Three climbers died and two others went missing while descending the summit of Mount Everest – a toll that raised concerns about overcrowding in the "death zone" at the top of the world's tallest peak.
The deadly weekend unfolded as an estimated 150 climbers tried to reach the top on Friday and Saturday as they rushed to use a brief window of good weather in a troubled climbing season. Many had been waiting at a staging camp for several days for their chance to head to the summit.
The three climbers who died were believed to have suffered exhaustion and altitude sickness, Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said. Officials were yesterday still gathering details.
The victims were identified as German doctor Eberhard Schaaf, Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah and South Korean mountaineer Song Won-bin. The missing climbers are a Chinese national and his Nepalese Sherpa guide. "There was a traffic jam on the mountain on Saturday. Climbers were still heading to the summit as late as 2:30pm, which is quite dangerous," Mr Shrestha said.
Climbers are advised not to try for the summit after 11am. The area above the last camp at the South Col is nicknamed the "death zone" because of the steep icy slope, treacherous conditions and low oxygen level.
"With the traffic jam, climbers had a longer wait for their chance to go up the trail and spent too much time at higher altitude. Many of them were believed to be carrying a limited amount of oxygen, not anticipating the extra time spent," Mr Shrestha said.
The climbing season runs from late March to the first week in June, and the Nepalese government places no limits on how many climbers can be on the 8,850-metre mountain.
The season's first clear conditions were on Friday and Saturday, but that window already was closing by Saturday afternoon with a windstorm at higher altitudes.