The slippery allure of Mt. Everest

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/7/19

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” is a movie line so often quoted I won’t insult you by naming the film.

Watching the evening news last week, a variation on the famous line crept to …

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The slippery allure of Mt. Everest

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Posted

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” is a movie line so often quoted I won’t insult you by naming the film.

Watching the evening news last week, a variation on the famous line crept to mind.

It wasn’t a story about sharks that conjured the quote — though shark attacks were in the news that night — but instead a story about Mt. Everest. With its peak at 29,000 feet above sea level, Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and a popular destination for climbers.

“You’re gonna need a bigger mountain,” said my inner-voice as I watched James Longman of ABC News report on what has been a hazardous season for 11 people attempting to conquer the mountain. That’s the number of climbers — including two Americans — who have died this year in their attempt.

My inner-voice wasn’t trying to be flippant.

In his report, Longman described Mt. Everest’s highly-prized summit as “about the size of two Ping-Pong tables,” which isn’t very big.

The most interesting part of the report, however, wasn’t the small dimensions of that famous piece of lofty rock but a photograph capturing the sight of dozens of parka-wearing people — one immediately after the other single-file — the long, meandering line snaking its way towards Everest’s peak. The long line, captured on camera only a few days ago, resembled those marathon queues in which we were once required to stand to buy concert tickets, back in the day; or a line at the DMV. But at least those places, unlike Everest’s elevation, offer ample oxygen.

Overcrowding has been blamed for the mountain’s deadly 2019 season. A “season,” I learned, consists of only a few days during which weather permits the high-altitude ascent. The short window of opportunity for summiting Everest falls between periods of high winds and heavy rains, so climbers are crowding the mountain in between.

Either a bigger mountain is required, or an entirely different bucket-list destination for those adventure-seekers headed to the Himalayas.

My inner-voice, now fully enjoying the sound of itself, continued, asking: Why climb Mt. Everest at all?

Beyond the obvious answer — “Because it’s there.” — I can only speculate.

But I can come up with a few reasons not to:

• It’s expensive. A permit, required of climbers, costs $11,000. A total of 381 permits were issued for this year’s limited window of climbing. In addition to the permit, other costs include travel, equipment, food, guides, bottled oxygen and more, bringing the tally for a single climber, according to an article on CNN.com, from $35,000 to as high as $100,000. It’s a destination aimed not at penny-pinching thrill-seekers.

• It’s dangerous. Sixty-six years ago, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers to successfully summit Everest, but they weren’t the first to try. More than 200 people have died on Mt. Everest since the first death recorded on the mountain in 1922. Only 29 percent of people who attempt it — and there have been 11,000 attempts between 1922 and 2006, according to Adventurestats.com — succeed. And, of course, at least 11 people died this year.

• It’s overcrowded. And this is the point my inner-voice, now even starting to get on my own nerves, kept underscoring. I can imagine the attractive, romantic appeal of climbing Mt. Everest — an exhilarating experience; an incredible view; an awesome profile picture for Facebook; bragging rights — but all that goes away when romance meets reality. Again citing CNN.com, an “enormous increase in visitors” to Everest in recent years has resulted in a “severe impact on the mountain’s sensitive environment.” Which leads to one last point:

• It’s not good for Mt. Everest. A clean-up effort earlier this year collected in just two weeks nearly 7,000 pounds of garbage including cans, bottles and discarded gear. And that’s not to mention the bodies of some of those failed climbers congesting the one way up.

Everyone is entitled to their own experiences, of course. But maybe it’s time we remove Everest from our bucket lists. It’s been done to excess already, and it sounds like the mountain could use a break.

Randall RIGSBEE

Randall Reflects

Randall RIGSBEE

Randall Reflects

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