This being the end of May, it also marks the end of the so-called Everest season. It’s that brief window when the weather allows climbers to attempt to ascend the world’s highest mountain. But this year an awful lot of climbers have died on the mountain.
Every year, the number of parties attempting to summit seems to increase, and it’s not surprising, since, for under $20,000 there are plenty of tour operators who will effectively drag you up the mountain to a lesser or greater extent.
OK, so climbing Everest isn’t quite the achievement it once was, with Sherpas roping up just about the entire mountain in the early part of the season to ease the paying clients over the coming weeks. But you do hear stories that make the crowds on Everest in that brief opening weather window sound like the slopes of Snowdon or Ben Nevis on a sunny August day.
I’m not a climber – just an occassional walker – and I’ve certainly never been to the Himalayas or anywhere close to the “death zone” at 8,000m. I have read plenty about the issues, however, including books by Joe Simpson.
So it’s really scary to hear some of the reports you still get from Everest where a different kind of morality seems to exist. Read this piece on the recent death of a British climber, David Sharp, for example. 40 climbers went past the man as he died. Now I don’t suppose that there was a great deal that they could have done for him except perhaps trying to get him back down. But that would have jeapordised their own chances of summiting. (Another report of the story from the Telegraph).
What would I do if I was out for a nice walk in the hills without a mobile and found a man bleeding to death? I have no real first aid training, so I’d patch him up as best I could and then head back to civilisation as fast as possible to get help. Not really the same, although I probably hadn’t spent $20,000 to get to the top of the hill I was walking on that day, so my giving up the trip wouldn’t worry me.
Another story that has just come to light is about the man who was left for dead, but then found to be alive the next morning. A rescue mission was put in place and, at time of writing, a full recovery seems likely.
Over the last couple of years there have been a couple of expeditions to collect the belongings and indeed, the remains of George Mallory, the pioneering British moutaineer who died in 1924 attempting to scale Everest. The fact that they were able to find his body, still preserved on the mountain tells us something about another dirty secret of Everest. Many of those who die on the mountain are just left there, and will remain there year after year. They may, in time, be covered by rocks. But the snow melts and in any case, in some of the more extreme sections of the hill, it simply gets blown off. There are no vultures at those altitudes to give the body a Tibetan “sky funeral“. You have to walk past the bodies of those who’ve gone before you.
All in all, I find it to be a very sorry indictment of our society that this behaviour can still take place. Indeed it’s questionable morally that we should even be in the country “holidaying” while a civil war is essentially underway.