Seasonal balance on Mount Everest: The cash cow with the most milk

Mount Everest (in 2016)
Mount Everest

Big business as usual. That’s how you could summarize the past spring season on Mount Everest. It got off to a slow start at first because the Icefall Doctors took longer than planned to complete their work in the Khumbu Icefall on the Nepalese south side of the mountain. Fewer snow bridges, huge crevasses – climate change is also making itself felt on the world’s highest mountain.

Once the route through the icefall and a little later up to the summit was secured mit fixed ropes, the commercial climbing machine, which had been well-oiled for years, started up as usual: On the good weather days, long queues formed at the key points, and at times, as many climbers crowded together at the summit as at an open-air concert by Madonna.

Eight dead


The US mountain blogger Alan Arnette, who keeps an eye on all commercial teams like no other, estimates the number of summit successes this season on the Nepalese south side at around 600. Eight Everest aspirants paid for their adventure with their lives – which is roughly the average for previous years.

All of them were clients of Nepalese expedition operators. The three missing among the eight victims include a British and a Nepalese climber. They fell down the Tibetan east flank of Everest on their way back from the summit when a block of ice broke away on the summit ridge. The large number of climbers ascending and descending had apparently destabilized it.

Eleven tons of garbage collected

The excessive number of people at base camp and on the mountain remains the main cause of all problems on Everest – and not just in terms of safety. Despite well-intentioned attempts to clean up Everest, it is getting dirtier and dirtier. Garbage and feces accumulate. This season, Nepalese soldiers removed eleven tons of garbage from the mountain, as well as five corpses, including one that was already skeletonized. Since 2019, the country’s army says it has collected a total of 119 tons of garbage and recovered 14 bodies during its annual clean-up expeditions.

But this is a Sisyphean task given that around 2,000 people fill the base camp every spring and hundreds populate the high camps. With more and more luxury, more and more equipment, more and more bottled oxygen – and more and more staff: the trend among paying clients is towards second or even third sherpa.

New rules fall flat

Against this backdrop, new rules – such as the mandatory use of poo bags on the mountain this year – are cosmetic at best. This is also due to the fact that Nepal is a “world champion” in constantly issuing new regulations, but then failing to check whether they are being adhered to. The black sheeps among the expedition operators are also aware of this, as they pay little or no attention to issues such as environmental protection or safety, but only have their own bank account in mind.

Everest makes the cash registers ring

The latter apparently also applies to the government in Kathmandu. After all, Everest is the cash cow that brings in the most milk. After a record 478 permits in 2023, the Ministry of Tourism sold another 421 ascent permits this spring. This meant revenue of more than 4.6 million dollars.

And next year, the tills will ring even more. The price of an Everest permit will then rise by around 36 percent, from 11,000 to 15,000 dollars. It is not to be expected that fewer mountaineers will come to Everest as a result. With an expedition price – depending on the level of support and luxury factor – of between 35,000 and over 200,000 dollars, most customers will probably be able to get over the additional 4,000 dollars.

In view of the immense business being done with Everest, the initiative of Nepal’s highest court seems almost cute: in mid-May, the Supreme Court called on the government to limit the number of permits for ecological reasons. The limited capacity of the mountains must be “respected”, it said. The court was not more specific – and once again left all the back doors open.

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest, wind vane at the summit (in 2005)
Tibetan north side of Mount Everest (in 2005)

Lonely north side

The Chinese-Tibetan authorities only opened the Everest door to foreign expeditions very late this spring – after four years of interruption. Three operators with comparatively small teams had the patience to wait for the permits and were rewarded with a lonely north side of Everest. Alan Arnette estimates the number of summit successes there this spring at only around 70. In China, the number of Everest permits is capped at 300, and ascents without bottled oxygen are only permitted up to the North Col at around 7,000 meters.

Stagnation from an alpine perspective

And that brings us to the sporting results of the season. Although several Everest records and “firsts” were reported again, this spring on the highest mountain on earth did not advance alpinism one bit – neither stylistically nor in terms of routes. The most remarkable achievement was that of Piotr Krzyzowski from Poland, who scaled Lhotse and Everest within 48 hours without bottled oxygen and without a Sherpa companion. However, he also used the normal routes secured with fixed ropes to both summits.

Backflip on the summit

Nevertheless, numerous Everest climbers are being celebrated on social media. For example, for multiple ascents within one season – whereby the usual support from Sherpa(s) and bottled oxygen is often not mentioned. Or for bizarre “achievements” such as a backflip on the summit – after a deep breath from the oxygen bottle.

Or for a concert in Camp 2 at 6,400 meters. In the latter case, the Nepalese DJ at least claimed a good cause for his action: in his own words, he wanted to draw attention to the dangers of climate change for the Himalayas. But was it really necessary for this to join the queues of people on Everest and climb to the summit after the concert? In this case, too, it’s true: Mount Everest is merely a means to an end for most people – for whatever reason.

One Reply to “Seasonal balance on Mount Everest: The cash cow with the most milk”

  1. Blaming it on Nepalese cos. is a little unfair/misleading.
    The 2 Mongolian climbers just booked basic services, no sherpa. The cornice could have broken any time. It was just bad luck these 2 guys were with a Nep. co. I did not check on the other four fatalities.

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