Do you have a thing you’re weirdly fascinated by even though you have zero desire to do it yourself? The desire to climb Mt Everest is a bit like that for me. I don’t get it on many levels. The high cost, the role of sherpas, and the environmental impact are all things that worry me. But I especially don’t get it this year, during a global pandemic. I do understand how the loss of income affects Nepal and those who make their living on the mountain. What I don’t get is the desire of climbers to go now.
Here are some links for those interested in reading about Everest and those who climb it:
“With those caveats in mind, here are some stats. In 2008, a team led by anesthesiologist Paul Firth published an analysis in the British Medical Journal of 192 deaths among more than 14,000 Everest climbers and Sherpas between 1921 and 2006. Of that total, 59 percent of the deaths were attributable to trauma either from falls or hazards such as avalanches. In 14 percent of the cases, the bodies were never found so details are unknown. The remaining 27 percent are the most interesting ones, attributed to non-trauma causes like altitude illness and hypothermia.
When you restrict the data to the 94 people who died above 8,000 meters, some interesting details emerge. Even among those who fell to their deaths, many were described as showing signs of neurological dysfunction, such as confusion or loss of balance. This is significant, because altitude illness comes in several forms. The mild version is acute mountain sickness (AMS), which mostly just manifests as feeling like crap. The two more serious versions, either of which can be fatal, are high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE, meaning swelling in the brain) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE, or swelling in the lungs).”
“Nepal’s coronavirus outbreak, which is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the world, has spread to the remote Himalayas, with an increasing number of climbers testing positive after being evacuated from the base camps of Mount Everest and surrounding peaks.
In recent weeks, several climbers have been flown out of Mount Everest Base Camp after reporting symptoms of Covid-19, and then tested positive after reaching Kathmandu, the capital. On Wednesday, Nepali news outlets reported that 14 climbers, including foreigners and Sherpa guides, were being airlifted from Mount Dhaulagiri, another major peak, to Kathmandu for treatment after some were found to be infected.
The cases have raised fears for the safety of climbers and their Nepali guides who are pushing ahead with expeditions in the forbidding, high-altitude terrain, where doctors say they are already vulnerable to illness, lower blood oxygen levels and weaker immunity. Hundreds of climbers and Sherpas are isolating in their tents in gusty conditions at Everest base camp, trying to guard against infection while preparing to begin their ascent to the 29,000-foot summit.”
And a reminder that things weren’t great before the pandemic…
The country’s Ministry of Tourism unveiled a series of proposals aimed at avoiding another disastrous, overcrowded year on the world’s highest peak
“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai said at a news conference reported by The New York Times. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits.”
The new price floor of $35,000 is still unlikely to deter inexperienced aspirants like doubling or tripling the permit fee would have. This seems to have been a move aimed at calming local operators, whose businesses could be hurt by a permit increase. The median price Nepali operators charged in the 2019 spring season was around $40,000, according to my polling, but deep discounts regularly took the price down to less than $30,000—or even lower.”
With crowds, trash, and selfies at its summit, the once untamable mountain has lost its cultural power.
“Since the explosion of Himalayan mountaineering in the early 20th century, the world has swooned over the madness of climbers and their refusal to stop, even—or especially—in the face of great risk. Today, that infatuation can seem more pervasive than ever. Jarring reports this season have described climbers waiting in line at Everest’s peak while others take selfies. Crowds are leaving behind piles of litter, and the death rate is spiking. Some struggling climbers have said that others ignored their pleas for help en route to the summit.
Leaving behind injured, hypothermic, or otherwise struggling climbers to fend for themselves has long been the stuff of some of the beloved accounts of both death and survival in mountaineering, especially at high altitudes. On Everest, there are no explicit rules about helping others, and forging ahead to ensure your own survival is common. The recently publicized problems on the mountain, however, have brought this code of conduct under widespread scrutiny. Many people have responded with surprise and anger, calling for more safety and altruism on Everest.”
But here are some voices from women who’ve climbed Everest…
“This photo captures a moment that will never come again: the first three women to climb Mount Everest. Together, smiling. All are now gone.
Taken by Isabelle Agresti, a French woman climber, the image is from August, 1979, in Chamonix. Junko Tabei of Japan, Phanthog from Tibet, and Wanda Rutkiewicz of Poland were invited that summer by Henri Agresti, a guide at ENSA (L’École Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme) who was teaching a class to aspirants. Henri and Isabelle had in 1976 been part of a team to establish a new route up Mount Foraker, Denali National Park, and the two made the first ascent of the mountain Koh-e-Rank in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan, in 1968.”
“For decades climbing was a male-dominated sport—it still is. But the gender gap is slowly shrinking, and many women have made significant contributions to the sport.
This year on Everest there are more women climbers than usual. Before 2018, of the 4,738 people to have summited Everest, 605 were women—that’s 12 percent. In 2018, there were 61 women climbers on the Nepal side and 49 made it to the top, or 18 percent of the total summitters.
The 2019 records released by the Nepal Department of Tourism showed that women climbers account for 76 out of 375 permits (20 percent) issued to foreigners. China had the most women climbers with 20, followed by India (18), Nepal (six), the U.S. (four), and Lebanon, Norway, the U.K., and Greece all with three. Last year, the female summit success percentage was 80 percent, so using the same number, we can predict that we’llsee 61 summits this year, perhaps a record.”
How about you? Is Everest a mountain you dream of climbing? Do you get the challenge? Thoughts welcome in the comments below.