Everest – Risk, Tourism & Elitism

As another Pre-Monsoon Everest climbing season draws to a close there is, as usual, much to reflect on. There are the usual debates about overcrowding, unsuitably experienced climbers, ethics of rescue & risk and also debate about the unseasonal weather and conditions this year.

Photo taken from the Nepal Everest Basecamp looking towards Khumbu Tse, the Lho La and the Khumbu Icefall.

A good round-up of the season’s goings on can be found in Alan Arnette’s summing-up post.

The issue of overcrowding was brought into stark contrast by Ralf Dujmovits’ photograph which ran in The Guardian under the title ‘The Human Snake’. Though it should be noted that this photo was not taken ‘on the way to the summit’ but between camps 3 and 4, and that queues on the mountain are unfortunately not a new phenomenon. Adventure Alternative expeditions have been faced with these additional dangers on a number of occasions. It is regrettable and frustrating when it is apparent that it is due to incapable climbers, but it is hard to see how it can be controlled by external rules. For more on the overpopulation debate, visit The Guardian.

Looking down the Lhotse face, towards camp 3. Shot by mountaineer, Ralf Dujmovits, and displayed in The Guardian (May, 2012).

At Adventure Alternative, we feel that it is at least morally down to each expedition to ensure that all the climbers in their team are suitably conditioned, experienced and capable for the task. This shouldn’t mean that the world of Everest mountaineering necessarily becomes elitist, requiring a lifetime dedicated to mountaineering. But the level of skill and experience required will not come about based on a year or two of peak bagging.

Another major story was the decision of Russell Brice to abort the Himalayan Experience expedition early. Himex run arguably the most influential, and certainly the most expensive, expeditions on Everest. This should not overshadow the fact that Russell is a hugely experienced and respected mountaineer in his own right. It was a very bold decision and one that has not gone without criticism. We feel that he should be applauded for following his own judgement through on sound information and experience and not giving in to economic and marketing pressure. This is quite independent of whether or not certain objective dangers claimed casualties in the end.

Sadly the season ended with a number of climbers losing their lives. It would be unfair to group all these people together under a blanket statement, such as is often employed in the media. Each one of them was an individual with a family, a story and a combination of aspirations and decisions which brought them to the mountain.

On the Lhotse face. Taken from The Guardian (May, 2012).

Climbing Everest or any other mountain will never be a ‘safe’ thing to do. Paying such huge sums can lead to the assumption that the mountain will, and must, be summited at any cost. Therein lies one problem: money can’t buy everything. Anyone who is led to believe otherwise is being done a great injustice. We believe that each individual has the right to decide if they are willing to take the risk. What we, as providers, must do is to ensure that they receive as much honest, frank and balanced information as is available to help them to make a decision. We will then seek to minimise the risks as far as possible and present a continued appraisal of them. Consciously turning around is not a failure, losing control and perspective is.

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