The tip of the iceberg: the ugly truth about Mt Everest

The longer I live, the less careful I am about offending other peoples’ sensibilities and opinions, by expressing my own. Lofty or otherwise.

I’m not 100% comfortable with making people less than happy to know me, but sometimes I think my borderline ‘old fashioned’ thinking might just be spot on. Worth sharing. If only to spark an interesting debate.
So, if you don’t care for others’ opinions, it might be time to check if the postie’s been, absent-mindedly make a cuppa or get back to picking that ingrown toenail. I think you’ll enjoy that a lot more than reading what’s next.
White, freezing, beautiful, neck-breakingly high at 8,848m, unforgiving, deadly.
White, mature, middle to upper class men (I know there are others, but they seem to make up the bulk of these questionable heroes), what gives you the right to defy the human body’s red flags plus the innate sacredness of this mighty monolith by ‘conquering’ it, knowing full well you could die or do yourself a massive injury while doing so, consequently leaving behind a bottomless pit of sadness for your long-suffering family and friends?
Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here?
For years I have harboured a deep, growing distaste of Everest climbers. I think they could be the very pinnacle of narcissism.
These affluent folk talk about the sense of achievement it gives, how important ‘summit-ing’ Everest is to them personally, how elusive/hypnotic/alluring this challenge is, how they’ve dedicated their whole life/bank account/spare time/family unit/job/sanity to this inane pursuit.
I. Don’t. Get. It.
To date, 300+ people have died climbing Everest. Countless of these remain on the slopes of this amazing landform, having died while trying to get to its summit or back to base camp. It’s uppermost section is called the deathzone for goodness sake!
And everybody talks about how terribly sad it is when someone suffers altitude sickness, loses multiple fingers/toes/nose tips to frostbite, or karks it mid way. Yet it’s entirely preventable.
Unlike diseases like cystic fibrosis which eventually leaves its patients unable to breathe, a lung transplant the only way to preserve their life.
All the while, shortness of breath and altitude sickness, are all relished as part of Everest’s macabre thrillseeking, death-defying adventure. Maybe I’m overstating it, but surely other testing hobbies – table tennis, petanque, underwater chess – carry risks that are not so deadly.
Those that don’t make it back leave behind devastated family and friends who rarely achieve closure because it’s too dangerous to recover the bodies of their loved ones to say a proper goodbye. Not to mention the financial cost of recovery expeditions.
I find that unutterably sad. Heart-rending. I can’t imagine having to doggedly support the person you love prepare for such a selfish activity knowing full well that serious injury or death are quite possible outcomes. And then they survive the ordeal, only to do it again from another angle?! The south face from Nepal or the north face from Tibet.
So many things in life involve risk. People are often shocked when I reveal that I’ve been skydiving. While three months pregnant. Yes, that was risky to me and my unborn child, who had no choice. Some would say it was irresponsible. Certainly if the ripcord didn’t pull, which was my doctor’s summation of my proposal. I’m trying not to be flippant. I know how this may offend some people, especially those who struggle to conceive.
But I feel like climbing Everest is a highly unnecessary activity. The last time no deaths were recorded was 1977.
This climbing season has been the most fatal in recent years, with 11 people dying up there as many others wait in line (even Everest has queues!) to take their shot at cheating death.
And the tonnes of rubbish left behind since George Mallory and Andrew Irvine attempted to climb up to the summit in 1924, is staggering.
Heroic expeditions this year, specifically to collect rubbish, recovered 4 bodies and three tonnes of rubbish. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg!
Poo is another pollutant stuck on the mountainside. Sherpas are supposed to bring it all down, but it’s such a shit of a job, much of it is covered by snow and left to freeze.
Now think about climate change, and its melting glaciers and polar caps. Everest is no longer such a pretty picture.
I don’t think climbing should be banned, but perhaps there could be better controls on who receives a permit, the numbers of these issued each year, and perhaps an upper limit.
I just wish these people would think a bit more deeply about this particular pastime and its empty reward.
A whole industry revolves around Everest. It’s big business, especially for the poor nations of Tibet and Nepal. But there must be a safer, more respectable way to enjoy this icy mountain that isn’t so exploitative.

2 thoughts on “The tip of the iceberg: the ugly truth about Mt Everest

  1. I agree with your sentiments. There’s so much about it I’m uncomfortable with—it’s another frontier for privileged white people to conquer and make themselves feel great but they don’t give a shit about the damage they’re doing in the process. It reeks of colonialism. But what really gets under my skin is that it’s the Sherpas who carry the bulk of the equipment and oxygen, who do the bulk of the work, for these privileged white people to feel all vainglorious. That, to me, is exploitation. Put your own life at risk if you want, but do it all by yourself and not while breaking the back of someone else.

    • I thought I’d be on my own on this. So glad others are thinking about the sustainability of some of our practises reaching back to early last century. If things remain the same as back then, I feel they are possibly in need of at least a SWOT analysis. Thanks for your take on this Louise. Michele X

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