Everest Deaths Create Questions

For a mountain that was supposedly conquered more than 50 years ago, this has been an extraordinary year of firsts for Mt. Everest. But as more climbers reach novelty milestones like Everest's summit, some are concerned the mountain's touristy trend makes it more deadly.

Earlier this year, 70-year-old Takao Arayama of Japan became the oldest climber ever to reach the summit. Mark Ingliss, a New Zealander who medaled in the paralympic games, because the first double-amputee. And just last week, another first: A Sherpa stripped off his clothes for three minutes at the summit -- Mt. Everest's first streaker!

But in the midst of all of those firsts, it has also been the deadliest season in a decade. Ten climbers have died in the past six weeks, among them a British man named David Sharp.

Sharp was no mere tourist on Mt. Everest. He'd earned the right to be there, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and some of the most daunting peaks in Nepal. Twice before he'd tried and failed to summit Everest, and he hoped this trip would be different.

He got his wish and made it to the top, but the triumph didn't last long. Just 300 feet down from the top, Sharp got "summit fever." Delirious for lack of air, he ripped off his face mask and collapsed.

Ingliss was one of the climbers who passed Sharp. He radioed another member of his team, who told Ingliss to keep going. "He said, 'Look mate, you can't do anything.' You know he's been there X number of hours, been there without oxygen, so we carried on," Ingliss said.

Sharp died on the mountain.

A Deadly Tourist Destination

Everest is the world's most treacherous tourist destination, and its biggest tombstone. It's an environment so hostile that one in 20 climbers die before they ever reach the summit. More than 100 bodies have been left there, out in the open. Burial takes care of itself.

It's not a place to be taken lightly.

"You should only be up there if you've done your apprenticeship -- you've earned your stripes," said Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach Everest's summit. Peter Hillary has summited Everest twice himself.

The challenge of climbing Everest is undiminished even 50 years after Edmund Hillary was the first. But these days, the mountain is more crowded than ever.

Commercial guides and their armies of porters, called Sherpas, have opened the mountain to less experienced climbers who have tens of thousands of dollars to spare.

"I don't like the commercial aspect. I really believe that we were the lucky ones 50 years ago," said Edmund Hillary. "We had to pioneer the route, we had to cross the crevasses, we had to overcome the avalanches, climb up high on the mountain, battle against the wind and finally get to the summit."

Everest may be more accessible now, but it's no less demanding.

Climbing Soaring Heights Into Thin Air

At the mountain's summit, the air is so thin you need an oxygen mask to breathe. It's 29,000 feet above sea level -- more than five miles, and roughly the altitude of a long-haul airplane flight.

"I really don't think you are thinking clearly at that height," said climber Ben Clowes. "I remember meeting one of my climbing colleagues ahead of me. She had already reached the summit and was on her way down. And I didn't recognize her. I didn't know who she was."

That's likely what David Sharp must have faced in those agonizing moments after he reached the summit.

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