ALL mountain climbs contain an element of risk. How a mountaineer chooses to approach that risk, using the sum of the physical, mental and emotional powers at his or her disposal, is the basic challenge of the endeavor. At its best, mountaineering rewards shrewd and independent decision making.
Sadly, events on the south (Nepalese) side of Mount Everest this season suggest that while the risks inherent in climbing the mountain have never been greater, a majority of Everest climbers are increasingly estranged from the decision-making process. Two intersecting trends are to blame: the rising number of people attempting the mountain, and the cumulative effects of global warming, which is slowly yet steadily drying out the Himalayas, resulting in rockfalls, avalanches and sérac collapses.
The sheer number of people courting Everest — this season, approximately 750 foreign climbers and local Sherpas, from 32 expeditions — has created a system whereby the entire climbing route is institutionally maintained. Approximately six miles of rope is strung up the mountain each April, secured by hundreds of snow pickets and ice screws. Sections of aluminum ladder are employed to span crevasses too wide to safely step across. …
Last weekend, Russell Brice, owner and operator of Himalayan Experience, one of the largest and most respected operations on the mountain, told his combined team of more than 60 clients, guides and climbing Sherpa staff members that he was canceling the rest of their season. On his Web site, Mr. Brice was succinct: “I had long and serious talks with the Sherpas, the icefall doctors and my guides, and we have made the decision to cancel the expedition. We can no longer take the responsibility of sending you, the guides and the Sherpas through the dangerous icefall and up the rockfall-ridden Lhotse Face.”
Everest summit season, traditionally stretching from the second week of May to the beginning of June, is upon us. The world will probably soon hear of great triumphs on the peak, and there is equal capacity for great calamity. May the shrewdest and most independent decision of the season not go unnoticed.
Freddie Wilkinson is a guide, author and climber from Madison, N.H.
Read the whole thing here.
To: Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic magazine
Re: Your Everest story / reality show / iPad application
It’s time to bring everyone home.
≡ drawing by Paul Rogers via The New York Times