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Author Topic: Everest Lure Endures Despite Risk of Death By GREG CHILD  (Read 6392 times)


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This article about why people climb Everest and the dangers was written for the NY Times:

"t's May, and Everest season is in full swing. After a spell of clear skies and a frenzied climbing binge beginning on May 15, at least 170 climbers have tagged the summit so far. In roughly 45 separate base camps in Nepal and Tibet, dozens more contenders wait for the last chance at the summit as the season winds down.

Since commercially guided ascents began in the early 1990's, the dream of standing on top of the highest mountain has become accessible to anyone, even relative novices, so long as they are fit and can pay individual guide fees as high as $65,000.

Despite the cost and dangers, Everest climbing continues to be a growth industry. Last year, the 50th anniversary of the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, all records for attendance were broken. By the end of 2003 there were 264 successful ascents. In a single day 118 people reached the top. By one estimation, there have been 2,098 ascents, and more are coming.

The crowds have brought out the critics. Hillary lamented last year that the mountain "needs a rest." Peter Habeler, the Austrian who with Reinhold Messner made the first climb without bottled oxygen in 1978, called the current mode of mass ascents "peanuts" for their reliance on hired Sherpa assistance, miles of rope and bottled oxygen. Their jaded voices echo many traditionalist climbers who experienced Everest in an era when only a handful of experts made it up the peak.

The allure of Everest, though, endures. People want the experience, and they will pay for it. The winners in this new adventure economy are not only the guides who return year after year to escort clients up the mountain, or the manufacturers of high-tech gear (a climbing suit costs about $1,000); they are also local Sherpas.

Roughly half those who climb the mountain these days are Sherpas, members of a local tribe who are depended on to carry extra equipment, to pave the route with ropes and to keep an eye on paying clients. At times, some say, they guide the guides. In return, Sherpas are rewarded with some of the highest wages in Nepal — up to $3,000 for an expedition, with bonuses and tips for summiting. That makes them high rollers in a nation where the average annual income is $230.

One of their slickest services is to work as the icefall doctors, installing ladders and ropes over crevasses in the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, a groaning, moving glacier that must be climbed through to get to the mountain. In earlier days, when westerners had to rig the icefall themselves, this was a dreaded phase of the climb, but the icefall doctors have taken the sting out of it. They charge each foreigner $300 for the service. All this money trickles into the Sherpa villages of the Solu Khumbu region.

There was a brief moment after 1996 when it looked as if guiding on Everest might shrivel up, after an infamous disaster in which guided parties that had reached the summit too late in the day became pinned down in a storm that caused the deaths of two guides and three clients. The ordeal was widely reported, and recounted in Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air." But sign-ups increased. That may be because the appeal of climbing Everest, or any mountain, has a lot to do with the freedom to accept risk.

This year, seven climbers have died, including Mariana Maslarova of Bulgaria yesterday, according to Everestnews.com, while a Sherpa cut two and a half hours off the ascent record.

The 1996 incident brought calls for safety measures, like limiting the number of climbers, vetting people who call themselves guides and keeping inexperienced clients off the mountain. The ideas, though, proved unenforceable.

The ministries in Nepal and Chinese-controlled Tibet that issue mountaineering permits have no interest in seeing fewer paying customers travel to their poor countries. Nepal rakes in $10,000 a climber for an Everest permit; Chinese-Tibetan authorities get about $25,000 a team.

Nor can a free nation prevent its citizens from aspiring to climb Everest. As for Everest guides, some have internationally recognized credentials, but many rely on raw experience to sharpen their guiding instincts — maybe the best schooling.

And because guides are seldom so wealthy they can turn away business, the overriding criterion for joining an expedition will always be the ability to write a big check for the guiding fee. The shakedown always comes during the climb — either you're fit enough and lucky enough with the weather and you make it to the top, or you don't. Nevertheless, many guided clients who have barely worn crampons have succeeded.

After the 1996 disaster, professionals on Everest learned to make the mountain safer. Greater cooperation among teams, more advanced communications and weather reports, and the lining of the entire mountain with the security of fixed ropes are key factors in getting so many customers to the top. Getting back down alive is trickier, but that has been enhanced by sticking to a mandatory turnaround time, usually about 2 or 3 p.m., when a team must give up a summit bid before the killing cold and wind of night set in.

Critics of the commercialization of Everest snub the modern scene as an adventure theme park. They also criticize modern Everest climbers for lacking imagination and plodding up routes that were climbed decades ago. The heart and soul of mountaineering, they say, is exploring the unknown; Everest is passé, it has not seen a new route in years, they complain.

Right now, however, Russian climbers on the Tibetan side are bucking that trend and pioneering a major new route. Their last communiqué politely complained of oxygen bottles being tossed off the summit by climbers on other routes. The empty cylinders were speeding down the mountain like torpedoes and two had narrowly missing the Russians.

Yes, it's dangerous up there."

From this page on NYTimes

"He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary." -- Friedrich Nietzsche


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Re: Everest Lure Endures Despite Risk of Death By GREG CHILD
« Reply #1 on: Nov 21 2005, 22:10 »

can you tell me about mountain everest and about icefall and death things like that okay


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Re: Everest Lure Endures Despite Risk of Death By GREG CHILD
« Reply #2 on: Feb 13 2006, 15:19 »

An interesting article to say the least. It kind of echos 'Dark shadows falling'.
Toffee Monkey
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