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죽음을 부르는 산 에베레스트 …올 시즌에만 벌써 11명 숨져

올해 세계 최고봉인 에베레스트산 정상 정복에 나섰다가 숨진 등반객 수가 11명으로 늘어났다.
에베레스트 정상에서 일어난 병목현상을 사실감 있게 보여주는 사진 (사진: 배포자료 / @nimsdai Project Possible / AFP)
올해 네팔의 등반 시즌에 나타난 특징을 세 줄로 정리해보면 이렇다.   

첫째, 등반객으로 붐빈다.
둘째, 등반객 사망 사고가 잇따르고 있다.
셋째, 사고와 관련해 논란이 커지고 있다.

세계 최고봉인 에베레스트산이 또다시 한 등반객의 목숨을 앗아갔다. 27일(현지시간) 오전 미국인 산악인 크리스토퍼 존 쿨리시(61세) 씨가 남동릉(Southeast Ridge)을 따라 에베레스트산 정상에 올랐다가 네팔 방향 약 7,900m 고도에 있는 사우스콜(South Col)을 향해 하산하던 중 사망했다. 이로써 올 시즌 세계 정상에서 사망한 사람만 벌써 11명째다.

쿨리시 외 사망자는 네팔 안내원 1명, 미국인 2명, 아일랜드인 2명, 오스트리아인 1명, 인도인 4명이다.

올 시즌에만 등반객 21명이 히말라야의 8,000m가 넘는 다른 6곳의 산 정상에서 목숨을 잃었다. 네팔 당국에 따르면 이들 중 대부분(17명)은 등반 시작 후 9일 안에 숨졌다.

올해 네팔 정부가 내준 등반 허가 건수는 391건으로 사상 최대다.

전문가들은 등반객들이 경험 부족만으로 숨지는 건 아니라고 보고 있다. 날씨도 사고에 큰 몫을 하고 있다는 것이다. 날씨 때문에 이번 시즌 등반객들이 정상에 도전할 기회가 한 번밖에 없었다.

영국 특수부대(인스타그램에서 @nimsdai로 알려진)에서 복무했던 산악인 니르말 푸자가 찍은 사진은 에베레스트산 정상에 오르려는 사람들이 얼마나 많은지를 잘 보여주고 있다. 정상 부근에서 이처럼 병목현상이 일어날 때 등반객들은 산소 밀도가 매우 낮은 8,000m 이상의 지대에서 치명적인 위험을 무릅써야 한다. 그들은 또한 악천후의 위험에도 고스란히 노출될 수밖에 없다.

전문가들은 산소가 부족한 상태에서 세계 최고봉에서 병목현상이 일어날 때 위험한 사고가 일어날 수 있다고 지적한다.

아시아보이지네팔(Asia Voyage Nepal)의 설립자인 템바 체리 셰르파는 Asia Times 기자에게 “날씨와 경험 부족 때문에 숨지는 등반객이 나오고 있다”면서 “최근 에베레스트산 등반이 상업적으로 이용되면서 여행사와 에이전트들 사이에서 등반객 유치 전쟁이 벌어지자 등반객들이 위험한지 아닌지를 제대로 따져보지 않고 무조건 싼 요금을 제시하는 곳으로 몰린다”고 말했다.

에베레스트산 등반 비용은 미화 1만1,000달러(약 1,313만원)로, 네팔과 같은 개발도상국의 중요한 수입원이다. 올해 에베레스트산의 날씨는 5월 중순까지 나빴기 때문에 등반 허가를 받은 사람들은 날씨가 등반에 적합한 2주 동안만 등반할 수 있다.

에베레스트산 정상 등반에 나선 등반객 (사진: AFP)

미라 아샤야 네팔 관광청(Department of Tourism) 대변인은 영상 인터뷰에서 “에베레스트산의 병목현상을 보여주는 사진이 유포된 것은 유감스러운 일이다. 우리는 이 문제에 대해 대처하고 있으며, 누구도 (네팔) 정부 허가 없이 에베레스트산에 대한 어떤 자료도 내보낼 수 없다는 사실을 주지시키고자 한다”고 말했다. 그는 이어 “산행 원정대는 네팔 정부 연락관을 통해 등반과 관련된 모든 뉴스를 전달해야 한다”고 덧붙였다.

저명한 등반가인 앨런 아넷은 자신의 블로그에 이렇게 썼다. ”이번 시즌 네팔 쪽에서 사망자가 생기는 이유는 다음 네 가지 이유 때문이다. 첫째, 등반객이 너무 많이 몰렸다. 둘째, 정상 정복 기회가 너무 적었다. 셋째, 등반 경험이 부족한 사람이 지나치게 많았다. 마지막으로 등반객 지원이 부적절했다.“

하지만 26일 네팔관광위원회(Nepal Tourism Board)는 과학적인 결과가 나올 때까지 기다리지 않은 채 등반객 사망 이유에 대해 ‘성급한 판단’을 하지 말 것을 경고하는 보도 자료를 발표했다.

아샤야 대변인은 ”과도하게 많은 등반객이 몰려서 많은 사망 사고가 난 것인지 아직 결론을 내지 못했다“면서 ”네팔은 에베레스트산 등반을 상업적으로 이용하고 있지 않고, 기록 경신을 장려하지도 않는다“고 덧붙였다.

그러나 템바 체리 셰르파는 ”네팔 정부가 아무에게나 등반 허가를 해주는 실수를 저질렀다“면서 ”정책 개혁을 통해서 향후 2~3년간 허가 건수를 줄여야 한다“고 주장했다.

그는 또한 에베레스트산 정복에 나선 사람들에게 ”산을 얕잡아봐서는 안 된다“면서 ”사람들은 일단 8,000m 이상을 올라가고 나면 세계 최고봉을 오른다는 게 얼마나 힘든 일인지를 알 수 있을 것“이라고 덧붙였다.

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