Climbers are flocking to Mount Everest this year... again (Photo: Pal Teravagimov Photography/Getty Images)

Hundreds of Summit Seekers Return to Mount Everest

Climbing permits are up, expeditions are welcoming more women, and new technology is changing the timeline for getting to the top. These are some of the storylines we’re following during the 2023 season on Mount Everest.


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Mount Everest’s 2023 springtime season is underway, and already the climbing community has suffered a tragedy. On April 12, three Sherpa climbers who had been ferrying rope to set the line to the summit were buried by house-sized blocks of ice when a section of the Khumbu Icefall collapsed. On April 15, three days after the incident, searchers stopped looking for them and declared them dead. The Sherpas were Dawa Tseri Sherpa, Pemba Tenzing Sherpa and Lakpa Rita Sherpa. All worked for Imagine Nepal, which has the role of setting the upper mountain with safety lines.

“Our hearts are heavy with grief as we mourn the loss of these brave brothers who dedicated their lives to guiding and supporting climbers,” the company wrote on its social media pages. “We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and loved ones.”

The setback marks a grim beginning to a year that may see climbing records fall on the world’s highest peak. After several slow years amid the pandemic, the crowds have steadily returned. For 2023, climbers from China and India are showing up in droves after staying away because of travel restrictions during the pandemic. Currently, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism has issued 58 permits to climbers from China and 65 to Indian climbers. Americans still lead the country list with 102 permits thus far.

Sources have told me they expect the Ministry to issue between 400 and 500 climbing permits for Mount Everest, and twice that number for other Himalayan peaks this spring. This would represent a sizable uptick from 2022, when the Ministry issued 325 foreign permits for Everest. The large numbers represents a boon for the country’s tourism industry. Nepal now requires each climber and trekker to have a guide, thus employing thousands of people, when you consider guides, hotel and restaurant workers, plus support staff and others.

The Ministry estimates the between 30 and 40 climbing teams will be at Everest this year—these teams vary in size from just two people to more than 100 climbers plus several dozen support staff and guides. Many of these teams are still on the ten-day trek from the remote Nepali village, Luka, to Everest Base Camp. People already in Nepal report crowded trails and teahouses, suggesting the suffering tourism industry is recovering. The dedicated team of climbing Sherpas who manage the safety lines through the Icefall, a.k.a. the Icefall Doctors, have already set the line to Camp 2 at 21,500 feet in the Western Cwm.

Some of these teams have found ways to shave time off of the traditional duration of an Everest expedition—which in years past has ranged up to two months in time. Much of this time is spent climbing up and down the mountain to higher and higher camps to acclimate to the thin air. This process of “climb high, sleep low” causes the body to create more red blood cells essential to fuel muscles in the low-oxygen environment during the summit push.

Today, many climbers are using hypoxic altitude tents at home to simulate sleeping at high altitudes. They arrive at Everest with their bodies adjusted to as high as 23,000 feet, the same altitude as Camp 3. This cuts several rotations from their expedition, thus shortening a trip from two months to as little as three weeks. Also, the use of supplemental oxygen at high flow rates allows these climbers to move fast, contributing to shorter expedition times.

“This way we can have an expedition to Everest in less than three weeks,” Austrian guide Lukas Furtenbach told me earlier this year. “Is it good or bad? It’s what the market is demanding because there are some people who don’t have the time to go on an eight or nine-week expedition.”

There are multiple storylines we are following this year, including the ever-increasing number of women climbing Everest. Using data from the Himalayan Database, from the mid-1900s to last year, the historical average for women reaching the summit was just seven percent. For 2023, women account for 17 percent of climbers who reached the summit, and that number could increase this year. Older climbers are also more prevalent. Since 1953, 17 percent of all summiteers have been under 30 years old. In 2022, that number had dropped to 13 percent, while climbers over 50 increased from the historical average of 14 percent to 22 percent in 2022.

The mountain is also welcoming climbers with disabilities—which represents a shift from previous eras. In 2018, the Ministry of Tourism banned all people with disabilities from climbing Everest. Former Gurkha Hari Budha Magar, who lost both his legs in combat in Afghanistan in 2010, sued, and Nepal’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in 2018. He’s on Everest this year.

Also climbing are deaf mountaineers Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger, who will aim to be the first American deaf couple and, to their knowledge, the second and third deaf climbers to summit Mount Everest. Unger and Lehmann are attempting to complete the Seven Summits—they would be the first deaf couple to accomplish this task as well.

“Statistically, there are 466 million people out there with hearing loss and 1 in 8 Americans are either deaf or hard of hearing, yet there has been only one deaf person who has summited Everest,” the two wrote on social media. “It makes us wonder if this space has ever been accessible for people like us?”

Then there is Lonnie Bedwell, a blind U.S. Navy veteran, who will attempt Everest and Lhotse. Mexican climber Rafael Jaime Jaramillo, blind since age 18, has set a goal to be the first blind Mexican climber to ascend the world’s highest peak.

There are a number of veteran climbers and Everest celebrities who will also be on the peak this year. Kami Rita Sherpa will most likely extend his Everest summit record with his 27th this season. There are also murmurs that elite mountain runner Kilian Jornet will attempt to link Everest and Lhotse without supplemental oxygen—he has yet to confirm an expedition, however. Jornet did a double summit in six days from the Tibet side in 2018.

Elsewhere in Nepal, climbing teams are preparing to ascend the country’s eight (of 14) mountains that surpass 8,000 meters. Almost all will see attempts this spring. On Saturday, April 16, Annapurna, at 26,545 feet, had the first summits of the season, when a seven-person rope-fixing team with five clients reached the top. Also summiting were Qatari royal family member Sheikha Asma Al Thani with Nirmal Purja. And 21-year-old Pakistani mountaineer Sajid Ali Sadpara summited as well. Nepal issued fifty-four Annapurna climbing permits, including sixteen female climbers, to foreigners this year.

One of the stories I’m following is on 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri, where Spanish climber Carlos Soria, at age 84, will try for the fourteenth time to reach the summit. His goal is to summit all the 8000ers, and after climbing 12 of the peaks he has Dhaulagiri and 26,335-foot Shishapangma remaining. He will climb with his regular partner, Sito Carcavilla, and six Sherpas.

The next milestone for Everest climbers is to arrive at Base Camp, and to then begin the acclimatization process. Once the safety lines reach the summit, and the weather forecast calls for several days of winds under thirty miles per hour, they will begin the ascent. Historically, this weather window appears between May 5 and May 25, with most summits occurring around May 18.

Lead Photo: Pal Teravagimov Photography/Getty Images