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"There are no prerequisites for how much experience would-be climbers must have and no rules to say who can be an outfitter."
September 19, 2012 12:35 PM   Subscribe

In the 16 years since Into Thin Air, Mount Everest has become safer in many ways, with better storm forecasting and amazing high-altitude rescue helicopters. So why did 10 people die in 2012?
posted by Chrysostom (70 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because it's there?
posted by MtDewd at 12:44 PM on September 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Man, I was going to say "climate change" (based on reports that the weather in 2011 and 2012 was maybe more predictable, but also strange, making it hard to decide whether or not a window was long enough for a summit attempt), but I think "unregulated, free-market capitalism" is also a contributing factor.
posted by muddgirl at 12:44 PM on September 19, 2012


The answer was exactly what I'd expected - rich people with extremely poor risk-management skills. Thank Goodness these sorts of people aren't in charge of anything important.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:45 PM on September 19, 2012 [39 favorites]


If only nature were even harsher to people who do stupid things because they have too much money....

Yea, I said it.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's more than rich people with poor risk-management skills. That's part of it, but it also sounds like some clients think they're buying risk-management skills, but some guides think they're just selling logistical arrangements.

Add a lot of money to a lot of danger and little capacity for oversight and you have a lot of problems.
posted by entropone at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


rich people with extremely poor risk-management skills

That's an easy answer, but how do you account for the hundreds of Sherpas and world-class climbers who have died on Everest?

I think the real answer is, as Krakauer concluded in Into Thin Air, that climbing mountains this size is an inherently risky activity, and always will be.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


So why did 10 people die in 2012?

Because all you need to attempt a climb on Everest is enough money. You don't need anything in the way of actual skills or experience.

Because things that would be a minor annoyance at sea level, like a bottleneck on a ladder, can be deadly at 8000 meters.

Because on summit day, even if people were willing to give up their own summit attempt to help a troubled climber, they most likely wouldn't be physically able to help and would die trying.

Because Everest is no longer a goal for climbers, but a goal for the rich and the super-obsessed.

Because on the one or two day window when the weather is right for a summit attempt, everyone in position goes at once. See the part about the bottleneck above.

Because unlike a lot of high mountains there are very few technical obstacles between the base and the death zone and anyone can get high enough to kill themselves.

Because an inexperienced climber at that altitude has the decision-making skills of a drunk seventeen year old and probably isn't going to listen to a guide yelling at him over a radio to turn around when he's so close he can see the summit, even if it's still an hour or two away.

It's only going to get worse.
posted by bondcliff at 12:48 PM on September 19, 2012 [38 favorites]


Besides the greater numbers and the gates being wide open to people who can afford it, I'd include too much faith in technological safeties, kind of like how people follow their GPS systems directives to drive into the river.

High tech fabrics? Sat phones? High altitude helicopters? Government permits? Doctors on my team or someone else's? I've got all of these high tech resources I can call on so I don't have to do much at all!
posted by codswallop at 12:52 PM on September 19, 2012


how do you account for the hundreds of Sherpas and world-class climbers who have died on Everest

Bad luck, bad decisions, or pushing the envelope as forerunners to their craft or their route. Unlike the people we're talking about in the article who are just, by and large, willfully unprepared and ignorant of the situation.

climbing mountains this size is an inherently risky activity, and always will be.

I'd say the risk has been mitigated some since the days of Hillary and others. Improvement in equipment, route definition, techniques in general and weather forecasting abilities are huge when it comes to climbing Everest safely. The main thing that's changed for the worse is the masses of people, mostly untested, who are flocking to the slopes to 'make it to the top'.

Traffic. Traffic, from the mountain climbing parallel of a poor driver (too reliant upon his chauffeur at that), on Everest. It's a shame.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:55 PM on September 19, 2012


Sherpas are apparently dying at least in part because some guides are being pushed by inexperienced and rich clients to risk their lives in order to ensure that their clients summit?
posted by ChuraChura at 12:56 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


wow. that's a crowded trail.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:58 PM on September 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


Because nature bats last.

I look at deaths on Mt. Everest climbs as the expected outcome. So if you make it out alive, you've defied expectation.

For me at least, this makes analysis of these deaths a la Krakauer's book a little...boring. It's more notable when you make it back.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:14 PM on September 19, 2012


rich people with extremely poor risk-management skills

I went on a hike in Virginia last November and there were signs everywhere along the waterfall warning not to go off the trail and stand on the rocks because they were slippery and lots of people had fallen to their deaths there. At the head of the trail there was a statistical breakdown of who had died. It was young people with college educations. So yeah. Twice.
posted by srboisvert at 1:15 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The story of Shriya Shah-Klorfine, the Canadian woman who died this spring, was covered in the premiere of the CBC's the fifth estate last week. This link goes to the show's page, which includes the full show without commercial interruptions. If this is the usual CBC setup, only North American viewers can access the video -- sorry. But the non-video sidebar features, including this interactive timeline, should be viewable by all. (Let me know if it isn't.) There is a summary article available here that everyone can access.

As the Outside article says, she had no mountain climbing experience at all. The show includes lots of the video she shot on the expedition, including her successful summit, and you can see that she really had to be taught everything from the basics up. The sherpas and the owner of Utmost are interviewed on camera, as is Grayson Schaffer, who wrote the Outside article.

On the "rich people" issue: I'd say she was middle class, richer than a lot of people, but not a 1%er. She put off having kids and mortgaged her house for this trip.
posted by maudlin at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's inherently risky, regardless of skill level or technology. Any chance curveball easily becomes deadly in such extreme and unforgiving conditions. Modern improvements lowers the bar for skills and experience needed. And it's a more popular diversion than ever.

Ultimately, I have a hard time giving a fuck over this. Anyone going has to consider it a death defying experience. Like mcstayinskool said, if you make it out alive, you've defied expectation.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2012


They've also got the logistics of an Everest climb down to a science. Back in the day, getting a couple climbers into position for a summit attempt was a months-long process, and the climbers you put in that position were the ones who proved themselves during the months of pushing higher up the mountain. The entire team would spend that time getting acclimatized.

These days, the camps and fixed ropes are put in place ahead of time by the Sherpas. Your clients are driven or choppered in to base camp, and getting a dozen clients up to a high camp doesn't really take all that much effort. Oxygen was almost always used on Everest, but today the clients are much more dependent on it.

I don't know that many clients (or guides for that matter) could survive a night out on the mountain the way Doug Scott and Dougal Haston did back in the 70s.
posted by bondcliff at 1:24 PM on September 19, 2012


On the "rich people" issue: I'd say she was middle class, richer than a lot of people, but not a 1%er. She put off having kids and mortgaged her house for this trip.

I believe it was in Into Thin Air wher Krakauer talks about the 'budget' climbing outfits, which often provide equipment on spec and little actual climbing guidance beyond Sherpas. My impression was definitely that these were more attractive to both experienced and non-experienced climbers who couldn't afford the actual qualified outfits. Technology may have changed since 1996, but I think the fundamental problems are the same - it's just that the big outfits can do more now to protect their own clients.

I think Krakauer also talks about straight-up fraudulent guides, but that could have been in a different article.

It's inherently risky, regardless of skill level or technology.

Driving an automobile is also inherently risky, regardless of skill level or technology. That doesn't mean it's worthless to discuss how we can reduce car accidents.
posted by muddgirl at 1:29 PM on September 19, 2012


I went on a hike in Virginia last November and there were signs everywhere along the waterfall warning not to go off the trail and stand on the rocks because they were slippery and lots of people had fallen to their deaths there. At the head of the trail there was a statistical breakdown of who had died. It was young people with college educations. So yeah. Twice.

Rich young people with college educations?

When I was a kid, we had to risk death by climbing high voltage power lines.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with Utmost wasn't just that they were cheap and inexperienced, but they also really ripped off Shah-Klorfine, as described in the FPP link. They charged her for the full solo cost of a climbing permit ($25,000) instead of the $11,000 it actually cost them by going in on a group permit. So yeah, they were fraudulent, too.
posted by maudlin at 1:35 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Driving an automobile is also inherently risky, regardless of skill level or technology. That doesn't mean it's worthless to discuss how we can reduce car accidents.

Scaling Everest isn't quite the same as driving to the local Kroger. Nobody actually needs to climb Everest. The point is that a chance event that might scratch the paintjob on your car might cost your life on the mountain.

Additionally, all the improvements made to reduce accidents lowers the bar to entry. Which: a)encourages more people to attempt the climb and b)encourages people who might have otherwise dismissed the endeavor as too risky. Result: fatalities can happen just as often, due to sheer numbers and poor risk assessment.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:50 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Additionally, all the improvements made to reduce accidents lowers the bar to entry.

One improvement to reduce accidents would be "raise the bar to entry."
posted by muddgirl at 1:52 PM on September 19, 2012


The gizmodo link in the original OutSideOnline article called "Death Zone" is pretty intense. "Despite being so exposed and so visible along the well-trodden climbing route, rescue operations are virtually suicidal in the Death Zone. A Nepalese police inspector and a Sherpa who tried to recover Hannelore's body in 1984 both fell to their deaths." I haven't watched the vid, but the link at the bottom of the page that goes to the "a sea of lead, a sky of slate" blog and has a couple of YouTube links. Oh, and gizmodo seems to be ok, but the blog is NSFW due to dead bodies and frostbite. eeurgh.
I wonder if the videos explain it, and I wonder if it's a case of "everything's dangerous here and you only came prepared to do one thing, and that thing is not rescuing someone", due to the extra unplanned-for effort/time/oxygen/energy/equipment of hauling someone else off of the mountain.
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:53 PM on September 19, 2012


Forgot the link: gizmodo, which is the entire article on a sea of lead, a sky of slate, minus the pictures and the 2 vid links.
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Money killed those people.
posted by deborah at 2:22 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


One improvement to reduce accidents would be "raise the bar to entry."

Sounds like misplaced concern for pretty much anyone not involved. The articles points out many very well suited climbers die, along with an example of a spectacularly unsuited woman who stubbornly attempted despite advice to turn back. Furthermore, the majority who attempt don't die, and appear to take the endeavor with a good deal of seriousness, death toll seems to be around 5%. I'd say that's pretty good for a part of the world that's not likely to ever be truly tamed.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2012


Ideally I think they should just stop people going up there. On any rational planet this highest and purest of places would have been a sacred site. Earthlings have made it vile: half rubbish dump, half a ghastly charnel house.
posted by Segundus at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


This reads like an 8000m version of Burning Man.
posted by buzzman at 2:51 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure a while back I read something about one of the first commercial companies to take you to the top of Everest and you would have to be really experienced to be taken on, and you would have also had to have undertaken at least one of the company's lesser trips to prove you were not a complete idiot

I remember loads of warnings when I climbed Ben Nevis about the number of deaths on the mountain and that's a pebble to Everest
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2012


The articles points out many very well suited climbers die, along with an example of a spectacularly unsuited woman who stubbornly attempted despite advice to turn back.

Reducing the number of people allowed to attempt to summit won't make some deaths less likely? Such as those deaths caused by overcrowding?

I don't really have a stake in this matter, but I don't agree with the implication that the completely unregulated nature of Everest has no effect on the death rate among both climbers and Sherpas.
posted by muddgirl at 2:55 PM on September 19, 2012


There's an interesting theory in there about the cultural differences between the Sherpas and the Westerners, that a lot of them are simply too polite and obedient to order the clients around.
posted by mannequito at 3:03 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are a couple of points in the article that I don't see anyone noting here, that might have some explanatory power-

apparently the weather forecasts have gotten *way* better in the last 16 years, which creates the problem that it becomes all-or-nothing, for everyone at the same time. So since expeditions aren't spaced out at all, but all rushing forward together simultaneously on the days they all know the weather's good, it becomes more chaotic and dangerous for all..

another point which is raised, but somewhat disputed, is that sherpas, even experienced/trained ones, might tend to be too deferential to westerners. So that when they have a inexperienced/out-of-shape clients, who are basically out of their minds from oxygen deprivation and insist on not 'wasting' all the money they spent to get there, it's hard for the sherpa guides to insist on turning back. (having dealt, in the service industry, with out-of-their-minds rich people at times, I can see where that would be a problem even without cultural differences.)
posted by hap_hazard at 3:05 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hadn't actually thought of crowding as such a contributing factor, but reading these articles it does seem clear the that trail bottlenecks force climbers to simply wait, for hours in some cases, in this incredibly deadly and inhospitable climate.

Just looking at the forecast factors, that climbers rush the mountain on good weather days, I don't know how you regulate without some sort of lottery system, i.e. your permit is for this four day window and that's it. And I'm sure that would introduce all sorts of additional issues.

It's amazing, how knife-edge the entire climb seems to be, that so many factors can lead to death. It does sound like climbers used to take more time acclimatizing -- I don't know if enforcing that is somehow the answer. If there is an answer.
posted by lillygog at 3:10 PM on September 19, 2012


The article says:
The second, touchier point—given Everest’s location—is a widely held belief that Sherpas aren’t capable of guiding Westerners on their own. I heard this voiced again and again.

I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that Sherpas have a more deferential culture than Westerners are used to, and how much is that some Westerners won't follow instructions from Sherpas the way they would follow instructions from a Western guide?
posted by Azara at 3:11 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just looking at the forecast factors, that climbers rush the mountain on good weather days, I don't know how you regulate without some sort of lottery system, i.e. your permit is for this four day window and that's it.

The article got me thinking about solutions like that, too. My first thought was auctioning the permits so people would pay more for days they were more likely to be able to summit, but I quickly realized that would marginalize the already low-end expeditions to the days when things were most dangerous.

And even with Lotteries, which would spread the risk more fairly, I think you'd just end up with people who didn't fall into the good weather window attempting to push the boundaries and summit in less acceptable weather. In that situation, they'd probably be more, not less, likely to die.

If it was just a matter of replacing the permit fees, you could crank up the costs and sell fewer permits, but it seems like having more climbers is such a huge contribution to the Nepali economy that they wouldn't want to forgo even if the permit revenue was no net change.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:21 PM on September 19, 2012


Why did 10 people die in 2012? I'll tell you why, BECAUSE IT'S DANGEROUS MAN!
posted by Che boludo! at 3:33 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Years ago I used to work at an outdoor store that sold a lot of technical climbing equipment. A colleague of mine told me a story of a couple who came into the store one lunchtime, both smartly dressed in business suits.

"we have decided to take up high altitude mountaineering as a lifestyle choice. Money is no object. What do we need."

With that lack of understanding of what they were getting into, you could only call it a death style choice.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So why did 10 people die in 2012

Because it's really damn cold and the air is barely breathable. I didn't even need to read the article to figure that out!
posted by Auguris at 3:48 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So why did 10 people die in 2012?

It says something strange and sad and wonderful about the world we live in that the question is why did 10 people die climbing Mt. Everest instead of why did only 10 people die climbing the highest mountain on the planet. That's kind of amazing to me.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:05 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The White Spider says that anyone who dies while mountain climbing deserves to die.
posted by ovvl at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2012


i've said time and again that everest won't be truly safe until we manage to get rid of all that god-damn ice and snow. *blowtorches permafrost*
posted by facetious at 5:29 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back in 2000/2001 I followed the updates of the Shared Summits expeditions to Everest. They posted regular updates from the mountain which was pretty cool back then. They required a certain level of skill from their climbers, so it's interesting to re-read their updates in contrast to the article. In 2001 they had some climbers get into distress but they managed to get them back down safely.

But they haven't mounted an Everest expedition since 2001. I thought they had said at the time that they didn't want to go back since it had gotten so crowded on the mountain, but I can't find that anywhere. Still, clearly there are some expedition companies who don't even want to bother anymore. I'm not sure what they do for clients who want to achieve the Seven Summits, though.
posted by cabingirl at 6:01 PM on September 19, 2012


> i've said time and again that everest won't be truly safe until we manage to get rid of all that god-damn ice and snow. *blowtorches permafrost*

From the article:
The mountain was down to bare cobbles, and many of them were melting out and raining down on the climbers.
--

I watched the (1st season) Discovery Channel documentary & the thing that struck me was that these people had paid outfitters/guides $40k-$100k and didn't know if they could take the thin air. They didn't know how their bodies (and minds) would react. Some people are really fit and still fall apart.

Hypobaric chambers are a thing. Surely one could be built such that acclimatizing time followed by some time walking on a treadmill at 20k feet up to 37k feet (and back!) could be simulated for a few $thousand per run.

--

Paris–Brest–Paris (1200km bike race) participants must first complete a series of brevets within the same calendar year as PBP. [...] A series consists of 200 km, 300 km, 400 km and 600 km.
posted by morganw at 6:07 PM on September 19, 2012


The words "safety" and "Mount Everest" are opposites. That's the whole point.
posted by Twang at 6:09 PM on September 19, 2012


Segundus: "On any rational planet this highest and purest of places would have been a sacred site."

I would argue that "rational" and "sacred" are incompatible.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:43 PM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


mcstayinschool: I look at deaths on Mt. Everest climbs as the expected outcome. So if you make it out alive, you've defied expectation.

Well, that's simply wrong; Krakauer calculated that about 10% of the people who left base camp never made it back, which means that 90% did. If nature bats last, nature has a pretty lousy average. The question is why the mountain hasn't been made safer, and I think that hap_hazard (eponysteria!) is probably closest to the truth: all that the improvements of safety have done is to make people that much less reluctant to turn back from the summit. Nobody pays five to six figures to come within 100 yards of the top of the world. And, of course, having made it as far as they have (and possibly having that judgment affected by hypoxia), none of them think that they'll be one of the stiffs on display.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:19 PM on September 19, 2012


I climbed as a teenager and in my early 20s. Did a lot of backpacking. As for technical climbing that was only sport bolted routes mostly, mostly in the dry. Occasionally we would set up our own anchors. My training? A summer clinic at Boy Scout camp and then reading mountaineering books. The guys I went with taught themselves or learned from friends and books.

No fatal accidents, although I had a couple of near misses rappelling, one of which involved stupid parents letting their preteens near our anchors. I remember the kids fucking around with some of our gear as I was about to go over the edge, I saw it and stopped. My friends were paying attention to belaying me and didn't see it. We were too polite to make them leave the site.
As a fully mature adult now, if I faced that situation again I would have upbraided the parents until they left. We were so spooked we packed up our gear and went home.

Eventually I stopped to focus on other things. Of the guys I went with, two of them decided to teach themselves lead climbing, which almost resulted in a fatality due to improper anchor placement. They didn't climb for a long time after that.

I consider my experiences to be equivalent to driving on the freeway, whereas summiting Everest is like a night stage of the Paris-Dakkar rally, in Africa. I haven't even summited Mt. Hood or Mt. Rainier in the snow; I have no business on Everest.

Speaking of Mount Rainier, a guy I knew almost died up there. He was an Army officer, West Point grad, and had a Ranger tab. While he was at Ft Lewis, he and a friend (also an Army officer) decided to take a day hike at Rainier. Just, day packs, no real food, no tent, etc. Not a summit attempt. They get up the side of the mountain and a snowstorm starts. Shit. Did not expect that. They dig a snowcave and plug it. They're sitting in their snowcave, and ran out of energy bars, the only food they had. Started getting really cold. As he told it, he and his buddy realized they had to get out of there or they'd freeze to death. Once you break the seal on the snowcave, he said, that's it, you've got to go. So they gathered themselves, broke the seal, and ran down the mountain. They made it back alive.

That's a day hike gone wrong on Mt Rainier, with two active duty Army officers, at least one of whom had completed one of the most physically challenging courses in the Army. When he told me the story, it was a cautionary tale about bringing the right gear and not underestimating the weather.

I can't fucking imagine how people can go up Everest with no experience and expect to live. Stupid.
posted by wuwei at 7:31 PM on September 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


This is a place where the world truely needs some dirigibles. A company could make good money flying tourists in a gas bag up where the helicopters can't reach, docking to a spire set at the summit, and letting Mr and Mrs retiree out for their 15 minute summit experience in XXL space suits. The paperwork would require they not go past the safety barrier, not interfere with the few remaining old-school mountaineers, and certainly stay well away from the Hillary Step (at least until time could be found to tidy up all the corpses).

The main challange to this plan is probably not technical, but the difficulty of needing to fly over both China and Nepal's airspace.
posted by joeyh at 8:09 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Nepalese really need to set a hard limit on the amount of people allowed on the mountain at the same time. Somebody has to regulate the traffic.

All the professional guides need to take a good hard look at their summit at any price policies as well, and prepare their clients for the possibility of both missing due to weather, and missing summiting to help people in trouble. If there was more of a social compact amongst competing groups a lot of unnecessary deaths could be prevented. The stories of people going on towards the summit past other climbers in obvious distress mount up year after year and are quite chilling. Personally, if I were 200 feet from the top & my guide said "we've got to help this person down now, or they might die -- we're doing that instead of climbing on," I'd be okay with it, no matter how much I'd spent to be there.

That's one of the great differences I see between caving and mountaineering -- first off, there's rarely competing expeditions to the same cave there at the same time, and secondly, safety of expedition members always comes before achieving new exploration goals.

That, and it's also not a pay-to-play thing, with few if any "professional" cave guides, and certainly none whatsoever leading novices to any of the world-class 1000-meter plus caves. It seems unthinkable amongst the community, and cavers rarely die, (not counting cave divers, who croak with some alarming regularity -- that shit is stupid dangerous) certainly never due to the disregard of other cavers trudging on past them towards whatever objective. The thought actually turns my stomach. How do you live with yourself after doing something like that?
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:03 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that no one is paying their life savings or all that they can borrow upwards of a 100K is undoubtedly one of the reasons caving is relatively less deadly even in the most dangerous caves. Most people think they'd help out but 100 Grand is a lot to spend and just miss your goal by fractions of a percent leaving aside the effects of altitude sickness.
posted by Mitheral at 10:03 PM on September 19, 2012


With that lack of understanding of what they were getting into, you could only call it a death style choice.

To judge from your story alone, that seems a bit harsh. It wasn't like they said "We've decided to take up mountaineering, starting with Everest; we want a crampon each and a beanie to share." If anything, asking for advice in person rather than just googling MOUNTAIN CLOTHES and ordering from Amazon makes them sound like they're on the responsible side of the distribution.
posted by No-sword at 10:08 PM on September 19, 2012


Looking at those photos, I had no idea it was so crowded.

Because it's such a famous mountain, it seems natural to me that it would attract people who don't really know what they're doing. It tangentially reminds me of a bit the Bad Astronomy blog did on an asteroid movie where they use the Hubble to look at the incoming asteroid; the Hubble wouldn't really be the best tool for the job, but it's the one all the moviegoers have heard of.

I bet the 2nd through 10th highest mountains are a big deal to climb, but saying you climbed Everest plays to the gallery.
posted by RobotHero at 10:31 PM on September 19, 2012


K2, the second highest mountain, is much more difficult to climb than Everest but of course doesn't see nearly the traffic of Everest. 1 person dies on K2 for every 4 people who summit. And Annapurna I has a 38% Fatality to Summit ratio (153 summit ascents of Annapurna I, and 58 climbing fatalities on the mountain.) Wikipedia is a little fuzzy on whether all those deaths were during summit attempts but still, only 153 summits? More people than that try to summit Everest in single day. The path is so well worn people spice it up with stuff like speed accents without oxygen and solo summits like it's some sort of MMO grind.
posted by Mitheral at 11:05 PM on September 19, 2012


It is mind-boggling to me that people would essentially attempt Everest as their first major summit.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:25 AM on September 20, 2012


The main challange to this plan is probably not technical, but the difficulty of needing to fly over both China and Nepal's airspace.

no, your main problem is marketing - people land on the moon, but climb everest.
posted by mannequito at 1:45 AM on September 20, 2012


I'm something of a climber - nowhere near a super-technical lead climber, but I've made the summit of 1 of the 7 sisters (the 19,340' one) so far and done a number of 16k+ mountains, a handful in snow. I love being on mountains, its where I feel like I belong.

I can absolutely, unequivocally say that I feel in my soul the pull to Everest (and many other mountains). There was a thread not too long ago about deep-water diving, in which a few of our MeFi ilk who are experienced divers showed up to make some comments (like this one) that talk about what staring into the abyss of the deep and literally feeling its pull are like. They noted that it is something hard to explain, but I think I know what the feeling is. I feel that pull to the peaks of mountains. If I ever go for my PADI, it won't be so much for the experience of diving, as it will be for my goal of someday staring into that same abyss. I want to know if that pull is the same, or how it is different from, the one I feel. (I feel a similar pull to the ocean on the surface - I think a lot of sailing enthusiasts would describe it similarly.)

I understand why people first went there - they probably felt the pull. Many people in our day and age still feel it - for many of the climbers, that may be why they go there. But for Everest, the pull I feel is also absolutely, unequivocally tempered for me by the screaming alarm klaxons of death that I see in almost every story of Everest any more. But I do not fear the Death Zone, Hillary's Step, weather, or AMS. These are all the risks that any climber takes going to really any altitude above roughly 18k, sometimes lower. These are inherent in climbing and I've had my brushes with them in my own, I've seen others succumb. I know what I'm dealing with.

Its the mass of humanity slapped on the sides of Everest that make it so dangerous. They exacerbate the other factors to such degrees that I honestly believe you have to have some dose of insanity to go there and essentially place your hands in the lives of so many others. I mean, if I, as an experienced climber, could go there and climb with perfect weather conditions, assured that we would be the only team on the mountain, I would still be placing my life in the hands of Sherpas and the expedition guide. I would know that I have a significant risk of death due to all of the risk factors, and we would be flirting with the great beyond through various mitigation tactics, all along.

But Everest hasn't been anything close to that for a long, long time. When you go to Everest, you place your life in the hands of every other experienced climber and absolute moron that happens to have made it to Camp IV. And that's turning out to be a much larger % of inexperienced morons each year than it is experts.

I feel the pull still, sure. But I would never in this lifetime even think about attempting Everest without some serious, colossal changes to the climbing system there.

I don't, by the way, feel the same pull to K2. That's just a death wish. If you made me choose between that or swimming cageless with great whites (I've swum with them in a cage), I'm not sure which I'd choose, honestly.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Anatoli Boukreev, who died attempting Annapurna a year after he heroically rescued people in the '96 disaster on Everest (which the gutless Krakauer had the audacity to criticize him for), is quoted in a memorial at the base camp for Annapurna:

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion...I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment...my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:04 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went on a hike in Virginia last November and there were signs everywhere along the waterfall warning not to go off the trail and stand on the rocks because they were slippery and lots of people had fallen to their deaths there. At the head of the trail there was a statistical breakdown of who had died. It was young people with college educations. So yeah. Twice.

This sounds like people in debt, not like rich people to me unless the job market in Virginia is exceptionally good.
posted by ersatz at 3:37 AM on September 20, 2012


Boukreev illustrates the inherent danger of this pursuit. A very skilled, fit, experienced man, killed in an avalanche. His book is very interesting, not only with respect to the 1996 incident, too.
posted by thelonius at 5:52 AM on September 20, 2012


At the head of the trail there was a statistical breakdown of who had died. It was young people with college educations. So yeah. Twice.

Did they provide any stats at all, on what kinds of people hike that trail in the first place?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:15 AM on September 20, 2012


This sounds like people in debt, not like rich people to me unless the job market in Virginia is exceptionally good.

That is why I said they were people who didn't understand risk - twice. Their is something about modern middle class living that gives people the impression they are immunized from risk and that things will only happen to other people but not to them because they are young, clever, healthy and well off right up until they aren't.
posted by srboisvert at 6:35 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


*1 of the 7 summits

not sisters. freudian slip involving the Pleiades, or something.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2012


"That, and it's also not a pay-to-play thing, with few if any "professional" cave guides, and certainly none whatsoever leading novices to any of the world-class 1000-meter plus caves. It seems unthinkable amongst the community, and cavers rarely die, (not counting cave divers, who croak with some alarming regularity -- that shit is stupid dangerous) certainly never due to the disregard of other cavers trudging on past them towards whatever objective. The thought actually turns my stomach. How do you live with yourself after doing something like that?"

Gotta disagree with you on that.

If you consider only divers with cave training, fatalities are fairly rare, especially compared to the number of dives being made. OpenWater divers getting into caves without the training and with the wrong gear is whole different story, that is indeed crazy dangerous. More so for OW instructors and divemaster who think they're above the safety warnings.

A cave dive still carries risks and is something that requires more preparation, planning, discipline, training, awareness and focus than a simple reef dive but it's not Russian-roulette either.

It admittedly took many deaths in the 60s/70s to come up with current guidelines for safe cave diving but we know how to do this in a risk-mitigated-way now. There's still risk but most hazards have multiple solutions, a cave collapse being one of the few events we still have no solution for, but it's a very rare event. Current cave diving training is usually very good and the equipment is a lot more reliable than it used to be (my backup lights are probably better and more reliable than the primary lights from the 70s and 80s). Most people have also stopped deep air which was one of the other cause of f***-ups.

The funny thing is that a lot of cave divers think that whole "dry cave" exploration thing with ropes is totally crazy since you're mixing all the hazards of climbing + darkness + mud, and "assuredly" you're going to fall and break your neck :)
posted by coust at 11:10 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


That is why I said they were people who didn't understand risk - twice. Their is something about modern middle class living that gives people the impression they are immunized from risk and that things will only happen to other people but not to them because they are young, clever, healthy and well off right up until they aren't.

I mistook your meaning then; thanks for clarifying!
posted by ersatz at 1:54 PM on September 20, 2012


I bet the 2nd through 10th highest mountains are a big deal to climb, but saying you climbed Everest plays to the gallery.

Indeed, the second highest summits on each of the continents turn out to be more technically difficult than the highest.

I learned this from eriko's excellent comment the last time Everest's tourist traffic jams were discussed on mefi.
posted by phl at 3:42 AM on September 21, 2012


Also, Wikipedia has a chart of Everest ascents by year, which surprised me even having read about how crowded it's getting up there.
posted by phl at 3:56 AM on September 21, 2012


Because you touch yourself at night.
posted by Eideteker at 8:44 AM on September 21, 2012


Anatoli Boukreev, who died attempting Annapurna a year after he heroically rescued people in the '96 disaster on Everest (which the gutless Krakauer had the audacity to criticize him for)

Uh, no. Krakauer criticized Boukreev specifically for being paid to be a guide, yet still choosing to climb without oxygen. It's a very small part of Krakauer's book, but Boukreev made a huge deal out of it, and roped in a number of other people who were on the mountain in '96 into taking up his side, either because of Boukreev's popularity among climbers or because of Krakauer's other criticisms of the climbing culture in general or of the Everest expedition business in particular that lead to the death toll. Krakauer has patiently responded to these criticisms, while fully owning his own mistakes on the mountain. I'd say that current events have more than justified Krakauer's criticisms, and that people who ignore his warnings because they still feel sorry for poor dead Boukreev are missing what's really important here.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:23 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Krakauer criticized Boukreev specifically for being paid to be a guide, yet still choosing to climb without oxygen.

Its been a few years since I read both of their books, but I'm pretty sure that Boukreev's argument was that the oxygen that would have otherwise been carried for him, he was able to give to those who he saved. Even if I'm remembering that wrong, he was still able to rest and go back out, where as Krakauer had no ability to go out and help anyone, and collapsed in his tent.

It's a very small part of Krakauer's book, but Boukreev made a huge deal out of it, and roped in a number of other people who were on the mountain in '96 into taking up his side, either because of Boukreev's popularity among climbers or because of Krakauer's other criticisms

Well, yeah. If I was a *professional climber* being criticized in a NYT Bestseller about the exact speciality I was a professional in, no matter how short the accusation was, I'd be pretty pissed, and I'd take Boukreev's route as well. I'd side with other professional climbers against some author who had the audacity to climb himself and then the luxury of criticizing the rest of the world for doing it. Boukreev wasn't responsible for the death toll, clients (like Krakauer and many others) were responsible for it - climbing slow and causing danger to others up there. No matter how many times it is pointed out that Boukreev kept all his clients alive, people seem to ignore this.

Krakauer has patiently responded to these criticisms, while fully owning his own mistakes on the mountain.

I'll agree he's done the latter, for the most part, but I don't believe his telling or anyone else's is a full account. That said, I've heard him speak on the former part, and I will not agree to characterize it as "patient."

I'd say that current events have more than justified Krakauer's criticisms

I agree that they fully justify his criticisms, excepting those specifically of Boukreev. He saved lives on that mountain and there is no discrediting that fact, by Krakauer or anyone else. I don't feel sorry for Boukreev, I respect that he did what nobody else could have those 2 terrible days.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:20 AM on September 22, 2012


And if you haven't followed Krakauer's latest work, he's basically making a career off of tearing people down. Maybe some of them deserve it (Boukreev didn't), but that doesn't make him any less of a dick.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2012


Making a career of it? I don't think you could say he tore down Chris McCandless or Pat Tilman, could you? He even managed to make a stone-cold, unrepentant religious killer (Dan Lafferty) seem human.
posted by mannequito at 6:44 PM on September 22, 2012


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