Earlier this week, American climber Don Cash died on Everest hours after he had reached the summit. As Alan Arnette reported for Outside, Cash was one of about 200 people who went to the top of the world that day, and he encountered a traffic jam on his way down. “When Cash and his Sherpa guides got to the Hillary Step they were forced to wait their turn for at least two hours,” wrote Arnette.
Today, we can better understand what that traffic jam looked like:
Climber Nirmal Purja posted this photo on Facebook early on May 23. It shows a dense line of climbers on their way to the Hillary Step and then the summit. “I summited everest at 5:30 am and lhotse 3:45 pm despite of [sic] the heavy traffic (roughly 320 people),” wrote Purja, who is currently attempting to climb all 14 of the Himalayas' 8,000-meter peaks in a single season.
The photo was quickly disseminated by other social media users who couldn’t believe what it depicted, with comments like “I can't believe this photo from Mount Everest 2019 is real, but apparently it is,” and “this looks like a lot of fun and totally normal and not at all fucked.”
It may be the most iconic modern Everest photo since 2012, when Ralf Dujmovits captured another “conga line” of climbers ascending the Lhotse Face.
It’s not the first evidence of serious crowding seen on the mountain this season; on April 19, a photo of climbers queued up in the Khumbu Icefall also sparked surprise:
Arnette previously reported that a record number of people are climbing Everest this year.
Because of the intense jet stream that hovers near Everest’s 29,029-foot summit for much of the year, there are only a few weather windows, often two or three days in late May, when it's optimal for climbers to make a push for the top—forcing many expeditions to all go for it at the same time.