Mass Tourism on Mount Everest. The Devastating Consequences

Essay, 2021

12 Pages, Grade: 2,0


‘ Mountaineering’ has become more important than ever before. These regions are probably a crucial magnet for adventure tourism. Besides, there is no other mountain that is more important and unpredictable than Mount Everest. It is “[t]he world’s highest mountain [running through six Asian countries] (…).“ (Nepal, 2016, p.285 f.) Doubtlessly the global beacon of endeavor and exploration is the major destination for trekking and mountaineering (Bashyal, 2019; National Geographic, 2019). But this specific activity was not accessible to everyone until the 21st century (Bogage, 2019). Over time the popularity; directly connected with the number of tourists has increased. However, it requires „(…) a high level of specialized skill (…) to fade such a risky activity (Wengel, 2019). In 2019 a record number of 381 people were counted while each climber is accompanied by a local guide, a so-called ‘Sherpa‘ (Dick, 2019). Nevertheless, the increasing number of tourists also requires more Sherpas for safety (Bashyal, 2019). Even if tourism has many advantages and is mainly important for an area‘s development, the consequences are more drastic than previously thought.

Tourism is always connected with benefits and consequences; directly referring to local people and visitors. Unfortunately, this destination is now characterized by mass tourism lately. Beautiful locations all over the world “(…) have become assembly points for crowds of selfie-taking travelers, elbowing away at one another (…).” (McParland, 2019) It might seem odd to liken an unbearable move in hazardous conditions to the world’s most elevated peak with mass tourism, however, that is what the journey to the highest peak of Everest has turned into (McParland, 2019). But how can such a change on Everest be possible?

Surprisingly, “[o]vercrowding is nothing new.” One shocking reason is the pressure on young climbers and organizations describing Mount Everest as easy -which is honestly the complete opposite (Bashyal, 2019; Fyall, 2019). An indirect problem is also a short time window. The more people want to climb the mountain; it is likely that time will transfer into a massive problem. The reason is that summiting is only possible for a few weeks every May due to weather conditions and that could be shortened radically. Probably the most relevant cause refers to more affordable transportation services which make traveling to the destination easier and obviously cheaper (Wilkinson, 2019; Wengel, 2019). But before discussing the negative effects, it must be mentioned that tourism has also positive aspects in different areas and is primarily important for various groups of people.

First of all, unquestionable benefits like learning more about other cultures as well as creating precious memories, directly refer to tourism (Fyall, 2019)). Another significant effect is an increase in various employment opportunities in the tourism sector. Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest countries and tourism has employed a million individuals (Sharma, Gettleman, 2020). Locals have the possibility to work as: guides on Everest, mountain lodge entrepreneurs, kitchen staff, porters and shop owners. These possibilities refer to direct impacts. Obviously, there are indirect employment opportunities that are not always associated with. These refer to carrying wares and goods to merchants who sell their products to Sherpa administrator and working as an assistant in households. The impacts positively influenced locals and their quality of life which is mainly important. The created wealth by the inhabitants has permitted them to look for further investment possibilities in tourism like: airlines, luxurious accommodation and outfitting businesses. Besides, tourism has also a positive influx on infrastructural development, household incomes, an improvement in living conditions, recognition of regional culture and international exposure (Nepal, 2016, p.287 ff.). It can be seen immediately that Everest is a considerable ‘moneymaker’. One bright spot in this regard is that climbing generates revenue at a number of millions of dollars (Sharma, Gettleman, 2020; National Geographic, 2020). But also Sherpa guides profit from it enormously and “(…) bringing home between $5,000 to $8,000 in a single season”, which enables them to give their children a good education (Bashyal, 2019). Most mountaineers come from: India, China, Japan and the US. They are a primary source of revenue and everybody who desires to climb Everest has to pay $11,000 permit fees which go directly to the government (BBC, 2020). Referring to the tourism boost, Nepal’s economy grew faster than Indian’s, almost 6% in 2019; and tourists spent an ordinary $50 every day (Sharma, Gettleman, 2020). In the end, this resulted in tourism revenues of $643 million in the 2017/2018 season (Cain, Akhtar, 2019). Overall, tourism is essentially important for various groups of local people but even the generated profit has a major impact on Nepal in general. In summary, it can be said that Nepal’s people would have a mainly lower quality of life without tourism connected with a major increase in unemployment (Nepal, 2016, p.287 ff.).

On the other hand, noticeable negative is the increasing modernization on Everest. ‘Billie Bierling’, the first German woman to acquire the mountain from Nepal, was shocked by the climber’s attitudes and the extreme modernization: hot showers, TVs, hot showers and fresh strawberries offered by the base camp (Greiner, 2009). But increasing tourists also have a negative impact on nature and how it is treated with little thought for the consequences. The reputation of “the world’s highest garbage dump” arose (Badham, 2029). In 2019, 12 tons of garbage including cans, plastic bottles, batteries, empty oxygen cylinders, food wrappings and fecal matter was removed by expeditionists (Fyall, 2019). But while closing Everest due to the Corona pandemic, microplastics have been located in snow; which is absolutely the highest point where plastic has been found. Additionally, scientists discovered polyester, acrylic and nylon fibers at the peak which directly refers to fragments of tents and climbing equipment (BBC, 2020). The truth behind this problem is that tourism-generated waste is the most challenging and almost unstoppable problem because every climber generates approximately 18 pounds of trash (Nepal, 2016, p.287, 292f.; National Geographic, 2019). Alarmingly, the most garbage was discovered at Camp 2 and 3, at which mountaineers can rest along the expedition from the base camp to the summit and cleaners spend weeks picking up extensive amounts of waste including non-rotting garbage (Dick, 2019). Another problem is that toilet facilities end at the base camp and for the rest of their journey they “(…) have to relieve themselves on the mountain.” (National Geographic, 2019) With a never-ending increase in tourists, these problems cannot be controlled referring to contamination of the regional watershed which endangers everybody’s health (National Geographic, 2019). However, other negative effects like disposal problems, pressure on biological systems as well as the deterioration of values have dramatically risen in the last decades with no prospect of improvement (Nepal, 206, p.291 ff.).

Nevertheless, waste is not the most massive problem. Health effects are much more threatening. A doctor from Arizona, ‘Ed Dohrig’, has always dreamed of reaching the summit of Everest but he could never imagine how shocking this experience would be. Dohrig had to stay chest to chest for hours in a line but that’s not the most terrible thing. The dark truth behind it is that he had to step a woman’s corpse who just died. Another terrifying experience happened to ‘Fatima Deryan’, an experienced mountaineer. On the way to the top inexperienced climbers collapsed right in front of her including oxygen tanks running out, temperatures dropping to -30° and approximately 150 people side to side (Schultz, 2019). Shockingly, in the spring window of 2019; 11 people had to pay with death due to mass tourism which was the highest death toll in the last years (Bashyal, 2019; GuardianNews, 2019). However, it is still unclear how many corpses are still buried under snow (Dick, 2019). But Interviews with guides and climbers showed that deaths were also associated with a significant number of inexperienced climbers who carry their equipment insufficient, arrogantly taking selfies and truly underestimate the risks (Wengel, 2019; Telegraph, 2019). But some climbers had even no clue how to handle with spikes and crampons what is mainly a life insurance at this height. They gullibly think it is easy and Everest is just an adventure (Telegraph, 2019). A similar tragedy happened in 2014: roughly 16 Sherpas were killed related to a devastating avalanche (Bashyal, 2019). An additional reason is that they could not replenish their oxygen supply fast enough related to delays and waiting in lines (Dohring, 2019). Evidently, oxygen is the most relevant gadget. From Camp 4 up to the highest point, climbers enter the commonly known ‘death zone’. Above 8,000m, almost 96% of mountaineers rely on supplementary oxygen (Basyhal, 2019; Telegraph, 2019). With a third of the air pressure exiting at sea level, a lack of oxygen is life threatening while time is steadily running. With a reduction of oxygen, the risk of blood embolism and pulmonary edema is increasing enormously which means certain death (Wilkinson, 2019). With an increase in tourists, the number of deaths will continue to rise, mainly due to delays and amateurs, tragedies will therefore be the order of the day.

Because of these dangerous effects, urgent action is needed. That is why they work on more measurements and to counteract the trend and its effects. Over years, the ‘Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee’, a non-profit NGO running by locals, is working endlessly to protect the region from pollution. Educate tourists and manage waste are their most important tasks. Another project, the ‘Mount Everest Biogas’, is concentrating on long-term sustainable solutions; directly connected to the sanitation problem. Solar-powered systems that transfer human waste into fuel is their latest goal. It should be used for the local community and would directly reduce the danger of water contamination related to new jobs (National Geographic, 2019). The biggest problem is that Nepal has little initiative to change rules because of such a good business (Cain, Akhtar, 2019). Even if people already argued that the rules should be stricter mainly directed with limitations, Nepal “(…) relies on the income that the climbers bring to the area.” (National Geographic, 2019) Another possible solution refers to modern technology. Summiting is usually only possible during spring but technological advancements could predict the weather more precisely, that the time window could extend more significantly and foreseeable (Cain, Akhtar, 2019). A stricter measurement would be economic taxes and fees for demand limitation. But they need to come from the government which cannot be guaranteed (Fyall, 2019). However, China is already one step ahead. They charge a $1500 rubbish fee per climber and everyone is required to bring down 17.6 pounds of waste back down. Another prevention will no longer allow mountaineers the access to the base camp and only people with proper permits will be able to reach the highest peak (BBC, 2019). In this context, a carrying capacity would be thinkable too (Telegraph, 2019). Another interesting step is the declaration from 2011 of the area as a plastic-free zone achieved by activism, shown by a regional network of Sherpa students. That clearly shows the continued local awareness attached to pollution. Even if the environmental and social challenges will not disappear, the community address these problems and try to find solutions to protect their home (Nepal, 2016, p.293 ff.). Accept advice from people who are affected; directly regarding a partnership and thinking less profitable could mean that tourism brings more benefits and fewer harmful consequences. This is the only way to make a destination more sustainable in a future-oriented manner without risking people’s health.


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Mass Tourism on Mount Everest. The Devastating Consequences
University of Applied Sciences Wernigerode
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mass, tourism, mount, everest, devastating, consequences
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Talisa Gassmann (Author), 2021, Mass Tourism on Mount Everest. The Devastating Consequences, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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