San Francisco

Mount Everest Climbs Too Commercialized?

Climbing Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, can be a life-changing experience. It can also be deadly.

Four people have died in the past four days trying to make it to the top of Everest. The latest death Sunday involved an Indian man who succumbed to altitude sickness. Local climbing experts familiar with the dangers Mount Everest presents say the commercialization of the mountain encourages climbers to put their lives on the line, even if they're not ready.

Norbu Tenzing Norgay of San Francisco comes from a family of mountaineers. His father, Tenzing Norgay, was one of the first two climbers to reach the top of Everest in 1953.

"Sherpas give their lives," he said. "They get paid $32 to go through the icefall so somebody can go climb Everest. People feel with the commercialized climbs these days that they’re compelled to push or take their clients to the top, and sometimes there is a huge amount of risk involved."

In 2014, a devastating avalanche killed 16 sherpas. Last year, another avalanche, triggered by a powerful Nepal earthquake, claimed 18 more lives. This year, for the first time in two years, Everest has been packed with people from all over the globe.

Arlene Blum of Berkeley, the first woman to attempt the Everest climb in 1976, says for many people, it's a bucket list item that they're aren't nearly prepared for, and it can have tragic consequences.

"Majestic, beautiful," she says of the 29,000-foot peak. "But challenging and dangerous."

Blum says when she made that first attempt, it was all her; she fixed the ropes and ladders through the icefall, and she carried her load. These days, people have a different idea of how to reach the peak.

"People who are very competitive just think, 'I’ll climb the highest mountain in the world' without this whole base of mountain experience, learning about weather and avalanches and ice," she said. "And they need to know it themselves. They can’t depend on a guide."

The man who died Sunday night was descending the mountain when his team got lost in a storm. Two people from that team are still missing.

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