Deaths on Mount Everest — Who's to blame?

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Speed read

What's happening: An American climber from Colorado died while making his descent from the summit of Mount Everest on Monday. It was the 11th death on the world's highest mountain in a two-week span, making 2019 one of the deadliest climbing seasons in memory.

Conditions on the mountain are always dangerous, but overcrowding has led to climbers standing in line for hours in the "death zone," where they risk running out of oxygen, becoming exhausted and falling off steep cliffs.

Why there's debate: The rash of deaths — which many believe to be avoidable — has led to questions over who is responsible for creating such dangerous conditions in what is already a perilous place. Many are blaming the overcrowding on the government of Nepal, which issued a record number of permits to climb the mountain this season.

Others have pointed to unscrupulous trekking companies that are sending climbers who aren't fit for the journey up the mountain with subpar equipment.

The situation is reportedly made more precarious by climbers' obsession with reaching the top. So-called summit fever may cause some people to ignore signs that they're in danger, and some have described seeing fellow climbers lose empathy for those around them in need.

What's next: The Nepalese tourism board denies that the deaths were a result of the traffic jam at the summit and said it has no plans to limit the number of permits it issues next year. Whether the recent spate of deaths causes fewer climbers to make the trip will likely not be clear until the start of the 2020 climbing season next spring.


Overcrowding is causing people to spend too much time at unsafe altitude.

"Now what we're seeing and what we will probably see every year forward is eight to 10 people dying just in a routine manner, just because of the sheer number of people trying to fit onto the route." — Grayson Schaffer, NPR

The mountain's mystique draws inexperienced climbers.

"Everest has become largely detached from the rest of climbing and mountaineering. It has become a trophy experience, drawing too many otherwise without much interest in the sport, validated by media coverage that sees Everest as being endlessly ‘conquered’ rather than passé." — Peter Beaumont, The Guardian

Climbing Everest has become more about tourism than serious mountaineering.
"With Everest more temptingly there than ever before, some can't resist the shortcut through years of dedicated training afforded to them by money. That access is what makes the mountain more dangerous, both to the unexperienced climbers who clog the routes and to the local porters whose lives are dedicated to helping them up." — Jeva Lange, The Week

The quest for money has led people to disregard safety.

"All the worst traits of the commercialization connected to modern tourism — the eagerness to make a buck, the disregard of natural resources, the cut corners, the greed — somehow made its way to one of the most remote and difficult-to-access spots on earth." — Jim Geraghty, National Review

Social media culture drives climbers to take unnecessary risks.

"It’s the need to show a sense of self worth and post on social media. Like it or not, we are all caught up in an unstoppable personal PR machine of displaying our significance to the world. Or, in layman’s terms, 'Look where I am, look what I’m doing or look what I’ve got.'" — climber Adrian Hayes to Metro

Commitment to reaching the summit makes climbers unwilling to help others.

"I saw some people like they had no emotions. … I asked people for water and no one gave me any. People are really obsessed with the summit. They are ready to kill themselves for the summit.” — climber Rizza Alee to the New York Times

The Nepalese government should place limits on who can climb the mountain.

"I saw some climbers without basic skills fully relying on their Sherpa guides. The government should fix the qualification criteria. … Only trained climbers should be granted the permit to climb Everest." — climber Ameesha Chauhan to AFP

The causes are more complex than just overcrowding.

"I also spoke to several veteran guides. …[T]hey were quite adamant that the line isn't killing people per se — it's more of a cascade of events, bad decision making and a lack of leadership that is really behind some of the tragedies you've been hearing about." — Freddie Wilkinson, WBUR

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