New Zealand mountaineer Lydia Bradey was on Everest the day the viral photo showing a queue of people was taken.

It was not her first time up the mountain. In 1988, Christchurch-born Bradey was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest without oxygen.

When that photo was taken, Bradey, 57, was about to summit Everest for the sixth time.

In a piece published on ABC in Australia, Bradey has revealed what it was like on Everest on May 22, the day that photo was taken.

New video shows Mt Everest climbers crushed against ice trail to reach summit. Instagram / @everester_rohtash_khileri_29
The Kiwi mountaineer was on Everest the day the viral photo was taken. Photo / Nirmal Purja
The Kiwi mountaineer was on Everest the day the viral photo was taken. Photo / Nirmal Purja

She was doing her first ascent from the northern, Tibetan, side of the mountain as part of a group of four people, including her client Roxanne Vogel, who'd paid Bradey to be her private guide, as well as two sherpas.

"When we reached the summit at dawn on the morning of the 22nd we were the only climbers on Everest coming from Tibet. We had no idea that on the other side of the mountain huge crowds were on their way from Nepal," she wrote.

"This is not to say that the northern side is always crowd-free.

"On May 23, the day after our ascent, many people attempted the summit from Tibet and there was a sad death from a heart attack on the descent as well as the rescue of Australian man Gilian Lee.

"As we climbed, we passed three human bodies — a reminder of the dangers.

"In spite of this being my sixth ascent, I had not often seen bodies during a climb."

Bradey said the bodies were from another season, "still tangled in old ropes".

Lydia Bradey has climbed Everest six times. Photo / Facebook
Lydia Bradey has climbed Everest six times. Photo / Facebook

"I asked Mingma [one of the sherpas] if we should cut them down to get them off the path and he said no, it was more respectful to leave them there."


She makes a point of not climbing on very crowded days.

"To a certain extent, on Everest, the more you pay the more support you can get. This means more of your equipment is carried by sherpas, which crucially includes more tanks of oxygen," she said.

"But you still have to be physically fit enough to climb the mountain. Wearing crampons on your feet, and scrambling up steep rocks and snow is not easy."

People also need to know techniques such as how to use a fixed rope as a handrail. Sadly, not everyone who gets to go on Everest is skilled in these techniques.

For Bradey, seeing the bodies of those who perished is a "very sobering reminder of our fragile grasp on life at extreme altitudes".

"It also raises very important ethical questions about the "code of conduct" among climbers: if someone is in trouble do we stop and help, or not? This is an emotional question."

The issue of crowds on Everest is now in the spotlight but Bradey, who knows Everest well, says that is not the only danger.

"The range of experience of the Everest climbers is also another reason that the line of climbers is not moving along at speed," she wrote.

More and more people without enough experience are attempting to reach the top of Everest.

"It is quite common now that people attempting Everest have never climbed a peak over 7000m, and some, not many peaks at all."

What many don't consider is that, even after you reach the summit, your job is far from finished and you are still at high risk.

"Once you gain the ridge at 8500m on summit day, the journey travels along a rocky ridge with lots of tricky technical moves. There are three huge rock steps requiring ropes and ladders, and lots of traversing on sloping rocky ledges."

On the Tibetan side, there are often "bottlenecks" at the rock steps, making it "near impossible" to bring a sick person down.

Still, despite all the risks, Everest continues to lure adventurers from all over the world.

"What drives us to reach the highest point in the world is the same as what enthuses us to climb to a viewpoint alongside any road — curiosity, passion or even obsession," Bradey wrote.

Very few people could climb Everest without oxygen, or had tried. Some companies, she said, don't provide enough oxygen to stay safe on the mountain when things go awry.

"This becomes a question of cost and many people decide to save the money. The cost of getting a canister of oxygen to the summit can easily run to US$1000 [NZ$1530] and possibly more. Each climber would be wise to take three to four litres to use the day before summit day and then a further four litres for summit day."

However, the crowding issue is still there, mostly because the climbing season on Everest is very short for the amount of people who want to tick it off their list.