Days after four people died amid a "traffic jam" of climbers scrambling to conquer Mount Everest, Nepal officials said a similar rush up the world's tallest peak will begin soon, and there's little they can do to control it.
About 200 climbers are expected to attempt to scale the summit of the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain between Friday and Sunday, Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said. Some have been at a staging camp for days, waiting for a window of good weather during this worse-than-usual climbing season.
A similar crowd of 208 climbers headed to the summit last week, and four died Saturday in one of the deadliest days ever on the mountain.
Ha Wenyi of China, Eberhard Schaaf of Germany, Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah and South Korean Song Won-bin died Saturday on their way down from the summit. They are believed to have suffered exhaustion and altitude sickness, Shrestha said Tuesday.
Shrestha also said a Nepalese Sherpa guide who had been reported missing from the group reached the base camp safely on Monday. Shrestha says the guide was separated from the group and did not have communications equipment.
The latest deaths have raised concerns about overcrowding above the highest camp on the mountain. The area is nicknamed the "death zone" because of the steep icy slope, treacherous conditions and low oxygen level.
"There was a traffic jam on the mountain on Saturday. Climbers were still heading to the summit as late as 2:30 p.m., which is quite dangerous," Shrestha said. Climbers normally are advised not to try for the summit after 11 a.m.
Shrestha said climbers "had a longer wait for their chance to go up the trail and spent too much time at higher altitude. Many of them are believed to be carrying a limited amount of oxygen, not anticipating the extra time spent."
Now, with a similarly large number of climbers expected to head up the same trail under similar conditions, Nepalese authorities acknowledged safety concerns but said they can't turn any of them away.
"The climbers have received the permits to climb within specific dates. We cannot say who gets to get to the summit on which dates because of the unpredictable weather. When weather clears up they all want to benefit," said Nepal's Tourism Ministry spokesman Bal Krishna Ghimire.
But he added that it is up to the climbers and their teams to access the conditions and safety.
"We have officials at the base camp but beyond that it is mostly up to the climbers," Ghimire said.
Ghimire said that eventually, the government plans to set up a seasonal office at the base camp equipped with doctors, weather experts and security personnel. Ghimire said they also have plans to give each climber a tracking device.
More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to do it in 1953. Some 225 climbers have died attempting it.
The deadliest day was May 10, 1996, when eight people were killed. The main reason was said to be that climbers who started their ascent late in the day were caught in a snowstorm in the afternoon and lost their way.
The climbing season normally runs from late March to the first week in June, but this year the season's first clear conditions were on Friday and Saturday. That window closed by Saturday afternoon with a windstorm at higher altitudes.
Well-known expedition organizer Russell Brice cited the mountain's precarious condition in his decision in early May to cancel this year's climb for more than 60 clients.
Some climbers and environmentalists have expressed concern that climbing conditions on Everest are worsening each year, possibly due to climate change.