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Mount Everest Traffic Jam
May 23, 2012 5:27 PM   Subscribe

A 73 year old returned, making it seem easy, yet increased traffic left four people dead this weekend. Traffic jams at Mount Everest.

Via Gawker.
Caution can be costly, but of course not as costly as death. (GRAPHIC PICTURES). Previously.
posted by bquarters (91 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Above a certain altitude, no human can ever acclimatize. Known as the Death Zone, only on 14 mountains worldwide can one step beyond the 8000 meter mark and know that no amount of training or conditioning will ever allow you to spend more than 48 hours there. The oxygen level in the Death Zone is only one third of the sea level value, which in simple terms means the body will use up its store of oxygen faster than breathing can replenish it.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:34 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I often wonder whatever happened to Rob Hall's body, and if the IMAX expedition somehow managed to get it down.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:36 PM on May 23, 2012


I feel super accomplished when I shun the elevator and walk up the 4 flights to my apartment. And now this little old lady has ruined that for me. FOREVER.
posted by elizardbits at 5:36 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


They're gearing up to terraform the top of Mount Everest, and the fuel for the catalysts will be human corpses.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:37 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Supporters of Everest climber Jon Kedrowski are blogging his progress.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:39 PM on May 23, 2012


They're gearing up to terraform the top of Mount Everest, and the fuel for the catalysts will be human corpses.

"The secret ingredient is hubris!"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:45 PM on May 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


My least favorite part of Kurosawa's Dreams (or it was at the time, when I rewatched it a few years ago, it didn't seem nearly as horrid as it felt the first time I watched it):

The Blizzard
posted by symbioid at 5:52 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


(crap, the jerk who uploaded it edited it with crappy music that's not in the original, and I can't easily find a better version) :\
posted by symbioid at 5:55 PM on May 23, 2012


The Canadian woman who died was featured on the local news before she left. When asked about her training, she never mentioned any actual mountain climbing experience.
Shriya Shah-Klorfine’s spirits were high as she prepared to climb to the peak of snow-covered Mount Everest.

She’d dreamt of conquering the highest mountain on Earth since she was nine years old and trained constantly for the past two years, walking and running 19 kilometres a day with 20 kilograms of weight on her back.

Everest was her mountain, after all. She grew up in its shadow in Kathmandu, Nepal, before moving to Mumbai, India, with her parents, and then to Toronto with her husband. The pair remortgaged their house to help raise about $100,000 for the expedition. They put off having children so she could take on Everest.

By Friday, she was almost there. At the final camp before the peak at 8,848 metres, the trim, dark-haired businesswoman, who once went on a 24-hour hunger strike to protest against Ontario’s high auto-insurance premiums, called several friends in the Toronto area to tell them how she was doing.

She was excited as she spoke about her plans to plant a Canadian flag atop Everest.

“She was not scared. She was not afraid of anything. She was full of joy, full of life,” friend Priya Ahuja recalled of their last conversation. “And she did it. And that’s the sad part. She did it and couldn’t come back.”
posted by maudlin at 5:57 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is callous or displays my lack of adventure.
But if you're going to climb Mt. Everest, don't you kind of accept that dying or serious injury are real possibilities?
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:09 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


That Toronto woman had never done any technical climbing before. She trained for this by spending two years going to rock climbing gyms and walking around Toronto carrying a really heavy backpack.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:12 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been tempted for the past day to make an Everest post.

I finally read Into Thin Air a couple of months ago, and over the past two days I've devoured Michael Kodas's High Crimes. I never had any particular interest in mountaineering, but Krakauer's descriptions of the cold and fatigue and hypoxia were so chilling and powerful. Ever since then I've been kind of obsessed with reading more about the 8,000 meter peaks and the people who climb them (and the disasters that occur).

I even watched the Discovery series on Netflix, and it was so weird to see people like Russell Brice and later read about him and his role as some kind of de facto superintendent of many of the expeditions and how they work together to lay the routes up the face each year. Apparently Brice's HimEx team made the decision to pull out completely this year at the beginning of May, citing warm weather and dangerous conditions in the Khumbu Icefall. Apparently snow fell after he left, making the trip safer, but in light of the crowding it looks like there could have been even more people on the mountain at the time. (Not that his climbers would necessarily have been trying for the peak this last weekend - from what I've read, he likes to shoot for later windows to try to avoid the crowds.)
posted by Salieri at 6:15 PM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Damn it, and I linked the exact same thing already linked above in the OP. Sorry, bquarters. I don't know why I missed that when I read it the first time.
posted by Salieri at 6:23 PM on May 23, 2012


Yes, wasn't Into Thin Air great? I could not put it down. And he was talking about the dangerously increasing numbers on the mountain even then in 1997. That book was a real page-turner.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:25 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is callous or displays my lack of adventure.
But if you're going to climb Mt. Everest, don't you kind of accept that dying or serious injury are real possibilities?


Speaking as an aspiring mountaineer, everybody I've talked to regarding Everest has agreed that it's not something you do on your first ascent. I found it odd that in no way did she actually do any lesser peaks before trying Everest, a 29k foot peak, not even a simple 14k ascent such as Mt. Ranier or similar.

Either way, RIP.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 6:27 PM on May 23, 2012


Into Thin Air is excellent, and I'd recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it. A relative handed it to me on a hiking trip and I devoured it over the weekend.

My takeaway is that Everest is incredibly dangerous, and even if you're highly experienced, well supplied, have an expert sherpa support team and are acclimatized to the altitude, there's an unavoidable chance that it will kill you.
posted by figurant at 6:33 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Into Thin Air talks a lot about how the commercialization of Everest is leading to more deaths, that, since there is so much money at stake, commercial guiding firms feel obligated to do whatever it takes to ensure their clients make a successful ascent - which has led to more and more amateur climbers in what is fundamentally the least hospitable place on dry land.

Krakauer has suggested getting rid of bottled air as a way to curb the deaths, but of course that will never happen.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:33 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think tha the problem is that, other that the altitude, Everest isn't a terribly challenging climb. If you put the whole thing in a 1 atmosphere pressure chamber, there's only a couple of spots that require any sort of technical climbing on the entire SE route, the worst being the Hillary Step. Really, the challenge of Everest is the lack of oxygen and the cold.

K2, the second tallest mountain in the world, is a vastly more difficult climb -- it shoots up as a giant 3000 meter tall pyramid over the base, and in most cases it climbs 9000 feet in less than three miles of horizontal distance. It's one of the hardest climbs in the world, and has the 2nd worst fatality rate. 302 people have summited K2, and 80 have died trying -- a 26% ratio. Annapurana, the worst of the 8000m peaks, has had 153 summit ascents and 58 died trying -- a 38% ration. Compare that to the well over 2800 summits of Everest.

Indeed, one of the odd things is that climbing the Seven Second Summits -- the 2nd tallest mountain on each continent, is a harder task that climbing the Seven Summits.

In Africa, the Summit of Mount Kenya requires rock climbing, but you can walk up Kilimanjaro.

In North America, Mount Logan is considered to be slight more difficult than Denali/Mt. McKinley, but in both cases, it's the weather that makes the climbs difficult, not the terrain.

In Antarctica, Mt. Vinson is the same -- easy climb in in lousy weather, but the 2nd highest, Mount Tyree, is a difficult technical climb.

In Europe, Dyhk-Tau is much harder than the taller Erebus.

Australia has two lists (Australia proper and the whole Australian Continental Shelf.) In the former, Mount Townsend is a more difficult climb than the taller Mount Kosciusko, but both can be climbed with no difficultly -- another set of walk ups. In the whole shelf list, the tallest peak, Carstenz Pyramid, is hard, but Puncak Mandela has a very difficult approach climb.

And in South America, there are a couple of scrambles on Ojos del Salado, but it's another simple walk up Aconcagua.

So, you have maybe one case where the tallest is harder is in Australia, and in North America it's a tossup, but everywhere else, it's a tougher road up the 2nd highest mountain.
posted by eriko at 6:36 PM on May 23, 2012 [56 favorites]


Here's a table of the main teams on Everest (both south and north sides) and their current locations, as well as a list of this year's casualties.

The craziest story so far has been that the list of ten deaths was originally eleven. A sixty-nine year old Italian was presumed dead after being trapped high up on the mountain, but word came that he was rescued after four nights in or near the death zone without access to oxygen. I can't even imagine.
posted by Salieri at 6:52 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I'm posting a lot, but this is a subject that has been on my mind for days now.

Earlier I saw a photograph of the long lines on the Lhotse Face last weekend. The video here of the same crowding is even more enlightening. (My apologies if it's not viewable everywhere.)
posted by Salieri at 7:19 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I fail to see how climbing Mount Everest in this day and age is meaningfully different from a fantastically expensive game of Russian Roulette.

Mountaineering still has an awesome and meaningful place in our society as a means of promoting useful geographical exploration, cultural anthropology, and yes, self-discovery, but Everest and the other mad piles of rock like it today aren't that anymore. There is literally nothing you could leave behind there but trash or your corpse. Everest is a place where people with more money than sense go to die, at a rate that is still at one for every ten successful attempts.

For anyone who is considering Everest, or one of the many lethal mountains like it, whatever you do, please don't die for your hobby. It isn't heroic or brave to leave behind people who love you, or the talents, skills, and education that you could use instead to live to make the world we live in a better place.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:28 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mountain Climbing is dangerous. If you die while attempting it, then you deserve it for taking the wrong risks. Heinrich Harrer said something like this in The White Spider, which doesn't fully anticipate the problems with modern adventure tourism.
posted by ovvl at 7:30 PM on May 23, 2012


Some people's hobbies revolve mainly on being able to say things like "I climbed Everest."
posted by LogicalDash at 7:37 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good on Bierling for cancelling the climb. I like to think that if I was in the target market for an Everest expedition, I'd prefer someone more likely to bring me back alive than someone who is more likely to bring me to my death.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:40 PM on May 23, 2012


I've seen it claimed that the South route is accessible to people with good physical fitness and with not very strong technical climbing skill, but it seems very foolish to try it with NO rock, ice, or high altitude experience. I guess these people try to pick the ice axe etc. skills up during the acclimation period, and rely on the ropes?
posted by thelonius at 7:52 PM on May 23, 2012



The Canadian woman who died was featured on the local news before she left.


And she's not getting much sympathy in the comments at the Globe + Mail.

A sample:

Please please enough about this story.

She wanted to be the "first" Asian woman from Canada to scale the mountain. This is all about me me and me. When will this insanity about being the first end?

Perhaps my fellow Muslims should now consider sending a buqa clad woman to scale the mountain and be first in that category! Oh Please.

posted by philip-random at 8:10 PM on May 23, 2012


I did the Everest Base Camp trek 2 months ago. On the trek I met a young doctor from Singapore who was volunteering at the health posts in the area while preparing to summit Everest. His summit attempt is in 2 days. His blog is here: Climbeverest2012. "Track my location" will show you where he is on the mountain.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 8:15 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stories like the first link are what made me start to roll my eyes and skip news stories about Everest in the newspaper.

Wade Davis' Into the Silence goes back to basics and made me go back to reading about Everest again.
posted by variella at 8:19 PM on May 23, 2012


I turned down a backpacking trip last year on the grounds that it wasn't well thought out and had the potential to turn bad. (They were fine. And the person who asked me is aware that they got lucky.) But it was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Part of you wants to go, you don't want to tell someone you think they're doing something stupid and dangerous and so on. I really can't imagine what it's like when you're already at base camp and there are staggering sums of money involved. Though perhaps if you head an expedition, it's easier because you can pull the plug entirely. I really wanted to talk them into delaying and re-planning that trip, but I didn't succeed and had to take care of myself.
posted by hoyland at 8:22 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


man i guess i see what people are saying about this canadian woman's hubris and foolhardiness, but i just came across her everest website, which is still up, and saw that the last entry on her updates page is dated "19 MAY 2012 15:15" and says "Shriya a daring lady has successfully arrived on the top of the world the Mt. Everest 8848 m. just few minutes ago." super, super fucking sad.
posted by facetious at 8:58 PM on May 23, 2012


That Toronto woman had never done any technical climbing before. She trained for this by spending two years going to rock climbing gyms and walking around Toronto carrying a really heavy backpack.

Ummm, no. From the Globe and Mail article:
Ms. Shah-Klorfine had previously climbed smaller mountains in Nepal, but Everest was by far her biggest mountaineering challenge. The firm helping her with her expedition was Utmost Adventure Trekking Pvt. Ltd., based in Kathmandu. She had six members on her team, including five local trekking professionals.
She grew up in Kathmandu, apparently, so I'm certain she was aware of the risks.
posted by the cydonian at 9:00 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the trouble: Only so many people can ascend (and descend) the dangerous rock face known as the Hillary Step at the same time because only one rope is available.

This is insane. Get a fucking second rope. People are dying here.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:23 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


When the price of "conquering" a mountain like Everest is death and the destruction of a pristine natural area, I think that is too high. The dead and the junk left on that mountain top are not noble, they are a monument to selfishness and short-sightedness.

"Take only pictures, leave only footprints." If we can't do that, we shouldn't be there.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:29 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is insane. Get a fucking second rope. People are dying here.

I was sort of thinking this way until I spent some time with that GRAPHIC PICTURES link. What I realized is that the Death Zone (above 8000 meters - 5 miles - the stratosphere) is an alien environment -- the kind of place where bodies are more less instantly mummified because the air is so cold, dry, almost oxygen free. You might as well just call it another planet.

Media term it "summit fever", the apparent callousness that drives mountaineers to disregard ethics on their Everest ascents, sometimes literally climbing over dead bodies to reach their goals. But whatever the preparation and outlandish cost, perhaps it's not simply ruthless determination that makes someone abandon their team mates, and yet still have the energy to summit. In such alien conditions, utterly hostile to human life, climbers might face their own mortality. Under the spectre of pure, unadulterated fear, they must realize that they are beyond help as well as beyond helping anyone else.

If they don't, they fall among those who never leave, abandoned on Everest.


Suddenly common sense stuff like extra ropes and basic safety precautions feels almost absurd.
posted by philip-random at 9:40 PM on May 23, 2012


Seems to me like some sort of authority needs to be formed that limits the number of climbers to a reasonable level- maybe a max of 20-30 per day to build in some headroom for circumstances. It's hard to fathom that the number of climbers approaching the summit on any given day is totally unregulated. The crowds seem to be a huge contributing factor to these deaths.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:41 PM on May 23, 2012


Earlier I saw a photograph of the long lines on the Lhotse Face last weekend.

That link is dead, but the image still shows up in a Google image search. For the most part you could substitute this image from Chaplin's Gold Rush and you'd get the idea.

Everest is way too crowded this time of year. And it's mainly tourists.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:45 PM on May 23, 2012


I'm gonna ride a horse up to the summit of Everest and everyone will adore me.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:48 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ms. Shah-Klorfine had previously climbed smaller mountains in Nepal, but Everest was by far her biggest mountaineering challenge.

Sorry, I really didn't see the paragraph mentioning her previous climbing experience (it was at the top of page 2). I've had problems reading the G&M paginated articles over the past few months. Sometimes I'll click the link to page 2 and will just get page 1 content again, with no page links at the bottom.

But how much smaller were those "smaller" mountains? Did any of those climbs require weeks to execute? Were any at an altitude that required bottled oxygen?

All the local media really pushed the "two years of walking the hills around Dufferin and Eglinton" angle. I can't remember any earlier mentions of her previous climbing experience. Maybe that was just a way to put a charming local spin on her story. But when you go to her expedition web site, the About page doesn't mention her previous climbing experience. And she was looking for sponsors for all kinds of equipment, which would suggest that she hadn't done much climbing recently, or at least much high-altitude climbing.

Here's a video interview from March of this year. She mentions seeing Everest on a helicopter tour when she was 9, she talks about her training regime in Toronto, and she displays the equipment she has on hand. She says that she is scheduled to get two weeks of "extensive training" before the climb.

I know that even experienced people can die on Everest and on other climbs, and that inexperienced but fit and determined people can succeed. Luck and differences in personal physiology play a big role. It just doesn't seem as if Shar-Klorine had very much recent, relevant experience at altitude, including any experience where she had to make the difficult decision to turn back, and that lack of experience probably contributed to her death.
posted by maudlin at 9:49 PM on May 23, 2012


(Yes, I managed to misspell both parts of her name. Apologies.)
posted by maudlin at 9:51 PM on May 23, 2012


twoleftfeet: " This is insane. Get a fucking second rope. People are dying here."

I have no idea about the width of the Hillary Step but there may not be room for climbers on a second rope.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:52 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


maudlin: But when you go to her expedition web site, the About page doesn't mention her previous climbing experience.

Another thing this site has: Hilariously bad photoshop of her standing in front of a very impressive snowy mountain... which you can drive to.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:55 PM on May 23, 2012


I'm gonna ride a horse up to the summit of Everest and everyone will adore me.

They would adore you more if you came back down Everest on skis. Riding the horse.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:56 PM on May 23, 2012


" This is insane. Get a fucking second rope. People are dying here."

I imagine this would be very hard to do. I wonder how the original rope got up there.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:57 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Getting a second rope, even if possible, is surely going to add to overcrowding issues, in much the same way that building more roads just leads to more traffic.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:49 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is insane. Get a fucking second rope. People are dying here.

You know what would stop people dying? The people in the queue seeing that they are in a human traffic jam and turning the fuck around because they've decided that making the summit is not worth their lives.

There should be no need for a 2nd rope; there should be fewer climbers. 208 people last weekend and 200 people this weekend is INSANE and clear evidence that way too many permits are being issued. The $10k per person fee may explain why there is no cap on the number of permits issued each year. So, while you can't schedule summit attempts, the Nepalese tourism board could at least control the total number of people attempting to summit, which would help the numbers. It would create huge numbers of other problems with and for expedition outfits, but fewer people would die, so there is that.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:58 AM on May 24, 2012


$10k per person, thousands of people per year? Forget about getting a second rope, I say they should put in an escalator.
posted by sfenders at 3:29 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Natural Selection. It's not just a good idea, it is the law of the land.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 3:33 AM on May 24, 2012


The organizers are making good money out of this, including taking inexperienced people to the top. Give them a year's ban for losing a climber, two years for two climbers, and so on. They'll soon make sure that nobody dies unavoidably.
posted by Jehan at 4:48 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or even charge them another $10,000 for anybody who doesn't come down. There's plenty of ways to make the tour operators act differently.
posted by Jehan at 4:56 AM on May 24, 2012


you have to burn the rope
posted by LogicalDash at 5:14 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't expect the government of Nepal to try any bans, and I don't expect much support from the locals on any moves that reduce the number of Everest tourists.

How has Mount Everest tourism affected Nepal?
Since Nepal ranks among the poorest countries in the world, tourism is a vital economic lifeline. Comprising about 4 percent of the country's gross national product, the industry pulls in around half a billion dollars annually ...

Mount Everest climbers have been a dependable money source ... . In climbing season alone from March to May, the population of the Khumbu region at the base of Mount Everest soars from around 40,000 to 700,000 ...

But thousands of those seasonal residents are Nepalese workers from other areas who migrate in for tourism-related employment. In fact, locals have decried recent calls for Mount Everest to be restricted due to environmental damage because so many rely on tourism to provide a majority of their annual income. For example, sherpas, or mountain guides, in particular can make upwards of $2,000 per expedition, far exceeding the average Nepalese annual income. ...

To increase Everest tourism during the colder months of the year, the Nepalese government announced in 2007 that it was trying to cut royalty fees for people interested in climbing Everest during fall and winter. If the proposed plan goes into effect, a September through November climb will be 50 percent off the regular price and one from December to February will be 75 percent lower. If you're lured into the sales price, Nepal winds up raking in off-season tourism money.
I checked the last claim: here are the current rates and here's an announcement from 2008 describing how they were reduced. Maybe they'll reverse course after this, but I doubt it.

According to the table Salieri linked above, 3 of the 10 deaths this year were Nepalese working as sherpas.
posted by maudlin at 6:11 AM on May 24, 2012


I know this is heartless, but I don't think that punishing the poorer Nepalese (by restricting climbs) to save the lives of people who are happy to risk killing themselves is really the solution. I don't know what the solution is about sherpa deaths -- maybe huge fines, or some kind of insurance (which would, I assume, end up being much the same as the fines).

(I read High Crimes based on some recommendation here, once, and it was incredible.)
posted by jeather at 6:23 AM on May 24, 2012


I know this is heartless, but I don't think that punishing the poorer Nepalese (by restricting climbs) to save the lives of people who are happy to risk killing themselves is really the solution.

I think you could partially get around that by capping the number of climbers, and also raising the fees enormously; the idea being to have the same income but for half or a quarter of the number of climbers. Those photos and videos of the lines are just ridiculous. It's not a Disney ride, it's a mountain.
posted by Forktine at 6:49 AM on May 24, 2012


I think you could partially get around that by capping the number of climbers, and also raising the fees enormously; the idea being to have the same income but for half or a quarter of the number of climbers.

But then you are halving the number of sherpas who are employed, too, and halving the number of tourists in general and so the number of people who can get money by working in tourism-related employment. Maybe it is still a good idea to do this, though it doesn't seem likely that it will happen, but there is more money coming in than just the 10k/climber, and people are going to fight the decrease in total climbers even if the total fees for climbers increases.

The photo of the lines are really quite something. You'd think people wouldn't want to do it, but they do.
posted by jeather at 7:00 AM on May 24, 2012


Good lord.

Chalk it up to naivety or me losing my internet-generation jadedness, but while I knew that scores of people died trying to climb Everest, I had no idea they just left the bodies there. I mean it makes sense, but the idea of being in an already terrifying situation (regardless of whether or not I put myself in it) and seeing the path littered with the multi-colored jackets and gear of the dead...

Jesus, I can't.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:27 AM on May 24, 2012


I, too, read Krakauer's account of the disastrous 1996 season, and have been fascinated by these stories ever since. The facts present such a different story than one would imagine: reaching the highest point on earth then waiting on line for three hours like you're at the DMV boggles my mind. Idle polite chitchat with the people in line ahead of you? And the trash. The dead bodies!

I think they ("they") should implement a system whereby you have to climb the Seven Summits in order, starting with the smallest, Or, better yet, given what eriko shares above, all seven of the second summits, then the top peaks. People could have a little booklet and collect stamps at each summit! Then you only get the most committed mountaineers making the attempt, and those mountaineers get to savour reaching the pinnacle of a career of climbing without 150 tourists hanging around.

I mean, I think it says something that one of my takeaways from Krakauer's book was that, so long as I saved up enough money, even I could hire a half dozen sherpas to half-drag me up the mountain. It has so much the flavour of a shortcut: I don't have any interest in climbing any other mountain and why bother with all that work when I have a 9 in 10 chance of summiting Everest anyway? No one but mountaineers would be impressed by the other summits or a lifetime of climbing, so why bother?
posted by looli at 7:28 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you could partially get around that by capping the number of climbers, and also raising the fees enormously; the idea being to have the same income but for half or a quarter of the number of climbers.

But if you cap the number of climbers, you also cap the number of porters, sherpas, cooks, drivers, hotel rooms, supply depots and everything else that is needed to support an attempt. The local economy is built on all of that now. There really isn't a graceful way to back out of this anymore.

3 of the 10 deaths this year were Nepalese working as sherpas.

This is statistically par for the course, since 1/3rd of all deaths on Everest are sherpa workers. I can't imagine that won't be higher this year; with 400+ hikers on that mountain, there cannot be enough experienced sirdars to go around, so expeditions are going to have Sherpa staff out of their depth (that, or I have mis-understood how this works.)

Krakauer described what looked in 1996 like a peak of greed, stupidity, congestion, litter and fatalities. 15 years later, we appear to have only worsened this problem in a way that just baffles me and seems so sad on so many fronts.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:36 AM on May 24, 2012


... the idea of being in an already terrifying situation (regardless of whether or not I put myself in it) and seeing the path littered with the multi-colored jackets and gear of the dead...

Jesus, I can't.


Walking by dead bodies would be horrifying. Walking by people who were dying RIGHT THEN, and not doing anything to save them because you would probably die yourself would be worse.

And walking by someone dying RIGHT THEN and knowing that you could save them without dying, or at least stop to comfort them (maybe you were just heading out from camp and had plenty of daylight, people and other resources to return safely to camp) but choosing not to stop because you would lose your chance to summit-- well, that's a soul-destroying choice right there. I can imagine taking risks, but I can't imagine entering an environment where my own weakness or ego would mean someone who could be saved would not be saved.

Jesus.
posted by maudlin at 7:38 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maudlin's link describes the fate of David Sharp, who appears to have summitted Everest with a cheaper operation: The following week three other climbers from Asian Trekking also died during summit attempts, Vitor Negrete, Igor Plyushkin, and Thomas Weber.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 AM on May 24, 2012


I love how some people in the story linked by Maudlin make just walking by a dying man on your way to the summit sound like a moral quandary. It isn't: if you can save someone and not harm yourself or others in the process, you do, or at least you try to. And no, the fact that you might not get your full 10,000 pounds worth of Everest is not an adequate excuse. In fact, it isn't even worthy of the name excuse. If getting to the top of Everest seems worth more to you than saving a life, you're deeply, deeply fucked up.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:58 AM on May 24, 2012


Reading the Wikipedia entry about Green Boots, it seems that some climbers believe Sharp was Green Boots (the corpse of an Indian climber who died during the 1996 season) and was therefore already dead.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:04 AM on May 24, 2012


Dawa from Arun Treks also gave oxygen to David and tried to help him move, repeatedly, for perhaps an hour. But he could not get David to stand alone or even stand resting on his shoulders, and crying, Dawa had to leave him too. Even with two Sherpas it was not going to be possible to get David down the tricky sections below... [Source]

At least two other people also gave him oxygen, so I don't think it's accurate to say that 40 people just walked by - several of them attempted to help him. When he's severely hypoxic and unable to stand or help himself, I'm not sure what choice there is besides leaving him. What is it folks wanted people to do? Rob Hall and Andy Harris died attempting to rescue Doug Hansen in similar circumstances at what I remember as similar elevation. The only thing that got Doug Hansen was someone to die with.

People who attempt the summit of Everest have a 1 in 10 chance of dying. You accept a huge amount of risk doing this. How much are the other 9 people obligated to help you reduce those odds at the cost of their own lives?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:35 AM on May 24, 2012


How much are the other 9 people obligated to help you reduce those odds at the cost of their own lives?

Well, they're not obligated to risk their own lives. But IMO they are obligated as human beings not to shuffle past a dying man on their way to climb the summit without offering help. I'm not faulting the people who stopped obviously, but possibly (just possibly!) if more people had stopped they would have had more people helping him get down and it might have happened. And even if he died, they would at least know they hadn't put their desire to climb to the top of a mountain above someone's life.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:48 AM on May 24, 2012


If you are putting yourself at serious risk to save someone, then I don't think you're obligated to take that risk. But if you are in a position to help -- and many people heading down are not -- taking some time to at least comfort a fellow human being dying alone, to assess the situation, and to try to help, as Dawa did, even if it the end you can't rescue them, then you should.

I wonder if many of the climbing operations are absolutely, brutally honest with the newbies who climb with them.

You know that you have a 1 in 10 chance of dying on this summit. You may die from sheer bad luck. You may die because your body is even worse at dealing with altitude than experienced climbers. It is more likely that you will die because altitude will make you stupid. Altitude makes everyone stupid, but you have not yet directly experienced that. It's fucking terrifying.

Our team will do its best to keep you alive. We may ask or even beg you to turn around when things get too dangerous, but we can't always convince you because altitude makes you very, very stupid. You may think now that you will always be able to make that judgment call, but because none of you have ever climbed at altitude, you don't really know how stupid you can be and still live.

In addition, altitude makes the other people around you stupid. And slow. And desperate. And deeply selfish. Our team will try to help you when you're in trouble. Assume now that no one else on that mountain will help you. In fact, some climbing operations are cheap, conniving crooks who will steal from other teams. Are you ready to face the possibility that one or more people will walk by you when you're in danger and won't even try to help? And are you ready to face the possibility that you will pass one or more dying people and that you will be too sick, too stupid, or too vain and selfish to stop and help?

If the satisfaction of climbing this mountain means that you can live with the memory that you walked past dying people and did nothing, then you're as ready as you'll ever be.

posted by maudlin at 8:53 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


How much are the other 9 people obligated to help you reduce those odds at the cost of their own lives?

I wonder how this sentiment (which seems perfectly logical, I'm not intending to criticize DarlingBri at all here) is reflective of the "creeping libertarianism" of our times.

For example, Sir Edmund Hillary this decried this attitude as being counter to the cooperative spirit of mountaineering when he criticized fellow Kiwi Mark Inglis, who may or may not have left David Sharp to die:

Sir Edmund Hillary was highly critical of the decision not to try to rescue Sharp, saying that leaving other climbers to die is unacceptable, and the desire to get to the summit has become all-important. He also said, "I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say good morning and pass on by". He also told the New Zealand Herald that he was horrified by the callous attitude of today’s climbers. "They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die" and that, "I think that their priority was to get to the top and the welfare of one of the... of a member of an expedition was very secondary." [4] Hillary also called Mark Inglis "crazy"
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think most non-psychopaths would agree that saving a life is more of an accomplishment than summiting Everest. I withhold judgment, though, since a) I'm not a mountaineer and b) I'm not sure to what extent rescue is even possible at that altitude in those conditions.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2012


b) I'm not sure to what extent rescue is even possible at that altitude in those conditions.

I'm sure that 40 climbers working together could have figured out how to save the guy. But again, I'm thinking this from more or less sea level, in my apartment, with Tim Buckley on the sound system.

I wonder how this sentiment [...] is reflective of the "creeping libertarianism" of our times.

The creepiest part of all of this is that it's got me thinking that, for some, finding a zone where raw Darwinism is The Law may be part of the appeal. Finally, that decrepit human off the side of the path isn't just down and out, he's a dead man, and somehow that makes me more alive.
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on May 24, 2012


Summiting Everest 9/10 on story-telling scale
Turning back from summit to save someone's life, 10/10
posted by MangyCarface at 9:30 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


After reading the various books, though, it seems like obsession or even possession (or perhaps some sort of psychosis) that drives people to the top (but like Krakauer said, take bottled air out of the equation and perhaps a dramatically different breed of climber would remain).

I recall reading on a board or forum someplace the comments of a Nepalese expat, who said that Everest, or Sagarmāthā I think, is a goddess, and the climbers are defiling a holy place, and so are cursed.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 AM on May 24, 2012


For those of you who have read Into Thin Air I strongly recommend reading The Climb. It is Anatoli Boukreev's account of the disaster and presents a rebuttal to Krakauer's
criticism of his actions as a guide that year.
posted by cmfletcher at 9:41 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


philip-random: I'm sure that 40 climbers working together could have figured out how to save the guy. But again, I'm thinking this from more or less sea level, in my apartment, with Tim Buckley on the sound system.

I really don't know about this. First of all, it sounds like by the end, he stood a pretty good chance of dying even if rescued, particularly since it would involve a long, freezing haul down the mountain. Reviving a person with severe hypothermia and extensive frostbite isn't a sure thing, particularly without good medical facilities. His odds go down even more if he had HAPE or HACE going, which might have caused his emergency.

Also, 40 climbers working to do something extremely difficult and unprecedented for which they were unprepared and not properly equipped stand a very good chance of increasing the number of dead.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no doubt that these fatalities create horrible consequences for the families and loved ones left behind. And while I understand the human impulse to fix an insane situation, everyone attempting to summit Everest has read the manual. The situation doesn't need to be fixed. "Into Thin Air" makes an argument for reform, but Krakauer's arrogance shines through brilliantly. The question he asks boils down to, "What are these normal people doing here? Don't they know this is a place for serious mountaineers? Let's change the rules so only the elite can be here."

Well, serious mountaineers and normal people both succeed and die on Everest. I have a friend who summited Everest with Eric Weihanmeyer, the blind guy. That effort had nothing to do with bragging rights. It was a profound test of the limits of what's possible for a blind person. Serious mountaineers had great objections to that project. Would it have been better for him to never try? Everest is important to us, because it is the very definition of a difficult endeavor.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:15 AM on May 24, 2012


I recall reading on a board or forum someplace the comments of a Nepalese expat, who said that Everest, or Sagarmāthā I think, is a goddess, and the climbers are defiling a holy place, and so are cursed.

Im mildly acquainted with two people who've scaled the Everest, and quite a few more who've "done" Kilimanjaro, Denali and Mt Kinabalu in Borneo. I'm quite supportive of their spirit and drive in wanting to scale these mountains; one of the two scalers has a "First of an ethnicity" thing herself, perhaps a Wikipedia article to boot. She's a very driven lady had shown quite a bit initiative in getting sponsors and funding for her expedition; lots to learn and admire in her tale.

I had, however, long decided that my personal Big Fat Hairy Goal would not involve climbing the Everest in particular; had come to the conclusion that the appropriate Gita-ic (and a bit Indian-mystical) response is indeed to worship the Sagarmatha from afar rather than defile it with my unworthy presence. This might seem dark, but when I die, I want my physical body to be withered away, either as ash or food for worms as a Blues song goes, or something. I don't want it to remain mummified in an alien environment, possibly be a landmark for passing tourists.

This, nevertheless, is quite orthogonal to admiring the spirit who do attempt to climb the Everest. Think it's only polite to withhold judgement on, well, the judgement of people who've attempted a big goal but have died in the process; because there is so much we'll never know, and because there is never anything called adequate preparation for the Everest, any comment we make would be our subjective prejudices speaking, and not an objective assessment.
posted by the cydonian at 11:25 AM on May 24, 2012


Here's a short interview from Outside Online that discusses last weekend's Everest deaths - Everest, Explained
posted by bwilms at 11:29 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a good discussion some time ago about 'summit fever' and the callousness of climbers on Everest in particular in this thread from a couple of years ago, particularly a comment by someone with first-hand experience at high altitude.

I won't go into it much more than confirming that high altitude does strange and sometimes terrible things to a person, and having experienced it myself (at 6500 m) it can easily impair your thinking. There are a lot of first-hand accounts and general information you can read about how people are affected, but I guess all that I can really say in the end is that it's harder to save people than you'd think. It's easy behind a computer screen, but it's entirely different up on the mountain, and the calculation of risk vs. reward is drastically in favor of saving yourself on the highest places of a mountain like Everest, because the risk that you too will die is remarkably high. I'm not saying everyone's decisions over the years have been right, but keep this in mind. You are physically and mentally exhausted and may not make it back to camp yourself. What good can you really do for someone who can't even move under their own will? You sure as hell can't carry them down, and even if you could the risk of falling is there and high.

Anyway. There's no room on the Hillary Step for another rope. It is a very slim face that climbers have to maneuver with technical skill after already climbing up to 8760 m, only 244 m from the top. You can note from the photo that after the step you have to maneuver a thin ledge. Adding another rope would do no good, and as someone mentioned up thread, even if you could it would only exacerbate the ultimate problem: too much traffic.

I've been following some info from Everest from my favorite tumblr, Crampon Point. He (or she) has shared a lot of frankly horrifying imagery, like the line of climbers moving up the side of the mountain, though I'm not sure what point they're at on the route. So imagine that line crammed up along the Hillary Step. It's absolute insanity. And that's not the only dangerous part of the mountain. There are many places where a misstep means you're gone. And in a lot of these places, a misstep by you can mean other people go down as well.

There are no limits to the number of permits given out by the governments involved; if you have the money, you can sign up with an outfit and go. Something absolutely does need to be done about this, but so much of the time people end up pointing fingers at the climbers themselves. Sometimes it's justified; if the climber is obviously inexperienced they shouldn't be allowed to go lest they kill themselves and/or others. But a lot of the people who go up are good people and have done their due diligence. In the end, I feel like the blame belongs more to the governments issuing the permits.

I would hesitate to put too much blame on the outfitters, as many of them do a good job of dissuading clients who aren't qualified. Every one I've seen requires you to fill out a climbing biography in order to see if you can make the cut. But I'm sure people do slip through the cracks, and if that happens repeatedly with a certain outfitter... well, that would be the time to look at them a little more closely.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:29 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reading the Outside article bwilms posted, apparently people who have never put on crampons are allowed to go, although he mentions no one in particular. So yeah. That's a big problem. I wonder who exactly is clearing them for the climb.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:32 AM on May 24, 2012


The question he asks boils down to, "What are these normal people doing here? Don't they know this is a place for serious mountaineers? Let's change the rules so only the elite can be here."

Yeah. I'm totally okay with that, FWIW.

I'm sure that 40 climbers working together could have figured out how to save the guy. But again, I'm thinking this from more or less sea level, in my apartment, with Tim Buckley on the sound system.

Well, I agree that it must seem a lot easier as a Monday morning quarterback. I think that a lot of folks are missing the information that dramatic and risky rescues do in fact take part all the time. Here is a record of many of those from the 2010 season. Among all of those rescues is the tale of Peter Kinloch's death:

He had climbed 4 of the 7 Summits and had summited Everest when he reportedly became blind on the descent. He was with team Leader David O’Brien. Apparently he became totally debilitated and could not be rescued in spite of three Sherpas climbing from a lower camp to give aid and the use of Dex and additional oxygen. In the end, the Sherpas and team Leader David O’Brien left Kinloch due to harsh weather conditions. I have been told they have extreme frostbite as a result of their efforts.

I think the hard part is understanding that sometimes, that is the only decision that can be made. There are not a lot of other circumstances in which we make rational decisions to leave other humans to die. That doesn't mean it's a wrong or heartless choice.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:53 AM on May 24, 2012


I turned down a backpacking trip last year on the grounds that it wasn't well thought out and had the potential to turn bad. (They were fine. And the person who asked me is aware that they got lucky.) But it was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Part of you wants to go, you don't want to tell someone you think they're doing something stupid and dangerous and so on.

Was it out to their cousin's abandoned cabin in the woods?
posted by Theta States at 2:06 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread took me to wikipedia and I was reminded how an early moutaineer that took on K2 was none other than Aleister Crowley...
posted by Theta States at 2:08 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


none other than Aleister Crowley...

I recall reading in Crowley's autohagiography (seriously, that's what he called it) that he and a few others also had ambitions for Everest. In particular, they had the plan of not doing what everyone else was doing at the time (ie: taking several months to get acclimatized to higher elevations before actually going for the summit), but just to go for it, as quickly and directly as possible. Obviously, he never made it.
posted by philip-random at 3:34 PM on May 24, 2012


This is pretty chilling (from 2000):

'Don't leave me here to die' Four hours from the summit of Everest, Cathy O'Dowdcame across a stricken climber. She faced a brutal choice: to risk her own life in a doomed rescue - or to push on to the top. Here she explains why she left the barely breathing body
posted by KokuRyu at 4:01 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


From that link:

We stood to throw away an entire expedition: the money, the time, the thousands of vertical feet of physical and mental effort. We had sponsors who expected us to go for the summit. We had personal ambitions that pointed in the same direction. We were only 240 vertical metres from the top, only four or five hours in climbing time. We were so close to fulfilling everything we had set out to do.

Should we throw it all away for some rescue attempt that was doomed?


What would you do?

I think my answer would have something to do with not being there in the first place.
posted by philip-random at 4:47 PM on May 24, 2012


... and it's worth noting, Cathy O'Dowdcame did not carry on to the summit -- just couldn't effect a rescue.

The decision to leave Fran came upon us without much discussion. The Uzbek climbers and Lhakpa had long been of that opinion. What hope I had faded in the face of her incoherence, her physical incapacity. Now Ian and Jangbu straightened up and turned away. She had stopped talking and seemed to have sunk into unconsciousness. The thought of going on was intolerable. I had lost the will to reach the summit. Besides the physical drain of the cold, I was emotionally shattered. I had never encountered anything like this. I had passed bodies, I had had friends not come back, but I had never watched anyone die. Nor had I had to decide to leave them.
posted by philip-random at 4:55 PM on May 24, 2012


Yeah, that's an amazing article (I found it, incidentally, thanks to Google, which helpfully displays links to other dead mountaineers along with search results for "Shah-Klorfine"), and I'll have to track down her book.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:11 PM on May 24, 2012


I'm now convinced that even comfort, let alone rescue, is fiendishly difficult at altitude and the few successful rescues we read about on modern Everest are blessed aberrations. Thanks to all who brought in personal experiences and other sources in to show that.

But we still come back to the issue of someone choosing to deeply challenge themselves in a venue where they may have to watch other people dying and just trudge away because they are physically and mentally incapable of helping out. I can't think of any other sport or human activity where this is a given. I wonder what it took to convince Cathy O'Dowd to try the climb again and reach the summit in 1999. Just what did she see on the climb and the descent that time?
posted by maudlin at 5:58 PM on May 24, 2012


I did a little more research about Cathy O'Dowd encounter with Fran Asentiev (it should be pointed out that Cathy had already summitted Everest in the past).

Fran Asentiev and her husband Sergei Arsentiev were attempting to summit Everest in 1998 without the use of oxygen.

They made it to the summit, but became separated on the way down. Sergei Arsentiev then climbed back up in hopes of rescuing his wife, but suffered a fatal flaw.

"The mysterious disappearance of her husband was solved the following year when a member (Jake Norton) of the 1999 "Mallory and Irvine" expedition discovered his body lower on the mountain face, apparently having sustained a fatal fall during an attempt to rescue his wife."

There are actually a couple of webpages devoted to the Arsentiev couple. Peace at last for Sleeping Beauty details the retrieval of Fran's body:

I had seen her on the ascent...a tragic figure lying on her side just below the First Step. I knew her story...Francys Arsentiev...A successful summit in 1998, the first American woman to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen. A tragic end, freezing to death in the inhospitable cold of the Northeast Ridgecrest...

When I got up to Fran, her story was spelled out clearly in her body position. It was almost comfortable, lying in strange peace on the mountainside, indicative of the relative calm which comes at the end of a battle with severe hypothermia.

In her current state, the fixed lines - which are physically attached to the mountain, providing safety and a guide for climbers - were still attached to her mechanical ascender. She was still a part of the climbing route. That meant, of course, that every single climber ascending the Northeast Ridge would have to pass by Francys, disturbing her again and again.

It was impossible to move her body:

When I got up to Fran, her story was spelled out clearly in her body position. It was almost comfortable, lying in strange peace on the mountainside, indicative of the relative calm which comes at the end of a battle with severe hypothermia.

In her current state, the fixed lines - which are physically attached to the mountain, providing safety and a guide for climbers - were still attached to her mechanical ascender. She was still a part of the climbing route. That meant, of course, that every single climber ascending the Northeast Ridge would have to pass by Francys, disturbing her again and again.

posted by KokuRyu at 6:26 PM on May 24, 2012


We had sponsors who expected us to go for the summit.

"This just in - Powersauce Is Amazing!"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:51 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think tha the problem is that, other that the altitude, Everest isn't a terribly challenging climb.

The thing about Everest is that it's the highest mountain -- the summit is the highest above sea level -- but it's not the tallest if you measure from the bottom of the mountain.

McKinley, while more than two and a half kilometers lower than Everest, is more than a kilometer taller.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:27 PM on May 28, 2012


Mauna Kea is the tallest!
posted by Burhanistan at 5:38 PM on May 28, 2012


Mauna Kea is the tallest!

Funny thing is, it's the bottom half of that one that you can't climb without oxygen.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:54 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


eriko: "In Europe, Dyhk-Tau is much harder than the taller Erebus."

I think you meant Elbrus? Erebus is in Antarctica.
posted by schmod at 6:56 AM on May 31, 2012


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