The latest pursuit of the wealthy
Who hasn’t wondered about the great Himalayan peaks, and how climbers manage to scale them. Lederhosen, Tyrollean yodeling, heavy boots, were once the provisions of the day. Now it’s nylon lines, plastic boots with inner liners, space age materials and GPS tracking …but still frozen hands and toes are all in a day’s work for the alpinist.
Although most of us do not start in the mighty Himalaya, in the back of any climber’s mind it does indeed lurk. Whether at the base of the foreboding Mont Blanc, the sharp peaks of the Andes, the jagged tops of the Pyrenees, roped and ready off to to do battle with Mother Nature they go.
Back in reality, mountaineering has become the newest sport for the young and wealthy. It started with golf, morphed to cycling, continues with yachting, and now includes mountaineering. Lest you believe that it can be done on a budget, think again. To travel and obtain permits to climb some of the world’s highest peaks will cost you in the neighborhood of $100,000.
True, a lot less than the two hundred fifty thousand Elon Musk is asking to take you into space, but a pretty penny none the less.
When climbing made its first organized appearance in the Western World, the British led the way. It was Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who first scaled the mighty mother, Mount Everest (May 1953). Although the white man, Edmund Hillary, is given credit for being the first to touch the summit, most people believe it was Sherpa Norgay.
However, long before Hillary and Norgay succeeded in their attempt, there were many others who failed and still many more who perished tragically. Probably the most famous duo being Mallory and Irvine. These two young well to do Britishers were the darlings of not only the climbing set but of all England.
George Mallory was described as “ vibrant pulsating life force”. Mallory was a seasoned climber and had several attempts on the great mountain. (Supposedly when asked why he kept attempting the feat he answered “because it’s there”.) He was a superb athlete and a member of the very proper Bloomsbury set. He was at Oxford and was said to be one of the best looking young men in England.
In 1924, partnered with his friend and climbing companion Sandy Irvine, the pair reached 26, 000 feet. From there, no one really knows what happened, but the two were never heard from again. Both men died on the mountain. (In later years both of their frozen bodies have been recovered.)
Which leads us back to the present day. What was once a Herculean feat was now doable by anyone with the money. Base camp at Everest sits at about 17,000 feet. There have been so many expeditions that alpinists now suggest there are at least 30 tons of garbage left at camp.
In John Krakauer’s wonderful book, “Into Thin Air’”, the story is told of an exhibition where one woman had her computer, a satellite dish and her espresso machine carried up by the sherpas. All of which led to disastrous results for the sherpas.
In a famous photo taken in May of 2019 there are a string of over 100 climbers in their bright red parkas waiting to ascend the fixed ropes. They waited as you would for a ski lift in Vermont. According to one Himalayan data base, the number of climbers who have summited has doubled since 2010. In 2020, the authorities implemented stricter guidelines and granted fewer permits to climb. Starting this year, in order to obtain your climbing permit on Everest, you will have to have had experience climbing above 20,000 feet. No mean feat in itself.
It is no longer Man v. Nature, but money and stupidity spoiling nature. What was once a feat to be cherished for a lifetime is now a plaque to be hung on the wall next to the exotic animals you have taken.
If we are to continue this assault, will a small cafe or even a McDonalds be next half way up the mountain?