Last week saw the 100th summit by a New Zealander since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered Everest in 1953.

Today marks 66 years since the legendary pair reached the summit.

For Mark Woodward of Queenstown, it was the tenth time on top of the world's highest mountain. At 7am on Thursday, May 23, the 55-year-old claimed the record number of successful climbs made by a New Zealander.

However this milestone was overshadowed by the week's other defining figure as the deadliest since 1996, in which 16 climbers perished in their attempts to climb the mountain.


So far the climb has taken the lives of 11 international climbers.

The increasing accessibility to "the roof of the Himalayas" and continued appeal of Everest as the ultimate trophy summit has seen a steady flow of Expedition tourists from around the world.

The number of expeditions to has also been climbing steadily.

Last week the image captured by Nirmal Purja of the "queue at the top of the world" grabbed headlines.

The photo showing scores of mountaineers earned derision from commentators who saw it as a sign that the world-famous mountain was somehow being degraded.

Many claimed it as a sign that the Himalayan peak was becoming a "theme park".

One climber from Arizona described stepping over the body of a frozen climber as "like a zoo", speaking to The New York Times of his ordeal.

News that the climbing season was the deadliest in over two decades confirmed for many that captured in this photo was not just over-commercialisation of the mountain but deadly hubris.


Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants Wanaka has climbed the mountain five times. Having led expeditions to the mountain since 1992, his expeditions have noticed the increase in traffic on the mountain. Even so, bottle necks such as the one depicted are rare. He says the photo may be just that – a snapshot.

"Of course the coverage, particularly that photo has changed people's opinion of it."

The conditions this year led to a very narrow window for climbers to safely attempt a summit.

"Fixing the ropes happened much later this year," he explained to The Herald that normally a route is laid in late April ahead of the peak season. "Combined with a narrow window of summitable weather, there was a rush at the first window of decent weather."

Where progress was slow or halting entirely, expeditions caught up on one another – leading to the human "traffic jam."

The New Zealand expedition led by Adventure Consultants summited the day after, encountering few other climbers.

"Our group summited the day after this photo was taken. They hardly saw another soul."

While the increase in expeditions is undeniable the number of New Zealanders following in Hillary's footsteps peaked in 2006-2007. Since then the number has dropped off.

Cotter blames the increased dangers and crowded conditions on the mountain on unregulated expedition operators from within Nepal.

"One of the biggest problems are inexperienced climbers tackling the mountain with un-regulated expeditions," he said.

In the thirty years of leading expeditions to the Himalayas he has noticed the rapid growth of mountaineering in other countries.

Expeditions from the Indian armed forces in particular have seen an attempt on Everest as a viable route to career distinction and promotion through the ranks.

In 2017 two Indian police officers were sacked for fake claims that they had conquered Everest on May 23.

Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod were also given a 10-year mountaineering ban by the Nepalese authorities after their photos were found to have been faked.

The ultimate pinnacle in the world has also become the ultimate status symbol.

China which borders the mountain to the North has already limited the number of climbs. Although the number of climbers from the Tibet side has already been dropping off, with the CMA reporting a drop from 59,000 to 40,000 climbers between 2014-15.

However Nepal to the south that is fueling the problem. In 2016-17 Nepal counted a record number of expeditions with 45,000.

Queue on top of the world: The photos of Everest's traffic jam were seen as degrading the mountain. Photo / Getty Images
Queue on top of the world: The photos of Everest's traffic jam were seen as degrading the mountain. Photo / Getty Images

The increase in expeditions and local market for guides has reduced the price of climbing Everest, with unexpected results.

"It's the local budget operators that endanger the lives of their climbers and others," said Cotter.

Inexperience is one of the ingredients in the dangerous cocktail. The reason why many climbers turn to Nepal-based budget expeditions is because they would never pass the standards or minimum experience to be accepted on New Zealand run expeditions, claims Cotter.

Then there's the view that climbers can save money by booking expeditions directly in Nepal.

"They see it as 'cutting out the middle man'."

While Adventure Consultants Wanaka also work with Nepalese guides, they bring their own standards to the clients and guides they can accept. The lack of regulation can lead to "budget" expeditions attempting to summit the mountain while under-resourced and lacking essential medical skills and training.

Will pictures like this one affect the future of New Zealand's relation with Nepal?

"The relation with New Zealand is very strong," says Cotter. "Those areas reached by the Himalayan Trust have been transformed and speak fondly of New Zealand expeditions after Hillary."

He can't see it changing the attitude in New Zealand, but it might begin the kind of conversations around setting standards for tours and even capping the number of climbs.

Himalayan Trust: The work of Sir Edmund Hillary has strengthened the relation between New Zealand an Nepal. Photo / Getty Images
Himalayan Trust: The work of Sir Edmund Hillary has strengthened the relation between New Zealand an Nepal. Photo / Getty Images

Limiting the number of climbs would be a tough call for Nepal to make.

Tourism brought in through expeditions to Everest is a lifeblood to the region, although there is a vast discrepancy between what is offered by different operators.

"There are dodgy operators in just like there are for anything ... car sales," Kiwi climber Lydia Bradey, gave as an example to ABC News. The first woman to summit Everest said she was positive it's "not just Nepalese sherpas being greedy."

While operators are tempted to undercut one another, the costs of getting supplies to the area limits the room to manoeuvre for these budget operators.

"One single bottle of oxygen on the south side costs US$1000. Yes, there is greed but there's also joy and beauty and people doing altruistic acts."

As far as Cotter is concerned Everest's biggest downfall is still the lack of regulation. "Of course It's not our mountain, it's not our land to regulate," he says. "We'd love to be given the opportunity."

"It'll do no harm to Everest, and it'll do no harm to Nepal, if regulation is put in place to for the safety of climbers and guides."