Peak time on the world’s highest peak, and the queue of climbers snakes back down Mount Everest’s snowy wilderness.
The crowds are a far cry from the splendid isolation Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Norgay Tenzing experienced as they pitted themselves against one of nature’s fiercest challenges to become the first to reach the 29,029ft summit.
Their incredible achievement as part of the ninth British expedition to Everest came on May 29, 1953 - 59 years ago, and in time to be announced on the day of the Queen’s coronation on June 2.
How times have changed since then... the 150 or so climbers here could almost be thrill-seekers waiting in line for a white-knuckle ride at an amusement park.
The extraordinary image of the throng - taken the day before the worst disaster on Everest for 16 years - will fuel fears of perilous overcrowding on the mountain.
Four climbers died while descending from the packed summit the weekend before last, when 150 people reached the top of the world before a severe windstorm set in.
Experts say the sheer numbers exacerbate the already substantial dangers of climbing Everest, which has claimed more than 220 lives - half of those in the past 20 years.
The tailback shown here was captured on camera by German mountaineer Ralf Dujmovits as climbers shuffled along at around 25,000ft on the Lhotse Face stage of the ascent.
A similar tailback was partly blamed for the deaths of four climbers, from Germany, South Korea, China and Canada. During their ascent, they became stuck in what Nepali mountaineering officials called a “traffic jam” at the Hillary Step, a 40ft spur of rock where temperatures are minus 20c and which is just 180ft from the summit.
Many had to wait there for three hours before making the final ascent, becoming cold, exhausted and using up vital oxygen supplies.
Critics say too many people are trying to climb Everest at the same time, leaving behind huge amounts of rubbish and also making casualties inevitable. Often there are up to 200 - many of them thrill-seeking amateurs.
Mountaineer Peter Gillman, author of several books on Everest, said: “It’s the opposite of everything mountaineering’s about: self-reliance, personal initiative and solitude in the wilderness.”
Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who holds the record for the fastest Everest ascent, said: “Two hundred people is too many for one weekend. Twenty-five to 30 a day isokay.
“You have many people waiting and waiting. They spend too long waiting at the top and they get frostbite.
“Waiting around on Everest is dangerous. Running out of oxygen can be a big problem.”
Critics also point the finger at the increasing number of commercial expeditions. Clients pay about £17,000 (about R220 000) to organisers, plus between £6,500 and £17,000 for an Everest permit.
It makes Everest a lucrative revenue earner for the Nepalese government, but officials have played down concerns about the numbers of climbers, instead blaming bad weather for deaths.
Since Hillary’s historic ascent, about 10,000 people have tried to climb Everest, at least 2,500 successfully. The previous worst disaster was when eight climbers died in two days in May 1996. - Daily Mail