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Stop this deadly Everest free-for-all, says leading mountaineer

  • @susborne

A leading British climber who reached the summit of Mount Everest for the tenth time last month has called for the number of people climbing the world's highest peak to be limited, after one of the deadliest years in its history.

Kenton Cool, 38, said he was “blown away” by photographs which emerged last week showing queues of hundreds of paying tourists snaking up towards the summit.

The climber reached the top of Everest days after a traffic jam and bad weather were blamed for the deaths of four climbers. Ten people have died on the mountain this year, the most for more than 15 years.

Guides who offer even inexperienced climbers the chance to climb Everest in return for up to £60,000 are already planning for next year’s season, the 60th since Edmund Hillary first conquered the peak.

Mr Cool said some teams on the mountain “offer things on a plate, to a certain extent - you just put one foot in front of the other.”

The climber is co-director of Dream Guides, one of around six firms who take customers up Everest. His clients have included the adventurer Sir Ranulph Feinnes, with whom Mr Cool reached the summit in 2009.

He said companies like his have a responsibility to limit attempts on Everest. “Without doubt the numbers of people didn’t help what happened this year,” he told The Independent after returning to Britain.

“I suspect we’ll get together and say, we’re the operators on the mountain, we understand how it works, and what we’re seeing is, it’s getting dangerous.”

More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest since Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach its summit in 1953. At least 220 climbers have died attempting it, about half of them in the past 20 years.

Traffic peaked this year when the weather came good on 18 May. More than 150 climbers waited in a high-altitude conga line for their chance to muscle their way to the top.

The German mountaineer Ralf Dujmovits photographed a queue of heel-to-nose climbers on the precipitous Lhotse face. He said as many as 600 people had been jostling for space on the peak.

“I had a strong feeling that not all of them would come back,” Dujmovits told reporters. “I was also filled with sadness [for] this mountain, for which I have immense respect. People nowadays treat [it] as if it was a piece of sporting apparatus, not a force of nature. It really makes my soul ache.”

Days after the photo was taken, a 33-year-old Canadian woman was among four climbers who perished in bad weather on their way down the mountain. Shriya Shah-Klorfine reportedly ignored advice to turn back, saying, “I spent a lot of money to come over here. It's my dream.”

Dujmovits has pleaded with the Nepalese government to control the number and quality of climbers. But Mr Cool doubts this will happen. “Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world and one of their biggest incomes is from tourism.”

Climbers must apply months ahead for a permit from the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu. Prices start at about $10,000 (£6,500).

If Nepal is not inclined to limit the number of climbers, Mr Cool said, adventure companies should be. “I think we’ll move away from the big expeditions with 15 or 20 paying members to go back to smaller, less profitable groups of four or five. It’s safer, more flexible and, above all, more fun.”

Everest attempts have also become lucrative for sponsors. Mr Cool was carrying not only the British flag during his latest attempt, but also that of Samsung. The electronics firm put its name to the climber’s bid to carry an Olympic gold medal to the roof of the world, honouring a pledge made almost 90 years ago.

The climber carried a one of 21 medals awarded to a group of British climbers who failed to reach the summit in 1922. They were given the medals at 1924 Winter Olympic Games, when they promised to take one to the top of Everest.

Mr Cool, who first reached the summit in 2003, said the experience of the tenth successful attempt was not reduced despite the crowds. “The first was remarkable and something I’ll remember for a long time,” he said. “But after so much planning and preparation, the tenth was pretty overwhelming.”