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July 15, 2013

Climbing Mount Everest Becomes More Commonplace

by Mike Richman

Sixty years ago, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the top of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak. Their climb took seven weeks, much longer than today’s journeys up the Himalayan mountain.

But conquering Everest is not as daunting as it once was.

Frits Vrijlandt, head of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, scaled Mount Everest in 2000. He estimated that 100 people climbed the mountain each year back then, compared to about 500 a year now.

Droves of people are conquering the mountain, Vrijlandt said, largely because it is much easier to do so. He said expedition companies fix ropes from base camp to the summit along the two main routes on the mountain - one on the Nepalese side and the other on the Tibetan side. Also, Nepalese sherpas help climbers by carrying food, tents, ladders and oxygen.

Famed mountaineer Reinhold Messner, in comparison, once conquered Everest by himself without supplemental oxygen.

Inexperienced climbers on Everest

Today, Vrijlandt said, some people who scale the 8,850-meter peak have no climbing experience.

“I made a remark that I’ve seen people who have never been climbing on ice, they only know ice from the ice cubes in their drinks," Vrijlandt said. "That [Those] kind of people, I’m not sure if they belong on the mountain. But if they put some effort in and gain experience by climbing 6,000- or 7,000-meter peaks in Nepal or abroad, then it will be better preparation, and they will be more ready for climbing Mount Everest.”

According to Vrijlandt, the mystique of climbing the mountain is fading.

“It’s still an achievement and it’s still the largest mountain in the world, but to be clear, it’s still possible to die up there because it’s an extreme high mountain," Vrijlandt said. "But mystique, yes, I think if all those people without any experience and with so much help, yes, part of the mystique is lost.”

The head of a Himalayan expedition company, Iswari Paudel, agreed that the climb has become less challenging.

“But now so many things are changing," Paudel said. "So this is every year getting quite easier than like many years before, so there’s more chances to get to the top.”

Many records being set

The aid available to climbers has opened doors to setting records on Everest.  Many marks were established this year alone in peak climbing season in May.

An 80-year-old Japanese man who Vrijlandt said had up to 20 sherpas helping him became the oldest person to climb Everest. Vrilandt called that more of a "team achievement” than a “personal achievement.”

Other record-setters include the first double amputee, the first female amputee, the first Saudi and Pakistani women, the first twins, and the first person to climb Everest from both sides in the same season.

To Paudel, such feats are inspiring.  

“So many records the last month, which happened on Everest, which is good," Paudel said.  "People who climb without one hand or without two hands or without one leg or without two legs, some with no eyes, so many records we have, which encourages even the disabled people they can climb Everest, if they have the support they can achieve the mission, which is good for those people.”

Vrijlandt, however, is cynical about the records.

“It’s getting more and more almost crazy to find a record that has not been done yet," Vrijlandt said. "I don’t think Mount Everest should be a mountain for setting all kinds of records, the youngest person, the oldest person, whatever you can imagine. The first twins have been up now. I don’t think those kind of competing games should be on the mountain.”  

So many things are different about Everest since Hillary and Norgay climbed it in 1953. But one thing remains the same: the mountain still offers a breathtaking view from the top.