‘Because it is there’ – that’s what George Mallory said to New York Times journalists when they asked him why he wanted to climb Mount Everest.
George Mallory joined the expedition in 1924. The national hero never returned to the camp; his frozen mummified body was found 75 years later by a research team.
At the time of Mallory climbing Everest was a real challenge. There were no climbing sites, well-trained guides, high-tech safety equipment, and WiFi hotspots like today. Yes, you can browse Facebook on Everest.
Nowadays going on a spiritual journey to Everest isn’t anything special. If you have ultimate ambitions and at least $65.000, you can add your name to the list of climbers who conquered the world’s highest mountain. So, what is that makes people risk their lives to summit a mountain peak? And why it won’t make anyone a hero?
It is time for the ugly truth.
Deadly Danger on Mount Everest
Despite new technologies, strong, lightweight equipment and weather systems, there is still a high chance to die. According to the latest statistics, for every 100 successful Everest summits, seven people die. Many dangers are lurking along the way — for example, the lack of oxygen. According to Kandoo Adventures, each year twenty people die on their way to Everest because of altitude sickness.
All climbers are obligated to carry heavy oxygen bottles (around 10 kilograms) because the air above 8.000 meters is too thin to support life. The area next to the summit is called Death Zone. Most climbers die there. In some cases, they experience hallucinations and delusion and hear voices. It is not mysticism. Human’s body dies slowly without oxygen.
Some people managed to climb Mount Everest without oxygen such as Reinhold Messner, an Italian mountaineer. His name is listed in Guinness Book of Records since he made first in the history solo summit without supplementary oxygen. Reinhold Messner is a unique example, but what’s about these 200 other climbers who have lost their lives to see the top of the world?
That’s what happened to Francys Arsentiev, American-born hiker who tried to scale the mountain in 1998. She was eager to become the first American woman to reach the peak without supplemental oxygen. Francys managed to do so, but she succumbed to frostbite on her track down the mountain. Francys had 11-years old son.
The Ethical Dilemma
Francys Arsentiev had a slight chance to survive. Mountaineer Ian Woodall and his wife Cathy O’Dowd found her when she was still alive. She was delirious – she could only say ‘Don’t leave me.’ A married couple abandoned Francys even though they met her before at a base camp. Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd were on their way to the top, and they didn’t want to stop. The way to the summit takes up to 2 months, so helping a dying person means going back since there is nothing around. It is a long and expensive journey, so climbers simply don’t want to give up their summit.
The death of an English mountaineer, David Sharp, caused debate around ethics on Mount Everest. In 2006, nearly 50 climbers passed dying David Sharp. Everyone could see that he was still alive but desire to get to the summit was stronger than their humanity.
The dead bodies of Francys Arsentiev and David Sharp became landmarks on the main Northeast ridge route. Climbers call Francys ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
Ian Woodall regretted leaving Francys alone so in 2007 he and his expedition team found woman’s body, wrapped it in an American flag and moved her far from where people could see her.
The Mount accumulates around 50 tons of trash every year. How? Climbers. They get rid of their belongings on the way. The road to the summit is now covered with food tins, oxygen bottles, trekking equipment, and beer cans. Chinese and Nepali authorities tried to solve this problem by implementing a specific system. All climbers are obligated to bring down their trash (at least 8 kilograms). Otherwise, they must pay the $4000 fine. Some climbers pointed out that survival is the only one thing they can think about on Everest. And that $4000 is not so much comparing to the cost of the whole travel.
Last year China banned climbers from Everest base camp. The core area will remain closed until the pollution problem is solved. The Everest cleanup plan includes the dead body recovery. Due to low temperatures (-60 degrees Celsius), abandoned dead bodies will never decompose. Returning a body can be very dangerous and expensive due to logistical and technical reasons. Not every family can afford it so dead bodies of their relatives will stay on Everest forever.
Climbers are also responsible for leaving a horrible amount of excrement on the Mount Everest. At high altitudes, it doesn’t disintegrate. It only dries up and causes the release of harmful gases. Nowadays, all local villages water sources are extremely polluted due to the amount of excrement. The scale of this problem has changed dramatically for the worse over the past few years.
It Doesn’t Make You a Hero
It is not the secret that climbers pay Sherpas to carry things. Sherpa people are inhabitants of the Khumbu-valley. It is the ethnic group native to mountainous regions of Nepal. They are experienced and highly skilled climbers. They are also paid by weight, so Sherpas try to climb Everest as many times as possible. Most of the time, they cut corners to go faster and take extreme risks. Needless to say, sherpa climbers constitute one-third of Everest deaths.
Local guides make up to $5000 for the climbing season. It is actually not a lot for this kind of job. They spend around nine months away from their families and work 24 hours a day. When Sherpa dies, life insurance policy pays his family only $5000. Is this a real price for someone’s life?
Sherpas admit that a lot of their clients don’t have basic climbing skills. Guides teach them, prepare equipment, plan the trip and basically drag western climbers to the top of the summit. Let’s recall a story of Jordan Romero, the youngest person to climb Mount Everest. His dad and step-mother accompanied him at that time. The truth is that three hard-working Sherpas were doing all the job for them. It looks like everyone who has at least $65.000 in their pocket can make it to Everest.
Why do wealthy people feel this strange ego-driven need to prove their worth? The same happened to Maria Strydom in 2016 who wanted to show that vegas can do anything. She died of apparent altitude sickness while descending the summit.
Mount Everest also was known as Chomolungma remains a wonder of nature. In 1953 when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summited it for the first time, it was considered a spirited and noble human endeavor. Nowadays everyone can buy this kind of experience. Don’t you think that it only makes you a really expensive piece of baggage, not a hero?
Arjun Vajpai, Indian who climbed Everest at age 16, once said: ‘You do not conquer mountains; you only survive them.’