Everest: I don’t get it

This year’s “Everest Season” was deadly, with at least 11 deaths. Reports say that nine of those 11 were the direct result of long waits to get to the summit. People line up for all sorts of things–concert tickets, sales, general admission events, tables in restaurants, movies.

But to line up to get the summit of Everest has a huge physical risk associated with it because time is of the essence. Weather can change. People need not just to get there, but–importantly–to get back to the base camp too. And this all before their oxygen runs out.

It’s become a tourist opportunity for those who can pay, with very little monitoring of the experience level of the people who sign up. According to the New York Times article, “‘It was like a zoo’: death on an unruly , overcrowded Everest,” this means crowds that cause dangerous delays: “According to Sherpas and climbers, some of the deaths this year were caused by people getting held up in the long lines on the last 1,000 feet or so of the climb, unable to get up and down fast enough to replenish their oxygen supply. Others were simply not fit enough to be on the mountain in the first place.”

There are multiple factors that contribute to the Everest “problem.” I call it a problem because there are people dying there every season. Yes, it’s a risky undertaking anyway. But when the deaths are the result of overcrowding and inexperience, there is a problem. Not only inexperienced climbers die — but they are more at risk and they create issues for all.

I have a strange fascination with Everest, not because I ever wish to climb it, but because I cannot imagine wanting to do so. As a result, I’ve read lots about it — about how it’s a garbage can of discarded oxygen tanks and human waste, an inhumane graveyard where the corpses of climbers who didn’t make it lie frozen because they cannot be retrieved, a place where empathy for those in need is replaced by a survivalist attitude of everyone for themself, about how people’s judgment falters at such a high altitude and they feel driven to make the summit even when deteriorating conditions on the mountain make it every likely that they will die trying.

I’ve seen shocking pictures of line-ups on Everest in the past, but this year’s show traffic jams as I’ve never seen before. I’m having technical difficulties uploading photos (which are probably copyright protected anyway), so I’ll just refer you to the New York Times piece referenced earlier. This article about a Canadian climber who almost died but in the end made it to the summit and back also shows the crowd of climbers lining up for their turn.

Now, I get the idea of liking a challenge. But I don’t understand what the appeal of this particular challenge is anymore. When a sacred mountain has become a tourist site for people who can pay (most Everest tours are in the neighborhood of $50,000) for a chance to climb the world’s highest mountain but may die in the process, the nature of the challenge has taken a turn. It’s not just “me against the mountain.” Add to that the environmental damage (see “How much trash is on Everest”) and you just have to wonder.

There have to be other ways to respect the mountain than to conquer it.

Do you understand the desire to climb Mount Everest (taking all considerations into account)?

3 thoughts on “Everest: I don’t get it

  1. NO WAY would I climb. I went trekking for 3 weeks in Nepal last year with my just-graduated from high school teenage son, and that was so amazing: no need to climb a mountain and nearly die with hundreds of other people!

  2. I did know of 1 person who did climb part of the Himalyans but not to Mt.Everest.

    For some of us, we already feel to have mounted a serious MT. Everest pyschologically and physically. I’m just happy to hover and go part up near the bottom of mts., here in Canada. It is always recommended to see parts of the world with huge soaring mountains at some point in our lives when we are still mobile.

  3. I completely agree, it holds no appeal for me either. The thing I don’t get though is why it is considered a “tragedy” when someone dies in the knowing pursuit of a high risk activity. There is something in this of the flip side being “heroic” if you succeed. It just doesn’t add up for me. Cheers c

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