'I Became A Traffic Controller': Viral Everest Photo's Weird Back Story
Peak season on Mount Everest has been labelled "carnage" and "chaos", but the man behind the viral photo tells a different story.
More than 700 climbers have this year battled sub-zero temperatures and altitude sickness to reach the 8,848-metre summit of Everest, to stand on top of the world.
Within a couple of days in May, more than 250 climbers attempted to make that final push to the top. But instead of a quiet, serene climb to the summit, there was a huge line snaking hundreds of metres down the icy mountain top, resembling a beer queue at a music festival.
It quickly caught the world's attention, after a photo began circulating online.
The attention has come during the deadliest climbing season for the peak in four years, with at least 11 people losing their lives on the mountain top in recent months.
The latest, American Christopher John Kulish, 62, died shortly after getting to the top and achieving his dream. An Australian climber was found unconscious on the northern slopes this week, but is now thankfully recovering in hospital.
Overcrowding has been blamed for the high death count, with one climber even posting a photo of what looks to be a dead body off the busy track of the Hillary Step.
But he and another climber have completely different stories to tell from one busy day to the next, and it was that other mountaineer's image of the unexpected queue which has gone viral.
It came from Nirmal Purja, a former special forces soldier who is attempting to climb the 14 highest mountains on earth in just seven months, smashing the current record of nearly eight years.
10 daily spoke to the mountaineer, known as Nims, from Nepal, about what really happened on May 22 and how much of a zoo it was as he waited for hours in that lengthy queue.
He explained that he and local sherpas all knew how busy it would be at the summit -- they "weren't shocked at all" -- and that when he took the photo, it wasn't to show the public how difficult and crowded it had become.
"I was in the process of breaking at least eight world records and I was trying to this part of Everest in at least seven hours, but I was stuck in the line for about four hours on the way up and nearly three and a half on the way down." he explained.
"That's why I took the picture, as an evidence thing."
To set the *record* straight, he didn't break the benchmark he wanted to.
The issue, Nims explained, was those who had reached the top were trying to get down the same track as those on their way up.
"People were quarrelling," he said, so for 90 minutes, Nims stood trying to control the crowd.
"I was saying 'hey guys, wait over there, and you go down', there needed to be some traffic control. For me, I was completely in control of what I was doing," he said.
Some climbers struggled with the altitude, but Nims said while he was making his way up and down the summit, he didn't see a body or a person who lost consciousness.
"Fortunately on the day, we didn't see any issues," he explained.
Nepal is under pressure to reduce the number of permits handed out to climbers.
This year, 41 teams with a total of 378 climbers were given passes to scale Everest during the peak season, but the actual number of people on the mountain is double that, with an equal number of Nepalese guides also on the mountain.
The country receives a massive economic boost through these permits, which sold this year for US$11,000 (AUD$15,800) each.
Last year saw a record number on Everest of 807 people, but this season -- due to wrap up at the end of this week -- is expected to surpass that mark.
At 19, Alyssa Azar became the youngest Australian to conquer Everest. She has called for changes.
“I’m, quite shocked by the photo I saw, I think this year has been very poorly managed," Azar told 10 daily.
"I think they could have thought that may be the only summit day and teams have just panicked and gone ‘I’m going to go with that."
"I do think Nepal needs to restrict permits to a degree to make sure there are less climbers but still, they need to go on different summit days... It’s certainly not a summit day I would want to be part of."