Why so many Mount Everest climbers are dying this year

At least 11 people have died on Everest in 2019, one of the deadliest climbing seasons in history. Experts list inexperience and a record number of permits granted by Nepal as contributing factors.
6:11 | 05/31/19

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Transcript for Why so many Mount Everest climbers are dying this year
Reporter: It's one of the most foreboding and awe-inspiring places on Earth. The summit of mount Everest in Nepal, standing at over 29,000 feet above sea level. Reaching its peak has become the ultimate bucket list item for many. But as more and more people attempt that daring ascent, stunning images like these are going viral, showing congestion at the top of the world. Raising questions about safety in that thin air. 11 people have died on mount Everest this year alone, making it one of the deadliest seasons ever. Climbers standing in freezing conditions waiting to get to ascend. Allegations that some were pushing and jostling for photographs on a space roughly the size of two ping-pong tables thousands of meters up, making a dangerous situation deadly. And you'd be sitting, sometimes standing still for five, ten, fifteen minutes in very cold conditions with very low oxygen because of the high altitude and using up your oxygen while you were standing there waiting. Ed Dohring, a doctor from Arizona, experienced the overcrowding firsthand and says his guide was so worried he'd be pushed off the summit he attached a rope to him. I didn't feel it was safe, to the point where I decided it was better getting my picture sitting down rather than standing up. Reporter: One of the 11 who died this year, 62-year-old American Christopher Kulish, who perished after summiting. Kulish's family says he passed away doing what he loved. He's the second American to die on the trek in just ten days. The other was don cash from Utah. He'd just finished his quest to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents when he collapsed from high altitude sickness. When you pay to climb Everest, this is where it all begins. Reporter: We journeyed toward the mountain to get a sense of the majesty that draws so many climbers to this dangerous place. I'm 15,000 feet above sea level. The air is thin. I am struggling to breathe. But this is the mountain range on which Everest sits. Behind me gives you an idea of what we're talking about here. It is absolutely majestic. Reporter: On Everest climbers are forced to wait for windows of good weather. When it clears everyone moves to the summit. And with a large number of people, the longer wait means climbers are spending more time in what's called the death zone. That's above 26,000 feet. Where the lack of oxygen can be lethal. We cannot spend that much time at this altitude. It's absolutely freezing, minus 30, minus 40. Not a good time to be standing still. Reporter: And this year the weather window to summit was even shorter than usual. We saw a weather window for two, maybe three days this year. In the past we might have had four days and another window a week later. Unfortunately, most of the people or many of the people on the mountain went up on this first day, which caused these traffic jams instead of spreading it out a bit more, which certainly would have been Reporter: Experts say another factor in the overcrowding, there are more inexperienced climbers. There are some inexpensive companies that essentially advertise we will get you to the top. And unfortunately, they do lure in people who want to participate in the mystique of Everest but are really not prepared to do so. You have to qualify to run the Boston marathon, but you don't have to qualify to attempt the highest mountain on the planet. Reporter: The minute you step at high altitude your body starts eating itself. Sow really need to show up with enough muscle and frankly enough fat to get through the experience so you don't kind of wither away. So the preparation is the most difficult thing I've ever done. Reporter: Climber Luis Benitez has summited Everest six times. You know, when you reach the summit it truly is one of those moments where you're overcome with emotion. But it's also this logistical challenge because you're trying to ascertain how long you can stay. So in the midst of all this emotion and hugging people and congratulating each other you're also have this clock in the back of your head of how much time you can spend at over 29,000 feet. Reporter: The first climbers to ever reach the peak of Everest were mountaineers sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese sherpa tenzing norgay in 1933. In the 66 years since the climbing industry has boomed, this year Nepal issuing 831 permits to summit, a record high. The record number of permits that were issued this year is directly correlated to what happened on Everest this year. I think that the nepali government needs to be accountable for this decision. I don't think they've done an effective job of regulation. Reporter: But will those images that went viral now force a change in the rules that govern mount Everest? Nepal's director of tourism saying he doesn't think the photos show the whole picture. You think that that picture has given an unfair -- Unfair. Reporter: But he does admit the government is now looking at new rules for minimum experience, possibly restricting novice climbers. Maybe this time next year there may be changes to the rules over who gets to go up Everest. We are thinking in line of this. There are many ways to promote the tourism business here. Reporter: Even on a good year the natural dangers of Everest make the trek perilous. If you're a student of Everest history, you will understand that you're going to have people that don't make it. It is a dangerous game that unfortunately not everybody survives every single year. Reporter: In 2015 an earthquake in Nepal triggered an avalanche that tore through base camp. Seen in this dramatic video shot by climber Josh cobush. It killed 17 people and injured 37 others, making it's deadliest day in the history of mount Everest. One thing is certain. Despite the danger, the lure of conquering the highest mountain in the world will continue to draw climbers. If this is your chosen path, you become a climber first and everything else in your life second. And you have to make peace with the fact that you're making that choice.

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