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As price comes down, risk goes up for Everest 'trophy hunters'

Experienced guides warn of dangers as bargain operators accept even the most inexperienced climbers

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This year, there are 346 paying climbers on the south side of Mount Everest in Nepal - just shy of the record 373 permits granted in 2017 - and another 180 climbing from Tibet, foreshadowing a bumper year.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal

EVEREST is the ultimate mountaineering "trophy", but the rising number of inexperienced climbers attempting to tackle the summit are running huge risks to reach the top of the world.

An Indian airline pilot, a builder from Ohio and a former online media sales executive are all waiting at base camp for a chance to scale the 8,848 m mountain this climbing season.

They haul themselves up the same ropes to the top and face the same dangers of frostbite, avalanche and exhaustion - and yet they pay vastly different amounts for the privilege.

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Cheaper fees means that far more people can attempt a lifelong dream of conquering the world's highest peak, but there are grim predictions that an increasing number will never make it home.

Critics warned that bargain operators - who have slashed the price of an Everest ticket to as low as US$20,000 - accept even the most inexperienced climbers.

Meanwhile, more expensive rivals, who charge around US$70,000, have smaller teams and require proven climbing ability from clients. "It's a huge goal and a dream of mine to stand on top of the world," said Matt Brennan, who runs a construction company in the United States, and paid US-based Alpine Ascents US$65,000 to try his first 8,000 m climb. "I always wanted to climb the big ones; and I felt that if I'm going to do it, now is the time," said the 57-year-old, who set his sights on Everest two years ago after tackling North America's highest mountain, Denali, at 6,194 m.

In the 1980s, the Nepal government only allowed one team per route on Everest, which meant that only a handful of experienced climbers with national teams or those with major sponsorship deals could get a foothold. Since the limit was scrapped in the 1990s, operators have crowded the slopes for a slice of the lucrative industry. This year, there are 346 paying climbers on the south side in Nepal - just shy of the record 373 permits granted in 2017 - and another 180 climbing from Tibet, foreshadowing a bumper year. Last year, six people died.

Guy Cotter, who has been guiding on Everest for 27 years, warned that many new climbers lack experience. "Nowadays, people can go on the Internet and buy the cheapest expedition onto the mountain. But there is no criteria for experience with some of these operators," said the owner of New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants. "They are not mountaineers. They are just people who want to claim the prize of climbing Mount Everest. They are hunting for that trophy."

Tenzing Norgay, the first man to summit Everest together with New Zealander Edmund Hillary in 1953, only reached the top on his seventh attempt. Today, amateur climbers expect to do it on their first try, prompting many to take higher risks blinded by "summit fever" and lulled into a false sense of security by the thousands who have succeeded before.

"Someone else has done this before me, so why can't I do it?" said 33-year-old Briton Daniel Horne, who used to work in online media. Mr Horne paid US$70,000 to climb Everest - his second 8,000 m mountain - and said that it would take years to find the money and time to make another attempt if he fails. "Unless they tell me to turn around, I'm going to keep going," he said. AFP