Three more climbers have died on the overcrowded slopes of Mount Everest after a run of clear weather saw mountaineers stuck for hours in a high-altitude human traffic jam.
The latest deaths followed two other the day before which were blamed on the tailbacks to reach the 8,848m peak.
Local media identified the three new victims as two Indians and an Austrian. Kalpana Das, a 49-year-old from Odisha; Nihal Ashpak Bagwan, a 27-year-old from Pune; and Ernst -Landgraf died on their descent.
Keshab Paudel, from Peak-Promotion, the agency that handled Bagwan's climb, said: "He died of dehydration, exhaustion and tiredness after being caught in the jam of climbers."
It brings the toll of dead or missing this week to six. One hiker is missing and two others died on Wednesday when between 200 and 300 climbers queued to reach the summit.
STRIKING PHOTO STUNS WORLD
It takes you a moment to process exactly what you're looking at. This photograph, widely circulated across social media this week, shows a long line of climbers at a standstill on the approach to the summit of Mount Everest – 8,848m above sea level.
The photograph, taken at the Hillary Step on Wednesday this week, has prompted speculation as to whether overcrowding is to blame for the increase in deaths on the mountain.
So does this picture accurately depict the situation on the mountain? Or was this an anomalous moment? And is it overcrowding, or perhaps something else, that has caused the increase in fatalities on the mountain this year.
Here, two mountaineering experts unpick the photograph and give their opinions on whether tourism on Mount Everest is a force for good or not.
Simon Lowe, Managing Director of Jagged Globe
It is clear all is not well with Everest. Yesterday we received the sad news that three climbers died on the slopes of the world's highest mountain. The day before, two others died at an altitude of more than 8,000m.
Each fatality on the mountain ought to be subject to an inquiry. This is because under relatively benign conditions, dying near the summit ought to be the exception. These deaths should not be blithely accepted and dismissed as routine. Lessons should be learnt, regulations changed and, where appropriate, climbing companies, their leaders and guides held to account.
However, as media organisations scramble to publish stories and editorials about deaths on Everest, it is important to get the facts straight when it comes to the impact of tourism on the mountain.
The total number of climbers and trekkers for the whole of Nepal is just over 100,000 a year and obviously not all go to Everest, let alone try to climb it. By lazily conflating all trekkers and climbers and not distinguishing between them and their impact on the mountain itself, some parts of the media have arrived at the ridiculous statement that there are hundreds of thousands of visitors leaving "oxygen tanks" and other rubbish on the mountain. This is not true.
The truth is, the number of climbers on each side of the mountain at any one time are a few hundred. We also know that as much excrement as possible is removed from Everest Base Camp and that trekkers elsewhere use toilets these days, which become better with each passing season. We know also that oxygen cylinders are valuable, so virtually all are removed from the mountain, to be reused unless they are lost. Similarly, expeditions pay a deposit which they do not get back if they do not remove a target weight of rubbish.
A more pressing problem is with general waste in the wider region and it is not uncommon to see plastic mineral water bottles piled into a pit on the edge of villages. My solution to that would be never to buy mineral water – not to regulate climbing on the mountain.
Far from mass tourism ravaging Everest, it has had a hugely beneficial effect. Life expectancy for Nepal in the Sixties was 32. It has increased by almost as many decades as have passed since then, now being around 80 for the Khumbu; in isolated areas of Nepal where there is no tourism, life expectancy remains 32.
The queue in the photograph came about due to the weather limiting the number of days the mountain could be climbed. In a better season, with a few weeks to climb perhaps, then the queues would not happen to the extent that they did this year.
But, even when there is less traffic, people still die on summit day. If it was down to queues alone, this would not happen. The queue merely amplifies the problem of having inexperienced people, accompanied by inexperienced Sherpas, climbing under incompetent expedition leadership and organisation.
Safety comes at a cost, and if people want to pay bottom-dollar for climbing Everest then they can't expect to be as safe as someone on a team with the full resources to make the climb reasonably safe. On the other hand, some teams are adding a ridiculous number of Sherpas to accompany each team member to the top, under the auspices of safety. For example, one team this season sent 15 climbers to the top accompanied by 27 Sherpas – that's 42 people in the queue right there. If team members are suitably competent to be attempting the mountain at all, they ought not need so many Sherpas.
The question arises - are those who pay for two Sherpas, and all the oxygen they will carry, creating the queues in which those who have paid a cheap outfit, and don't have enough oxygen to wait out the delay, die? I don't know, but an inquiry into each death might help form a better picture.
Paul Hart, former Royal Marine and expedition leader
The situation on many of the world's famous peaks is now such that commercialisation of the mountains threatens the very essence of what mountaineering is all about. Nowhere is this more evident than on Everest. I have no doubt that for anyone who climbs Everest, it is the challenge and accomplishment of a lifetime. I do not detract from the people who are doing it; whatever the motivation for getting to the top, it takes incredible fortitude and effort to make the heart thumping, lung-burning and leg buckling ascent and that is only to the half-way point because the real, and harder, challenge is to get down safely.
The queues on Everest work against this in every aspect. Remove the oxygen tanks from the backs of those climbing and not one in a thousand would sit in a queue waiting for their turn to get to the summit. This would be left to the likes of those gods of mountaineering such as Reinhold Messner, Peter Habeler and Anatoli Boukreev, amongst others.
Calls to put quotas on the number of people climbing the mountain might seem the obvious answer, however, how can such a system be regulated to be fair to all prospective climbers; the rich and the less well off? One answer might be to require those that climb to the top of the world to have gained experience at lower levels and be able to demonstrate a level of competence through a series of ascents over a period of years.
However, this too presents problems in ensuring it is not simply those with infinite finances that can rotate through the mountain progression quicker than the less well off. The solution to the problem is as complex as climbing the mountains themselves.
There are no easy answers, but something needs to be done; not to stop the deaths, as that is a characteristic of operating in the mountains that will not disappear, but to prevent the mountains becoming just another polluted tourist destination that anyone with enough money can achieve.