular inexperienced climbers, are to blame.

According to the New York Times, “fly-by-night adventure companies are taking up untrained climbers who pose a risk to everyone on the mountain. And the Nepalese government, hungry for every climbing dollar it can get, has issued more permits than Everest can safely handle, some experienced mountaineers say.”

Dr. Kelly Goonan, assistant professor of outdoor recreation at Southern Utah University and expert on impact analysis, park sustainability, and visitor disturbance projections, shares her view on the tragic circumstances happening at Everest.

“We often think of crowding in outdoor spaces as an inconvenience or simple annoyance, however, the recent events on Mount Everest illustrate how, sometimes, the results can be tragic. We are talking about a complex combination of factors: commercializing adventure activities; profits from nature tourism; making high-risk activities more accessible; and a phenomenon known as ‘destructive goal pursuit,’ or what happens when we get so focused on a singular goal—like reaching the summit—that we do not recognize risks or the consequences of our choices and actions.”

Along with those factors, at Mount Everest the stakes are even higher.

“The pressure of bad weather ‘ruining’ a summit attempt means that everyone goes during brief periods of favorable weather, creating literal traffic jams at the most dangerous spot. With the summit in sight, climbers are reluctant to abandon their attempt even when their oxygen runs low or their designated turn-around-time passes.”

Goonan suggests that the Nepalese government should reconsider the number of permits issued each season and establish criteria for certified guiding companies.

“Guides should screen their clients to ensure they have the experience and health needed to safely reach the summit, enforce turn-around times, and forgo the temptation to ‘travel light’ in the event the group is delayed. Finally, we should all remember that reaching the summit is only half the journey: we must make it down safely if we want to continue climbing mountains.”

A self-described “hybrid recreation ecologist/recreation social scientist”, Dr. Goonan’s expertise is in the management of outdoor recreation, natural resources, and protected areas. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit her profile.



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  • Kelly Goonan
    Kelly Goonan Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation

    Outdoor recreation expertise with outdoor safety tips, planning national park visits, and planning and management of outdoor recreation.

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