Mount Everest is as deadly as ever, but the climbers keep coming

At an altitude of about 7,000 metres, your fingernails turn blue from low blood-oxygen levels. At 8,000 metres, if not sooner, unconditioned climbers can go no further.
Without supplemental oxygen in the so-called “death zone,” most lose consciousness after just a few minutes. Temperatures are far below freezing.
It’s clear from all the reports of extreme-altitude mountaineering that the human body isn’t made for such harsh, airless regions. Nevertheless, every year hundreds of people subject themselves to the dangerous rigours of treks to the top of the world.
This year, the Nepalese Department of Tourism has issued a record 375 climbing permits to foreigners for the 8,848-metre Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, which straddles the border of Nepal and the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet. The climbers will be accompanied by about 400 Nepalese Sherpa guides.
The number of climbers is particularly high this year because many have been unable to climb in recent years due to treacherous conditions. In 2014, an icefall killed 16 Sherpas; and in 2015, an earthquake-triggered avalanche reportedly took 22 lives on the mountain, most of them at Everest Base Camp.
A total of six climbers have been reported killed so far this climbing season, although the number was briefly thought to be 10 when Sherpa rescuers found four bodies that were later determined to have lain on the mountain since last year.
“The rescuers found the dead climbers in their tents at Camp IV while looking for another body,” says Gyanendra Shrestha, a Nepalese tourism ministry official. At an altitude of about 7,950 metres, Camp IV is the last major camp before climbers begin their final ascent to the summit.
“The terrain is constantly changing due to heavy snowfall at such high altitudes,” notes Kapindra Rai, programme officer of the Everest Pollution Control Committee. “And the thin air makes heavy physical exertion nearly impossible. So it’s not surprising when bodies aren’t found for a very long time – or not at all.”
What is surprising is that a famous feature of Mount Everest, the Hillary Step, a rocky outcrop about 12 metres high and last major obstacle on the main route to the summit, may now be gone.
Some climbers say the nearly vertical rock face, named after the New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1953 along with the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to scale the mountain, may have collapsed in the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
Other climbers have disputed this, however, saying deep snow cover and poor visibility have merely masked the outcrop. At the time of writing, neither Nepal’s tourism ministry nor its main mountaineering association have made an official statement on the matter. — dpa

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