The deaths of four people within four days on Mount Everest have reignited debate as to whether climbing the 8,848 metre-high mountain should be banned.
On Tuesday, the body of Maria Strydom, a Monash University academic from Melbourne, was brought down the mountain, according to trekking company Seven Summit Treks. Strydom died while climbing at an altitude of about 7,800 metres on Saturday.
The ABC reports that the company has said Strydom's remains would be transported to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu within three days.
There will always be accidents at that altitude in that environment
Hiking officials and climbing veterans, including Australian mountaineer Andrew Lock, say that the deaths raise questions about the safety standards of some climbing operators, as the industry experiences exponential growth.
Lock is one of the most accomplished high-altitude mountaineers in Australian history, having climbed all 14 of the world's 8,000 metre mountains, including Everest -- twice. He believes that rather than banning climbing on Everest, there needs to be stricter regulations governing the climbing industry.
"Unfortunately, it is an unregulated environment so there are lots and lots of operators providing opportunities for lots and lots of people to go along," Lock said while appearing on Channel 10's The Project on Tuesday.
"There will always be accidents at that altitude in that environment. When people sign on to commercially guided expeditions, they need to carefully check the credentials of the operators to make sure they are getting operators who have the resources both to get you up and to get you down safely if things go wrong."
As climbing Everest grows in popularity, queues have formed on the final stretch to the summit, which is often secured by a single rope line, leading veterans to complain that slow and inexperienced climbers were holding up others and putting them at undue risk.
"The window of opportunity to climb the mountain is very finite," Lock said.
"Our bodies simply cannot acclimatise to staying at that altitude for very long at all, it is a matter of hours. If you're delayed on your ascent or your descent, then it's putting you further and further at risk."
It falls to the leaders of the expedition to make the assessment of their clients and if they're not up to the game, they should be sent home
Over 280 people have died attempting to ascend the world's highest mountain and bodies litter the mountain's 'death zone' -- the region above 8000 metres, where oxygen levels are too low to survive for more than a few hours.
Nepal Mountaineering Association Chief, Ang Tshering Sherpa, highlighted that companies offering cheap climbing packages to clients often use poor quality equipment adding that "climbers with well-managed companies employing experienced guides are safe."
According to Lock, there are an increasing amount of Sherpas used by companies who have not been trained to climb the mountains and don't have adequate skills.
"More and more Sherpas who have not been trained to climb these mountains are being employed as assistant guides and they don't necessarily have the skills to keep themselves safe, let alone their clients," he said.
Hiking officials have blamed the Nepalese government for failing to spend money on safety measures. However, the government has placed the blame on inadequate preparation by climbers.
"The deaths were not due to accident or the crowd," Tourism Department official Sudarshan Dhakal said.
"Energy loss and altitude sickness mean that they were not well prepared."
Lock said that while the idea of banning climbing Everest is an overreaction and unlikely to ever happen, there arecertain measures that could be put in place to make it safer.
"It needs a limit on the number of commercial operators, a limit on the number of people who can be climbing the mountain in a given season, and a regulation as to the qualifications of the leaders, guides and the training skills required for the assistant guides and even those carrying the loads up there," he said.
"It falls to the leaders of the expedition to make the assessment of their clients and if they're not up to the game, they should be sent home."