By Emily Maltby
May 8, 2014

Early on April 18, giant chunks of ice swept down a treacherous section of Mount Everest known as the Khumbu Icefall, claiming 16 lives in the single deadliest accident on the world’s highest peak. All of the dead were Sherpas, members of the Nepalese mountain community that guides, cooks, hauls gear and sets ropes for foreign climbers. For three months’ work, they earn about $6,000–nine times the average annual wage in Nepal but about one-tenth of what a foreign climber typically pays companies that manage expeditions and employ the Sherpas.

After the tragedy, the Sherpas refused to work unless the government agreed to a list of demands, including guaranteed pay even if the climbing season is canceled. When their demands weren’t met, the Sherpas left the mountain, and the 334 climbers hoping to scale it had to abandon their plans.

Here’s a look at the economics–and the perils–of climbing Everest.

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CHINA

HIMALAYAS

NEPAL

Kathmandu

INDIA

MOUNT EVEREST

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Climber success rates by year

ATTEMPTS

SUMMITS

DEATHS

Base camp

Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks. Tourism accounts for 4.3% of Nepal’s GDP.

EARLIEST ASCENT

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first reached the summit in 1953.

1953

1956

39 Attempts

4 Summits

0 Deaths

1960

1970

116 Attempts

4 Summits

8 Deaths

1970

ICEFALL TRAGEDY

An ice collapse killed six Sherpas carrying loads for a Japanese team in the same area as a recent avalanche.

1980

1984

302 Attempts

16 Summits

9 Deaths

1990

1996

492 Attempts

98 Summits

15 Deaths

BAD WEATHER

Eight climbers perished after a massive storm in 1996. All died from exposure except for one, who likely fell.

2000

2007

1,052 Attempts

632 Summits

7 Deaths

2010

2013

1,014 Attempts

658 Summits

8 Deaths

2014

Unknown Attempts

0 Summits

17 Deaths

Through May 5

DEFYING AGE

In 2010, at age 13, Jordan Romero became the youngest person to reach the top. Yuichiro Miura, 80, became the oldest three years later.

Top causes of death

Through 2013

Foreign climber

12%

ALTITUDE SICKNESS

16%

EXPOSURE/FROSTBITE

32%

FALL

Sherpa

35%

AVALANCHE

18%

FALL

15%

ICEFALL COLLAPSE

Sherpas, though genetically adapted to high altitudes, are nonetheless more susceptible to natural disasters because they spend more time in dangerous terrain than foreign climbers.

Steep price

$65,000

What a typical expedition costs a foreign climber

$10,000

Airfare, hotels and other transit

$15,000

Gear, oxygen and food

$15,000

Permits, fees and deposits

$25,000

Local companies providing guides

Hired Sherpas make an average of $6,000 per season. The salary varies based on job and experience.

CAMP STAFF $1,000

Run errands, help the cooks and clean camps

PORTERS $5,000

Carry gear and supplies; salary increases with number of trips

LEADERS $10,000

Organize expeditions and accompany foreign climbers

Top of the world

At the summit, climbers breathe about 70% less oxygen than they do at sea level, which is like breathing through a straw.

BOEING 747 CRUISING ALTITUDE

35,000 ft.

6 miles

MOUNT EVEREST

29,035 ft.

5

4

MOUNT McKINLEY

20,320 ft.

3

MOUNT FUJI

12,388 ft.

2

BURJ KHALIFA

(Tallest man-made structure)

2,723 ft.

1

EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

1,454 ft.

0

SOURCES: HIMALAYAN DATABASE; THE HIMALAYA BY THE NUMBERS; WORLD TRAVEL & TOURISM COUNCIL; REUTERS; HIMALAYAN RESCUE ASSOCIATION; NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the May 19, 2014 issue of TIME.

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