Mount Everest has long captivated the human imagination, representing for some, the ultimate earthly challenge, a goal worth doing anything to achieve.
But as more climbers than ever (478 this year alone, a new record), received permits, and with 11 now sadly dead and several still missing, the question does arise: Is climbing Mount Everest worth dying for?
The allure of Everest lies in the magnitude of the challenge and the unparalleled sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the summit, and the recognition you might receive, with the latter seemingly overshadowing the former.
For some, this allure of Everest also seems to overshadow reality.
The goal supersedes the climb, a climb that, even with increasing numbers, will never be anywhere near safe. The mountain’s notorious yet seemingly well named ‘death zone,’ above 8,000 meters, is even more hazardous with its thin air, subsequent oxygen deprivation, and increased susceptibility to altitude sickness.
And quite simply, no-one is thinking particularly straight up there, guides included.
Climbing Everest also comes at a significant financial cost. For many climbers, this financial investment is immense, making the decision to embark on the journey challenging, and the decision to turn around even more difficult. And if the money isn’t a challenge, then finding the time is – the “when will I ever get the time to do this again?”
Combine these two and you have people with barely enough funds and the least experience having to choose operators who will provide them the least support. And those with more funds and less time, will go for the ‘flash,’ which has so far worked well for some – until of course there is an accident up high, and with little acclimatization and living on a high oxygen flow, the next flash could well be your life flashing in front of your eyes.
On Everest, the only option is often a one and done climb, with retreat not factored in.
And, as often pointed out, many can call themselves climbers, but once you are an “Everest” climber, your endeavor enters the public realm, whether successful or not. Public failure, even bathed in life lessons, platitudes and “I shall return” proclamations is still a very hard thing to face.
The ever increasing commercialization on Everest expeditions has also led to both enthusiastic guide companies proclaiming anything is possible, as well as overcrowding on the mountain. Following a trail, on a rope, with oxygen, is allowing the less skilled to go higher and higher, where with the mind befuddled, the oxygen running low and the cold intense, any sense of perspective beyond “I just must keep climbing” is inevitable.
Anything is possible, until it isn’t, and then lets hope you can just get down yourself. This year, one determined climber didn’t reach above Base Camp, yet was so sick for so long there, she was finally sent back to Lukla, where she died.
Ultimately the decision to climb rests with the individual. It is a deeply personal choice that requires careful consideration of one’s motivations, abilities, and the potential consequences.
The potential consequences must also be expanded out to your family, friends, teammates and those assisting you into the heights. Being a liability at altitude is not just your problem, it is also a problem for all those around you who feel a responsibility to assist you.
Being responsible for yourself is impossible if you don’t know what that responsibility entails, or having the high altitude climbing experience to make an informed personal decision, which fewer and fewer seem to have. At the least, maybe a bit more reading would help, on what the reality of altitude is really like?
The true spirit of mountaineering lies not only in reaching the summit but also in the journey itself. It is in the profound respect for the mountain where we can find meaning and fulfillment.
If we can strike a balance between personal ambitions and the greater good, we may be able to ensure that Everest remains a symbol of human achievement without sacrificing ourselves for the summit.