NEW DELHI – Ed Dohring, a doctor from Arizona, had dreamed his whole life to reach the summit of Mount Everest. But when he summed up a few days ago, he was shocked at what he saw.
Climbers push and shoving to take selfies. The flat part of the summit, which he estimated about the size of two Ping-Pong tables, was packed with 15 or 20 people. To get up there he had to wait hours in a line, chest to chest, a puffy jacket after the next on an iced, cut ridge with a thousand foot drops.
He even had to bypass the frozen body of a woman who had just died.
This has been one of the deadly climbing times on Everest with at least 10 deaths. And at least some seem to be avoidable.
The problem has not been avalanches, blizzards or big winds. Veteran climbers and industry leaders owe it to many people on the mountain, in general, and for many inexperienced climbers.
Fly-by-night adventure companies occupy unskilled climbers who pose a risk to everyone on the mountain. And the Nepalese government, hungry for every climb it can get, has issued more permits than Everest can handle safely, some experienced climbers say.
Add Everest's endless appeal to a growing body of exciters worldwide. And the fact that Nepal, one of Asia's poorest nations and most of Everest's climbs, has a vast array of outrageous rules, mismanagement and corruption.
The result is a crowded and unruly scene reminiscent of "The Lord of the Flies" – at 29,000 feet. At that height, a delay of another hour or two can mean life or death.
To reach the top, climbers climb every pound of gear they can and take with them just enough capsules of compressed oxygen to make it to the top and down again. It's hard to think right at that height, say climbers.
According to Sherpas and climbers, some of the deaths this year were caused by people being held in the long lines of the last 1,000 feet, unable to get up and down fast enough to rebuild their oxygen supply. Others were simply not fit enough to be on the mountain in the first place.
Some climbers didn't even know how to put on a pair of cramps, clips that increase the traction on the ice, Sherpas said.
Nepal has no strict rules on who can climb Everest, and veteran climbers say it's a recipe for disaster.
"You must qualify to make Iron Man. You must qualify to run the New York Marathon," said Alan Arnette, a prominent Everest chronicle and climber. "But you don't have to qualify to climb the highest mountain in the world? What's wrong with this picture?"
Last time 10 or more people died on Everest in 2015, during an avalanche.
For some measures, the Everest machine has only become more out of control.
Last year veteran climbers, insurance companies and news organizations exposed a far-reaching conspiracy of guides, helicopters, and hospitals to bill millions of dollars from insurance companies by evacuating trekkers with lesser signs of altitude sickness.
Climbers complain about theft and heaps of waste on the mountain. And earlier this year, government scientists uncovered major problems with the life-saving oxygen systems that many climbers used. Climbers said the cylinders were found to be delicious, exploding or incorrectly loaded in a black market.
Despite complaints about security lapsing this year, the Nepalese government issued a record number of permits 381 as part of a major push to commercialize the mountain. Climbers say the license numbers have been steadily increasing every year and traffic jams this year were heavier than ever.
"This will not improve," said Lukas Furtenbach, a guide who recently moved his climbers to the Chinese side of Everest because of the overcrowding in Nepal and the flare of inexperienced climbers.
"There is a lot of corruption in the Nepalese government," he said. "They take everything they can get."
Nepalese officials denied any misdemeanor and said that the drawers were the ones responsible for mountain safety.
Danduraj Ghimire, Director General of Nepal's Tourism Department, said in a Sunday interview that the large number of deaths this year was not related to the crowds, but because there were fewer good weather days for climbers to secure the summit. He said the government was not inclined to change the number of permits.
"If you really want to limit the number of climbers," said Mr Ghimire, "let's just finish all expeditions on our holy mountain."
For sure, the race to the top is driven by the weather. May is the best time of the year for the summit, but even then there are only a few days when it is clear enough and the wind is mild enough to make an attempt at the top.
But one of the critical issues this year, veterans say, seems to be the sheer number of people trying to reach the summit at the same time. And since there is no government traffic battle high on the mountain, the task of determining when groups should try their final ascent is left to mountaineers.
Climbers themselves, experienced or not, are often so driven to end their quest that they can continue, even if they see the dangers escalating.
A few decades ago, the people who climbed Everest were largely experienced climbers who were willing to pay a lot of money. But in recent years, longtime climbers say low-cost operators are working out of small businesses in Kathmandu, the capital, and even more expensive foreign companies that do not pay attention to safety have entered the market and offered to take almost everybody
Sometimes these tours seem very wrong.
From interviews with several climbers, it seems that when the groups get closer to the summit, the pressure rises and some people lose their sense of decency.
Fatima Deryan, an experienced Lebanese mountaineer, got her way to the recent summit, as less experienced climbers began to collapse in front of her. Temperatures dropped to -30 Celsius. Oxygen tanks ran low. And about 150 people were packed together, cut to the same security line.
"Many people panicked, worried themselves – and no one thinks of those who collapse," Deryan said.
"It's a matter of ethics," she said. "We are all on oxygen. You find out that if you help you die."
She offered to help some of the sick people, she said, but then calculated she began to threaten herself and continued to go to the summit measured at 29,029 feet. On the way back down, she had to fight her way back through the crowds.
"It was terrible," she said.
About the same time, Rizza Alee, an 18-year-old mountain climber from Kashmir, a disputed area between India and Pakistan, made its way up the mountain. He said he was stunned by how little empathy people had for those who fought.
"I saw some people they didn't have feelings," he said. "I asked people for water and no one gave me any. People are really obsessed with the summit. They are ready to kill themselves for the summit."
But Mr. Alee even took some chances; He has a heart disease and says he's "lied to" to his expedition when they asked if he had any health issues.
Herr. Dohring, the American physician, represents the other end of the spectrum.
At 62 he has climbed peaks all over the world. He read about explorers as a boy and said he had always wanted to come to "a place where you can stand higher than anywhere else on earth."
To prepare for Everest, he slept at home in a tent that simulated high altitude conditions. His total Everest experience cost $ 70,000.
Still there was only so much he could prepare for. Last month, as he walked in base camp at Everest at an altitude of more than 17,000 feet, Mr Dohring said he was overcome by awe.
"You look at a circle of mountain peaks over you and think," What am I doing here? "He said.
he pressed on. After long cold days he hung a trailhead up to the summit early on Thursday and ran into the crowds "aggressively jostling for pictures."
He was so scared he said he plunked down on the snow to keep from losing his balance and got his guide to take a picture of him holding a small sign that said, "Hello mother love you."
On his way down he two further dead bodies in their tents.
I wasn't prepared to see sick climbers being knocked down by the mountains of Sherpas or the surrealistic experience of finding dead bodies, "he said.
But on Sunday he had done so. He brought a helicopter after reaching base camp and flew back to Kathmandu.
He counted his blisters on the Yak and Yeti Hotel, saying he treated himself to a thick steak and cracked a cold beer. "Everest Lager, of course," he said.