It was also a deadly season. Eleven climbers died on Mount Everest in April and May, making 2012 the worst year for fatalities since 1996, when 12 people died.
But this year's deaths were not the result of mountain climbers being caught off guard by a sudden storm, being struck by falling rocks or being buried by an avalanche. They died because they were exhausted, because they were climbing too slowly, or because they ignored the symptoms of altitude sickness and did not turn around in time. More than 300 climbers set out for the summit on the weekend of May 19-20 alone. "I've never seen so many people on one mountain," says extreme mountain climber Ralf Dujmovits.
The crowded conditions led to congestion in the death zone. Six people died, with four of them perishing on the popular South Col route. They lost their lives because all of the adventurers, those who wanted to experience a moment of accomplishment at the highest point on earth, got in each other's way.
Nepal's Tourism Ministry is housed in a large brick building in downtown Kathmandu. Every mountain climber who wants to ascend Everest has to apply for a permit, which costs about $10,000, at an office on the third floor.
Biking to the Summit of Everest In mid-April, a slender man with bushy eyebrows and a deeply wrinkled face turned up at the ministry. It was Aydin Irmak, and he told officials that he wanted to register an attempt to set a record. He wanted to be the first person to carry a bicycle to the summit of Mt. Everest.
There are many officially recognized Everest records: the first blind man to reach the summit, the first leg amputee, the first person to descend on a snowboard, the first overnight climb, the first wedding. The record for the longest time a person was able to last at the summit with his upper body exposed is three minutes.
The official sitting behind his white desk doesn't ask any questions. Instead, he collects an additional $1,000 from Irmak for the Everest record certificate -- stamped and signed.
Irmak, born in Istanbul, is what one might call a connoisseur of the art of living. He emigrated to the United States as a young man, studied finance in New York and then opened a shop selling designer furniture. When the shop went out of business and Irmak's marriage fell apart, he ended up on the street, sleeping under bridges in Queens. In 2009, he began repairing old bikes he found in the trash and selling them. A year later, Irmak began a trip around the world by bicycle. He arrived in Kathmandu in November 2011. While having dinner at a restaurant, he hit upon the idea of climbing Everest while carrying his bike.
There are about 100 companies in Nepal that organize expeditions to the top of Mount Everest, and 40 of them are headquartered in Kathmandu. The well-known outfitters charge about $35,000 for the climb, while trips with discounters that offer climbs on the Tibetan side can be had for about $10,000. To lower the cost, they cut corners with personnel and equipment, such as ropes, carabiners, radios and oxygen bottles. Fit and Experienced
Irmak booked his tour with Thamserku Trekking and paid $28,000, which he had borrowed from a friend in New York. The owner of Thamserku liked Irmak's bicycle idea, knowing that it would be good PR for his company. It didn't matter to him that the client had never even been on a mountain and didn't know how to put on crampons.