KATMANDU, Nepal – Days after four people died amid a traffic jam of climbers scrambling to conquer Mount Everest, Nepal officials said a similar rush up the world's tallest peak will begin soon, and there's little they can do to control it.
About 200 climbers are expected to attempt to scale the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain between Friday and Sunday, Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said. Some have been at a staging camp for days, waiting for a window of good weather during this worse-than-usual climbing season.
A similar crowd of 208 climbers headed to the summit last week, and four died Saturday in one of the deadliest days ever on the mountain.
Ha Wenyi of China, Eberhard Schaaf of Germany, Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah and South Korean Song Won-bin died on their descents from the summit, apparently from exhaustion and altitude sickness.
Shrestha also said a Nepalese Sherpa guide who had been reported missing reached the base camp safely on Monday. The guide was separated from his group and did not have communications equipment, Shrestha said Tuesday.
The deaths have raised concerns about overcrowding above the highest camp on the mountain. The area is nicknamed the "death zone" because of the steep icy slope, treacherous conditions and low oxygen level.
Describing a "traffic jam" of climbers Saturday, Shrestha said climbers were heading to the summit at 2:30 p.m., even though 11 a.m. is the latest start time recommended. That meant climbers were staying too long at high altitudes and exhausting their oxygen supplies because they didn't anticipate having to wait.
Now, with a similarly large number of climbers expected to head up the same trail under similar conditions, Nepalese authorities acknowledged safety concerns but said they can't turn any of them away.
"The climbers have received the permits to climb within specific dates. We cannot say who gets to get to the summit on which dates because of the unpredictable weather. When weather clears up they all want to benefit," said Nepal's Tourism Ministry spokesman, Bal Krishna Ghimire.
Apa, a Nepalese Sherpa guide who has scaled Everest a record 21 times, said climbers are eager to reach the summit, so when the weather clears up they take their chances.
"The window of good weather is so short that if the climbers miss it then there is a good chance they will not be able to get another chance, so they don't want to wait and take their chances," said Apa, who uses only one name.
He said the traffic jam of climbers going up and down the same icy trail makes it hazardous, especially with climbers already exhausted from having climbed all night from the last camp, at 26,246 feet.
"And having to wait for extra hours and the delays only makes the situation worse," Apa said.
Ghimire said it is up to the climbers and their teams to assess the conditions and safety.
"We have officials at the base camp, but beyond that it is mostly up to the climbers," Ghimire said.
He said that eventually, the government plans to set up a seasonal office at the base camp equipped with doctors, weather experts and security personnel. Ghimire said they also have plans to give each climber a tracking device.
More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to do so in 1953. Some 225 climbers have died attempting it.
The deadliest day was May 10, 1996, when eight people were killed. The main reason was said to be that climbers who started their ascent late in the day were caught in a snowstorm in the afternoon and lost their way.
The climbing season normally runs from late March to the first week in June, but this year the season's first clear conditions were on Friday and Saturday. A windstorm hit the higher altitudes by Saturday afternoon.