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How Mount Everest’s popularity turned fatal

Christopher Kulish beneath Mount Everest. The Colorado man died Monday shortly after getting to the top. (Christopher Kulish/Mark Kulish via Associated press)
Christopher Kulish beneath Mount Everest. The Colorado man died Monday shortly after getting to the top. (Christopher Kulish/Mark Kulish via Associated press)Christopher Kulish/Mark Kulish via AP

KATHMANDU, Nepal - Chatur Tamang was on his way to the roof of the world when he hit a traffic jam.

Ahead of him, on the final ascent to Mount Everest, he saw more than 100 people bunched together on the narrow ridge that leads to the summit — a place so high that it is known as the ‘‘death zone,’’ where the human body has trouble functioning.

Some of those descending from the summit pleaded desperately with those ascending to clear a way for them to pass since they had run out of oxygen. ‘‘That sent chills down my spine,’’ said Tamang, 45, a mountaineering guide who lives in Russia. He fears that if no action is taken, the crowds next year could be worse, with potentially fatal consequences.

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At least 11 people died trying to reach the summit of the world’s tallest mountain this year, the deadliest climbing season for the peak in four years. One factor contributing to this year’s toll appears to have been crowding as scores of people attempted to ascend in a short window of good weather, producing delays that extended the time climbers spent at deadly altitudes.

On Monday, a Colorado climber died shortly after getting to the top of Mount Everest and achieving his dream of scaling the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, his brother said. Christopher Kulish, 62, a Boulder attorney, died Monday at a camp below the summit during his descent. The cause isn’t yet known, said his brother, Mark Kulish of Denver.

Christopher Kulish had just reached the top of Everest with a small group after crowds of climbers congested the 29,035-foot peak last week, his brother said. ‘‘He saw his last sunrise from the highest peak on Earth. At that instant, he became a member of the ‘7 Summit Club,’ having scaled the highest peak on each continent,’’ Mark Kulish said in a statement.

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Amid the rash of deaths, officials in Nepal are reviewing whether to change the way access to Everest works. Some experts say that the government should extend the climbing season in May or implement certain requirements for climbers, a number of whom lack experience or sign on with companies offering bargain-priced expeditions.

Nirmal Purja, an accomplished climber who is attempting to summit 14 peaks worldwide within seven months, was on his way down from the summit at Everest when he decided to stop and photograph the scene behind him. It was unusually cold, he said, and extraordinarily crowded.

The Nepali government granted 381 permits to climb the mountain this year, a record. At least double that number of people were on the mountain, since the figure does not include guides.

Others saw the traffic as an indication of how climbing Everest has become a commodity, drawing inexperienced thrill-seekers and polluting the mountain with garbage. Seeing the ‘‘anxiety-inducing conga line in the death zone,’’ it is ‘‘not only dread you sense, but hubris, too,’’ wrote Peter Beaumont in the Guardian. Climbing the world’s tallest peak ‘‘has become a trophy experience.’’

But Nepali officials are reluctant to curb the number of climbers, who are also an important source of revenue for the country.