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Mount Everest Is Getting Crowded; Could A Ladder Ease The Traffic Jam?
May 29, 2013
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Sir Edmund Hillary once said "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."

Hillary, along with his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, were the first climbers to officially reach the summit of Mount Everest back in 1953.

At the time, it was an extraordinary feat. Not anymore. These days, Mount Everest is often quite crowded at the top.

Once thought to be impossible, now 56% of attempts to reach the summit are successful. In 1990, it was just 18%.

In 1983, the record for most ascents in one day was eight. In the 90s, it was 40. Last year, 234 made it in a single day.

Yes, the once formidable peak is now a tourist trap, with garbage strewn about and poor sanitation.

Climber Ayisha Jess tells the BBC, after visiting Everest's base camp, "There were just people everywhere." Some people have complained about bottlenecks on their way to the top, having to wait in line for two and a half hours.

One big reason for the gridlock is improved weather forecasting, as climbers wait for optimum conditions causing delays. And overcrowding can have dire consequences.

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Four people, including a Toronto woman, died in one day last year in part because of long waits to descend, which can weaken already exhausted climbersand suck up vital oxygen.

There's also the problem of less experienced climbers.

Graham Hoyland, a long-time mountaineer and author of The Last Hours on Everest, tells the BBC, "You have people going up there who don't know how to operate the ropes or use the crampons (spiked footwear). There's a huge disaster waiting to happen."

According to Hoyland, experienced climbers are frustrated by amateurs slowing things down - something you'd expect to hear on a golf course not a mountain.

Hoyland says, "It isn't a wilderness experience - it's a McDonald's experience." And like fast food, a lot of garbage is produced.

A group of Nepalese artists and the association Da Mind Tree launched a project to raise awareness about all the trash, collecting 1.5 tonnes of garbage.

A part of the proceeds will go to Everest Summiteers Association, which was the first to initiate a cleanup trip in 2005. Da Mind Tree's director, Kripa Rana Shahi tells CNN, "We hope our creative works of art will inspire and encourage people to keep the mountains clean."

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There are a few ideas to ease the gridlock, including one to limit the number of climbers. But many say that goes against the spirit of climbing and the once-in-a-lifetime experience of Everest. Plus, it could hurt local people who rely on tourists to make a living

Another idea, from a leading Sherpa Ang Tshering, is to build a couple of ladders near the top. As The Toronto Star reports, "they would span the final three metres of the Hillary Step, the jagged and notoriously difficult last climb to reach the summit of Everest."

Right now, only one person can go up or down the Hillary Step at a time. So in theory, the ladders would speed things up and make the final climb safer.

"If it can save lives, if it can save the traffic jam, then perhaps this would be a good idea," Tshering told the Star. "Ten feet doesn't mean anything."

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But to real purists, ten feet means a lot and if you go up a ladder, well, you haven't really "climbed" the entire mountain.

But Tshering is seeking support for his idea from experienced climbers and trekking companies so he can pitch it to Nepal's government.

"If everybody thinks this is a good idea, we will make the proposal to the government for permission to fix this ladder. If not, if people think it is a bad idea, then we will give it up."

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