See More on Facebook

Culture and society, Current affairs

The real reason people are dying on Everest

The man who’s climbed Everest 24 times says traffic jams aren’t killing climbers, inexperienced guides are.


Written by

Updated: June 6, 2019

There is much that Kami Rita Sherpa wants to get off his mind. At first, he is soft-spoken, a low talker, but minutes into the conversation, he seizes upon something that has irked him throughout this Everest season—the ‘traffic jam’—and he becomes visibly upset, angry even.

“There has been a traffic jam on Everest for the last 12 years,” he says, his weather-beaten face dark. “This is nothing new, it’s normal.”

So what went wrong on Everest this season? What about the overcrowding and the nine deaths? Kami Rita, 24-time Everest summiteer, has an answer.

“Cheap expeditions,” says Kami Rita. “If you’re paying $20,000 to $30,000 to climb Everest, the permit alone costs $11,000. Then you have to pay the Sherpas, the guides and for oxygen bottles. So what kind of quality are these expeditions providing?”

For Kami Rita, still lean and muscular at 49, this is clearly a sore spot. He cannot fathom how climbers are willing to spend $11,000 on a permit but unwilling to spend more on a quality expedition company with experienced guides—all to make sure they come back alive.

“I took 26 people up the first time around and around 13 people the second time,” says Kami Rita, who, in a superhuman feat, climbed Everest twice in the same week in May. “We didn’t lose anyone. This wasn’t just because of me but because of our team of experienced guides.”

Kami Rita draws a fitting analogy, comparing high-end climbing companies to a fancy hotel and cheap companies to a local bhatti—a roadside eatery. Chosen carelessly, drinking and eating at a bad bhatti might end up killing you, or at least make you very sick. Kami Rita recounts an incident from just a few weeks ago when he noticed that an inexperienced guide had forgotten to turn his client’s oxygen on, so he had to do it himself.

“A traffic jam doesn’t kill people,” he says. “But inexperienced guides from cheap companies can’t help you if something goes wrong.”

There is so much that can go wrong on Everest, especially above 8,000 metres, in what is ominously called the ‘death zone’. There’s the treacherous landscapecapricious weather, altitude sickness, exhaustion, and even psychosis. Climbers can turn stubborn and uncooperative, insisting on climbing even when they are likely to not make it, says Kami Rita. At times like these, Sherpa guides are well within their rights to scold, harangue, yell and berate their clients—and in case the clients are especially obstinate, even slap them.

“We ask them [clients] to sign a document at Base Camp, agreeing that they will not sue us if we yell at them or slap them,” says Kami Rita. “At high altitudes, we can’t afford to spend a lot of time dealing with stubborn clients.”

Some climbers even bring pre-existing conditions with them to the mountain. Climbers are supposed to provide medical certificates but there is no mechanism to check whether these are authentic or if high altitudes might exacerbate existing conditions. A health post operated by the Himalayan Rescue Association provides services at Base Camp but it is staffed by trainees and volunteers with little medical experience. “There are no doctors there,” says Kami Rita.

Just last week, the government floated a plan to set up a mandatory medical check-up at Base Camp before allowing climbers to push on.

Then, there’s the much-disputed Hillary Step. Even an experienced mountaineer like Kami Rita would take about 30 minutes to climb the nearly vertical rock face. For others, at least an hour or two to move up 12 metres. It is considered one of the toughest spots in the push for the summit. Or at least, it was.

“The Hillary Step doesn’t exist anymore and I can show you proof,” says Kami Rita, reaching into his pocket to whip out his phone. He displays a before and after set of photos, one with a large bare rock face and another without it. To a layperson, that could be any outcropping, but it wouldn’t be wise to dispute Everest topography with someone who has climbed the mountain 24 times, more than any other human. A government official tried once, it didn’t go so well for him.

“I told him to come meet me,” says Kami Rita. “We’ll go climb Everest together and then we can discuss whether the Hillary Step exists or not.”

Everest has many issues, but Kami Rita insists traffic is not one of them. It’s all a plot by foreign media to defame Nepal and its tourism industry, he says. For all the effort he’s expended climbing Everest, Kami Rita seems hamstrung by a conspiratorial belief in the ‘foreign hand’.

Following the 11 deaths on Everest—nine on the Nepali and two on the Chinese sides—a number of leading publications from around the world, including the Post, had called for drastic measures to prevent deaths on future expeditions, including limiting the number of permits and raising fees for climbers.

Certainly, the traffic could be managed better, but that’s up to the government and Kami Rita has a special distaste for the government. Despite setting a world record and making headlines around the world, he didn’t so much as receive felicitations from anyone in government, he says. Kami Rita believes that nothing will change on Everest because the government is callous and inept.

“Why did Tenzing Sherpa have to go to India?” he asks, referring to Tenzing Norgay, the first man on Everest alongside Edmund Hillary. “Because of the government. It didn’t do anything for him, so he left.”

And what did the government do for Ang Rita, the ‘Snow Leopard’ who climbed Everest ten times without supplementary oxygen? Ang Rita lives in Kathmandu but now in his 70s, suffers from dementia.

So, for Kami Rita, it makes little sense to raise the cost of Everest permits. The money will go to the government but little will get done. Individual government liaison officers are assigned to each team scaling Everest but they rarely even hang around Base Camp.

Everest is arguably Nepal’s biggest cash cow when it comes to tourism. Everest permits cost $11,000 for foreigners but most hopefuls end up spending an average of $50,000 on gear, room and board, and hiring guides and porters. Just this Spring season, Nepal made close to $4 million from permits alone, according to the Department of Tourism.

“Around the world, Nepal is known by two words—Everest and Sherpa,” says Kami Rita. “But the country has done nothing for either.”

And it is precisely this mistrust in the government that has led Kami Rita and many other Sherpas to discourage their children from following in their icy footsteps. Kami Rita’s son, who’s currently studying tourism for his Bachelor’s degree, will not be allowed near his father’s profession.

And it is the same with the 200 to 300 other experienced Sherpas who now consider themselves the last generation, says Kami Rita.

“In 15 to 20 years, there will be no more Sherpas left to climb Everest,” he says. “Then what will the government do?”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Kathmandu Post
About the Author: The Kathmandu Post was Nepal’s first privately owned English broadsheet daily and is currently the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Culture and society, Current affairs

MH17 probe releases new phone calls linking suspects to top Russians

With contributions by AFP. A Dutch-led probe into the shooting-down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 released new intercepted phone calls on Thursday (Nov 14) between high-ranking Russian officials and suspects facing trial over the crash. Investigators said they were making a “new witness appeal” based on “recorded telephone calls between the leaders of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist group) and high-ranking Russian officials.” “Ties between Russian officials and DPR leaders appear to have been much closer” than originally believed, Mr Andy Kraag, the head of Dutch police’s Criminal Investigations Division, said in a video statement. Investigators said in June that they were going to put three Rus


By Cod Satrusayang
November 15, 2019

Culture and society, Current affairs

Bangladesh charges 25 in student’s death

‘They sought to strike terror into students’. The accused in Buet student Abrar Fahad murder case had turned so rowdy that they often tortured general students to establish a reign of terror on the campus. Their efforts to create terror resulted in Abrar killing, DMP Additional Commissioner Monirul Islam said as police pressed charges against 25 Buet students, mostly leaders and activists of the university’s BCL unit, in the case yesterday. The move came 37 days after Abrar, a second year student of electrical


By Daily Star
November 14, 2019

Culture and society, Current affairs

Five years later, prosecutorial probe kicks off into Sewol ferry sinking

For some families, it is too little, too late. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Monday launched a special investigation unit to probe allegations surrounding the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014. During a press briefing at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the unit said it is “committed to making its probe so thorough that it will be the last one to be conducted into the Sewol sinking.” The unit will take on investigations conducted by a provisional state commission formed in January 2015 with a fact-finding mission on the Sewol case. This is the prosecution’s first organized effort concerning the disaster from over five years ago. On April 16, 2014, the 6,825-ton ferry with a passenger capacity of 921 sank off the coast of South Jeolla Province en route to Jeju Island, killing over 300 people, mostly children. The 18-member prosecution unit is headed by


By The Korea Herald
November 12, 2019

Culture and society, Current affairs

Ayodhya verdict is silent on why Muslims must prove exclusive possession of site

The Indian court has deprived Muslims of the disputed plot because they couldn’t show exclusive possession before 1857. On page 215 of the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid verdict, delivered by a five-judge bench on Saturday, the Supreme Court makes a crucial statement of logic: “It is true that in matters of faith and belief, the absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence.” But in its final findings, the court contradicted this same logic. The crux of the judgment that India has awaited since 1949 is that Muslims failed to show unimpeded possession of the disputed site in Ayodhya between 1528, when the mosque was supposedly built by Mughal emperor Babur, and 1857, when, after a clash between Muslims and Hindus, a railing was erected between the inner and outer courtyards at the disputed site. The inner courtyard is where the mosque demolished by Hindutva mobs in 1992 stood. The outer courtyard has se


By Dawn
November 12, 2019

Culture and society, Current affairs

The government has undermined education

A core value for a country to develop, the federal govenrment must make amends. The High-Level National Education Commission was formed in 2018 to recommend steps to better the country’s education system. After much criticism regarding the secrecy surrounding the findings of the commission, the Education Ministry finally, made public portions of the new education policy. But it seems all is still not well. Analysts and commission members were quick to point out that the new policy has disregarded almost all of the commission’s recommendations, mainly the part where private schools were required to be transformed from ‘for-profit’ to ‘not-for-profit’. Findings of the commission are important documents that ne


By The Kathmandu Post
November 11, 2019

Culture and society, Current affairs

Egypt backs China’s quest to repatriate its artifacts

Egypt has brought back artifacts from western museums under the current government. Egypt’s minister for antiquities said his country supports China’s efforts to repatriate its historical artifacts from around the world, as countries with a rich cultural heritage have a duty to future generations to safeguard these items for their own people and humanity as a whole. Khaled El-Enany spoke to China Daily at the launch of the exhibition Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, which opened on Saturday and will run at London’s Saatchi Gallery until May 3. The exhibition coincides with the 97th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb on Nov 4, 1922, by an expedition led by British historian Howard Carter.


By China Daily
November 6, 2019