There was just one thought going through Parth Upadhyay’s mind before starting out on his ascent to the Mount Everest on May 22. How will he climb the remaining 2,000 feet? Every little task such as wearing socks, tying shoelaces or zipping the boots made him tired at that altitude. But after nine years of dreaming and two years of Everest training, it all boils down to the final summit night.
It took him one grueling hour to just get ready for the summit push. But to Upadhyay’s surprise, he felt more energetic and walked much faster during the summit night than the past two months of acclimatisation. Not only was he an hour ahead of everyone but he also had the whole route to himself. After climbing the three main iconic landmarks on the route, he reached the summit pyramid around 3:30 am. His Sherpa Funaru Dai told him that they will reach before sunrise and perhaps they should slow down. Moving at a snail’s pace, Upadhyay made it to the summit at 5 am and saw a perfect sunrise from the top of the world.
Upadhyay along with seven other mountaineers started their ascent on April 8. It took them eight days to reach the Everest Base camp. The next 30 days were spent in acclimatisation, done in multiple rotations. This is basically going uphill and then coming down to lower altitude so that the climber gets used to oxygen-starved heights. The whole process of acclimatisation was completed around May 10 and everyone was waiting for a good weather window which came only on May 23.
But Upadhyay’s successful expedition has been overshadowed by the "overcrowded" Everest season. A photo from May 21 of a long line of mountaineers struggling to make their way to the top of Mount Everest had gone viral last month. It was when good weather forecast drove around 250 out of the 381 climbers, and almost as many Sherpas, to attempt to scale the summit all at once, proving fatal for many.
Why was Mount Everest over-crowded?
There are two routes to climb the Everest, one is from the Nepal side, where the traffic jam happened, and the other China side. Upadhyay did not face any problems as he climbed from the China side. He said the deaths were not entirely because of the congestion, but also due to bad weather and short summit windows.
The traffic jam was primarily caused by the Nepal government issuing more permits than was feasible. There were 381 permits for climbers and each came with at least one Sherpa. Also, there were more inexperienced and unfit climbers this time.
Usually, there is a 7-8 day good weather window every year due to which the crowd gets pided. But this year there were only two good days of weather so everyone rushed at together to the summit.
Delhi’s Aditya Gupta summited Mount Everest on May 22 and was one of the hundreds of climbers who got stuck in the "death zone" of Everest. It took the 50-year-old about 13 hours to reach the top from C4 and about 11 hours to get back. Gupta was slowed down much more on his way back because of people and had to monitor his oxygen closely, reducing the flow in order to prolong the time it will last.
Inexperienced climbers and Sherpas
Upadhyay, who also works as a trek leader with Mumbai-based DarkGreen adventures, said one year of training is not enough to do Mount Everest. He started his physical training for Everest in 2017 for which he decided to stay close to the mountains and rented a house in Karjat in Maharashtra. "The best training for Everest is to be in the mountains. No matter how much gymming you do, it only gets up to a certain point," Upadhyay told indianexpress.com.
As cheaper operators have entered the fray, the number of amateur climbers have also shot up, creating deadly bottlenecks en route to the top of the 8,848-metre (29,029-feet) peak especially when bad weather cuts the number of summit days, as it did this year.
For Upadhyay, his sherpa was like his shadow, but Gupta’s sherpa just disappeared. "My Sherpa was not with me in the last six hours of my descent, and I saw this with many others whose Sherpas had deserted them. Inexperienced agencies and irresponsible Sherpas are as many in number today as the good ones. I felt and experienced that it is a bigger problem than the lack of experience in some climbers," Gupta added.
What are the requirements for the permit?
Nepal and China both have different regulations for getting a permit. In Nepal, one doesn’t even need a recommendation letter. While in China, Upadhyay had to show mountaineering experience of at least two 6,000 metres mountain and one 7,000 metres.
As long as you give $11,000, no one asks for anything else, said Upadhyay. According to the rules and regulations, just a certificate of medical fitness and a recommendation letter from a recognised Alpine Association is enough to get a permit. "The Nepal government is issuing permits to people who have no business to be on the mountain which is killing people," added Upadhyay.
Overcrowding can be a blessing as well
Overcrowding is not only a problem but an advantage as well, according to Delhi-based entrepreneur Aditya Gupta. "The step marks on the ice surface make it so much easier to negotiate these massive walls to be scaled on the way. The ropes are there for support and safety, but minus the steps cut out on the ice, this very path would be way more difficult. Because you will have to keep kicking hard on the blue ice to get a hold under your crampons. Blessings come in all forms," Gupta added.
Reaching the summit is only half the job
If one reaches the summit, it’s only halfway through and one should have enough strength to get back down. What’s the point of doing the summit if you want to die there only, that’s not a successful summit, said Upadhyay, who saw a fellow climber dying in front of his eyes. "While I was coming down, his legs got entangled in the rope and he hung upside down. The oxygen mask fell off his face due to the force. All of us were telling him to try to pull himself up but within 3-4 minutes he died hanging on the wall." Seeing this, Upadhyay was shaken from within. But his Sherpa kept on telling him to climb down or else he would also die like him.
"People do ask me what’s my biggest achievement and they expect my answer to be Mount Everest, but for me, it was when I reached home and met my family. The relief and pride I saw on their faces has no match and it was the most beautiful day of my life," recounts Upadhyay.