An article on Rock and Ice by Jeff Jackson recently made its way around the social media world and kicked off an interesting debate. But with a title like Mount Everest is Completely Irrelevant, the article was bound to stir the waters.
A glance through the 98 comments so far on the article reveals a full spectrum of reactions. Most comments are repeating ideas I’ve seen before: climbing using fixed ropes and ladders is “cheating,” that paying your way to a summit does not mean you’ve really climbed and, on the flip side, that climbing is up to the individual and his or her abilities (ie. they should be able to get to the summit however they please).
Jackson isn’t the first to put these ideas about Everest forward. It has long been a part of the ongoing discussion amongst alpinists and people who care about climbing style. Will Gadd wrote a similar piece for explore magazine, A Mountain of Hype: Everest, back in 2010. Gadd wrote:
“In this Age of Personal Accomplishment, why do I care about some relatively unskilled “climber” wobbling up Everest on a leash while huffing oxygen and then bragging about the experience to the local Rotary Club back home?”
Just as everything on Everest seems to have been done before, it’s hard to say something new about the mountain. But, here goes.
In his article, Jackson wrote:
“I wanted the general public to realize that paying an exorbitant fee, clipping an ascender to a fixed rope and hiking up a tall mountain sucking oxygen out of mask wasn’t climbing.”
The key words for me here are general public. The ideas of people being guided up Everest or ascending the mountain using fixed ropes and jumars have long been controversial in the world of alpinism, but I’m not sure that the general public sees it this way. A lot of people simply swallow any Everest news completely whole without stopping to question what is happening to the world’s highest peak. They have no reason to if they are not passionately opinionated about the more philosophical or even moral aspects of climbing – what it really entails, what defines “pure” alpinism and what the climbing style one uses to achieve the summit says about the climber.
For example, I’ve had a few people ask if I wanted to climb Everest, or they hear I went to Base Camp and assume I climbed the mountain. I have not and probably never will. But these people are totally in awe at even the notion of it. They know nothing about the mountain and yet they admire the feat. Other friends, who have never been higher than 10,000 feet, have put “Climb Everest” on their bucket lists.
It’s obvious that this big mountain has had a big effect on people.
As I wrote shortly after visiting Khumbu, Everest is the highest mountain in the world and yet somehow we have managed to raise it even higher. We have elevated the mountain (like many peaks) to a realm of personal accomplishment, sometimes self-indulgence, often treating it like a battlefield or arena where we prove our worth. We even use the mountain’s name as a metaphor to title our self-help books (ie. “The Everest Principle: How to Achieve the Summit of Your Life”).
On many levels I can respect the hard work it takes for people to reach the summit of any mountain, not just Everest. Absolutely. Everest is still a mountain and involves a huge amount of perseverance, stamina and drive. But when it comes to “Big E,” it’s starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. Unfortunately, so are the ‘accidents’ that are occurring each year on the mountain. If Jackson’s stats are correct, it bothers me that 30 people have already had to be rescued by helicopter this year at $7,000 per flight. The money bothers me as much as the toll the mountain is taking on human bodies, whether you’re a famous climber or paying big bucks to be guided up the mountain.
A part of me just wants to say, Give it a rest! Leave the mountain alone! At the very least, let’s question how we’re using the mountain for personal gain. Then I think of all the people I met in Khumbu whose lives depend on people wanting to climb the mountain and I’m reminded it’s not so straightforward.
Regardless, I’m not entirely sure what Jackson means by “irrelevant.” Irrelevant to whom? Everest will always be relevant to someone, such as the Sherpas living in Khumbu, my own friends who have climbed the mountain, the sponsored athlete daring to try something new or the six thousandth person to reach the summit. Irrelevant to people who care about climbing a mountain in good style? Perhaps, yes. Irrelevant to me? I’d have to put my answer like this:
I care about the stories that shape the mountain’s history, not the ones that repeat themselves.
What do you think? Has Everest become irrelevant?
- Mount Everest is Completely Irrelevant
- A Mountain of Hype: Everest
- Adventures without a cause
- Don’t Climb Every Mountain
- A Sherpa’s View of the Mount Everest Traffic Jam
- Everest: Dying for the “high”
- Fascination with the fatal mountain
- Everest 2012: Season Recap: A Study in Risk Management
- 5 media myths about Everest busted
Post updated on June 11, 2012.