Mount Everest Records, the good and bad
June 2, 2019 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Mount Everest's 2018-2019 season ended on a number of highs (USA Today): more than 825 climbers and Sherpas reached the summit this year, a record-breaking number; number of permits from the Nepalese government also broke records this year, with 381 issued; and deaths were at a four-year high, with 11 fatalities, most blamed on a combination of overcrowding, inexperience and poor weather limiting the number of days climbers were able to attempt to summit. Alan Arnette recapped the season's headlines. You can skip the crowds, save tens of thousands of dollars (Cost Freak, 2017 expenses), and enjoy Paul Oakenfold's Mount Everest Base Camp Mix (CD 1 and CD 2 on MixCloud; Discogs).

How Mount Everest became a tourist destination (Washington Post)

How Climate Change is Making Mount Everest More Dangerous -- Though overcrowding was a deadly factor on Mount Everest this year, climate change might prove more devastating in the long run. (

In 2013, Nepal opened five more peaks above 8,000 meters above sea level to climbers (The Telegraph), in an attempt to address the issues of litter, pollution and clashes between Sherpas and Western climbers attempting to summit Everest. Today, there are fourteen peeks officially recognized as "eight-thousanders" (Wikipedia), more than 8,000 metres (26,247 ft) in height above sea level, and are considered to be sufficiently independent from neighbouring peaks.

There are a number of reasons that Everest and adjacent peaks are the worlds tallest, as measured from sea level, and BBC provides some background.

30 years after trekking to Ibiza, Paul Oakenfold headed to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal (The Guardian), along with Nepalese DJ Razen (Facebook) Jha (Soundcloud), to throw "the highest party on earth" for 300 locals and visitors (Oakenfold's Soundtrek page).
posted by filthy light thief (33 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I have to hand it to you, flt... this is one of the most unique framings of a post I have ever seen. I can't even find fault with it, because it all works together. But, like, wow!

I don't know if you're Welles or Kubrick or Waters or two brothers working together or what... but you have raised the bar, right here. As soon as I can pick my jaw up off the floor I will say Thank You!
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on June 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's Not About the Crowds, Alan's take on this year's deaths. (I've been following Alan's updates for the 2019 season).
posted by j_curiouser at 8:24 PM on June 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

awesome post!
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:37 PM on June 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

hippybear, the pieces fit together after recently reading an article about the fatalities on Everest this year, and randomly seeing Oakey's 2017 mixes online. Your recent (and 800th, congrats!) post on AA/FSoL's mix prompted me to pull the pieces together here.

j_curiouser, thanks for that link. First, that's a LOT of people going up in some very narrow windows. But he also notes "In speaking with guides, Sherpas and climbers from this past week, I believe this year’s 21 deaths are a result of many factors and crowding was not a factor in 16 of the 21." -- So he's still saying he thinks 5 died because of overcrowding.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:41 PM on June 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Your recent (and 800th, congrats!) post

This is less a milestone of excellence and more a milestone of obstinance. But yes, thank you! :D

posted by hippybear at 8:44 PM on June 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I wasn't going to post this comment, but seeing as it's your 800th post, congrats

Mount Everest Records, the good and bad

THE BAD: Waiting in line like it's fucking Disneyworld while your body screams for oxygen, meanwhile the glaciers are melting—and eew look at all the trash and bodies! I spent my $RICHPPL on THIS?
posted by not_on_display at 9:51 PM on June 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

From what I've read, you can't climb Mt Everest without passing by people who are dying. Summitting is literally a decision to put your own achievement ahead of another person's life. I suppose a philosopher like Peter Singer might say there are many decisions of that sort we make every day, but I just can't get over the fact that so many people choose to continue the climb without trying to save the people ahead of them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:11 PM on June 2, 2019 [17 favorites]

I assume the climbers have done their research and realised beforehand that summitting Everest will probably require them to ignore dying climbers en route. This choice has already been factored in when they part with the climbing fee.
posted by um at 11:19 PM on June 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also came in to register incredulity about the Disney attraction lines to a mediocre view that kills you steadily.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:09 AM on June 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Generally speaking, people who get into trouble above the high camps are either a-holes who aren’t listening to their expedition’s climb leaders and assigned guides, or people somehow on the mountain without that support in the first place.

Events like Lincoln Hall’s rescue are in a third category, getting hit with cerebral edema at the top and eventually being abandoned by his Sherpa support climbers as a goner, but somehow surviving the night to be found (and rescued) by climbers going up the next day.

Most everyone going for the summit now share the same moral calculus, not expecting others outside their assigned guide(s) to abandon their bid to save them.

This Everest thing goes beyond mountaineering into some weird exercise in acquisition...
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 12:25 AM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, if you want to watch Everest as it should be, watch this expedition video of the 1984 Australian attempt...
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 12:34 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Thank you flt for this post and framing. Some of the articles (possibly British tabloids) were trying to blame the deaths on ignorant sherpas and the local authorities
posted by hugbucket at 1:06 AM on June 3, 2019

THE BAD: Waiting in line like it's fucking Disneyworld while your body screams for oxygen, meanwhile the glaciers are melting—and eew look at all the trash and bodies! I spent my $RICHPPL on THIS?

When Walt Disney, and the other early imagineers, were putting together the design for their resorts, they he talked a lot about "Weenies". Weenies were the features that were that that were there to capture people's attention, orient them, and lead them into the rest of the park (the name came from Disney's dog who could be led anywhere around the house in pursuit of a mesmerising hot-dog taken from the fridge). The most important quality of a weenie is that is should be big - or at least seem as big as possible. Cinderalla's Castle is a canonical example with its forced perspective tricks and a height just 6 inches under the limit that would require it to have a flashing aircraft warning light on top of it.

In general design terms, a weenie is that big, Instragrammable prop that we long to have in the background or to stand on top of. Once we have the picture we move quickly on (Cinderalla's Castle, close up has little to hold our attention). Designers of items is diverse as restaurant menus, make up and hotels need to be aware of this principle.

Everest is the world's #1 weenie.
posted by rongorongo at 1:52 AM on June 3, 2019 [12 favorites]

World Populace Actually Fine With Rich People Dying on Mount Everest

In defense of the people who abandon the dying to keep their place in line, it is often very hard to tell if someone is in trouble. If they are sitting down they are probably on a scheduled rest break. And if they are lying down they might be on a rest break but they definitely need a crew to help them, not one climber who will also have to renegotiate with their own sherpas so that their crew will take on a different much more difficult, longer, and therefore much more dangerous job.

Many of the people who die while doing extreme sports do not admit that they are &%#$ed until they are unconscious because they are so focused on doing their thing. When kayakers here get into trouble in the Bay during a competition they may have to be dragged out of the Bay forcibly after refusing help from a couple of other competitors and from the first marshal to suggest they come back to shore, which is why we no longer hold kayaking race or endurance events. The worst job is to go to the person who is waiting at the finish line with the truck and the hot drinks and tell them they can stop waiting and should head up to the Regional instead. So far as I am concerned the only reason to be up on Everest or out on the Bay in certain weather and in small sized crafts is because you are training for search and rescue.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:08 AM on June 3, 2019 [14 favorites]

I just can't get over the fact that so many people choose to continue the climb without trying to save the people ahead of them.

Linda Bradey ( first woman to summit Everest without oxygen) talked about this in an interview.

In her view "safety" is a choice - each oxygen tank costs $1,000 to bring with you, each Sherpa costs $5,000. The expectation is that each person should have enough oxygen the days before the climb at C4 (3-4 bottles) and enough oxygen for the climb itself (4 bottles), and 1 Sherpa per climber to assist them if they get in trouble, and if you want extra safety you bring 2 Sherpas. Bringing extra oxygen is expensive since the Sherpas carrying the oxygen themselves also need oxygen.


The people who get in trouble? The ones who don't bring enough oxygen - it's common for climbers to skimp on bottles for the descent (which is where most deaths occur). Or skimp on oxygen in general - if they get stuck at C4 due to bad weather, they're losing oxygen every hour they wait. Same for getting stuck in long queues for the summit.

The ones that die? Those who didn't bring a large enough Sherpa support team.

Outsourcing their safety net to other climbers is a non-starter. If other climbers brought extra oxygen, it was specifically to protect themselves - what if they gave the oxygen away and then they died on the descent themselves? If they had a full oxygen tank and a 1-2 Sherpas supporting them down, there's nothing your team can add to their rescue anyway.
posted by xdvesper at 4:11 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Or the ones whose oxygen was stolen.
posted by jeather at 4:47 AM on June 3, 2019

Cinderalla's Castle, close up has little to hold our attention

Cinderella castle close up is actually extremely fascinating and has a ton of gorgeous detail, especially the extraordinary mosaics.
posted by dmd at 6:04 AM on June 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

I know close to nothing about climbing, so when I read about "unprepared" climbers, it's hard to understand what that means. But even I know enough to be shocked by this, from a recent NY Times article: "Some climbers did not even know how to put on a pair of crampons..."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:35 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you have a spare 100k and watched a climbing documentary thinking I can do that there is are guides who will take your money and try to get you up Everest.
posted by cmfletcher at 6:44 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

This FPP is sort of bittersweet since today I've learned that a college acquaintance was one of the 8 people who were lost in an avalanche on Nanda Devi mountain. He was a good guy who loved nature, and I hope that the weather gets better so the search can continue.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 7:24 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

There are a number of reasons that Everest and adjacent peaks are the worlds tallest, as measured from sea level, and BBC provides some background.

Interesting that they note base-to-summit height and compare the height of Everest to that of other mountains in the solar system, but say nothing of distance from the gravitational center of the planet. "Sea level" doesn't exist on Venus or Mars, so iirc most measurements are given as deviations off the mean spherical body, which should roughly approximate sea level. On Earth, the gravitational high-point title belongs to Chimborazo, which juts up 2500+m above the surrounding plains and sits almost directly on the equator. (Scroll down in that Wikipedia entry for a great vicuña pic.)

I find the touristicization of Everest a fascinating (disturbing, too) contrast to K2. More than twice as many people summited Everest each of the last 3 years as have ever climbed K2, in part because the latter is extremely remote from the nearest inhabited place but also because Everest isn't a huge technical leap from well-known Western mountains. And while ~4% of people attempting Everest die, the death rate on K2 is over 20%.
posted by ptfe at 7:44 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Many of the people who die while doing extreme sports do not admit that they are &%#$ed until they are unconscious because they are so focused on doing their thing

I'd call summitting Everest an endurance sport, and one thing that defines endurance sports is never saying you're too tired to continue. It's kind of like a conflict of interest in other contexts.
posted by rhizome at 9:50 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the subject of life and death during mountain summits, one of the more intense books I've read is Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. An amazon reviewer sums it up as "one man's journey back from the edge of death," and it truly feels not just epic, but morbid and ghastly. Reviewer Elizabeth Grice described the foreground emotions as happening "against a background of elemental terror and beauty" -- and I'd put the emphasis on terror. There are a series of incredible scenes: one in which the snow atop the steep ridge that he is standing on starts disintegrating under him and you realize that they are doing something dangerous beyond all reason; another in which he thinks there is no way he can survive an injury he has just sustained and starts calculating how many hours he has until his death.

In trying to find out whether Simpson has lasting PTSD from the experience, I found a story about a documentary (which i now want to watch) in which three highly-skilled climbers persist in trying to make the Meru summit despite significant recent injuries. "Returning to the mountain in 2011, says [director and climber] Chin, felt 'like we were heading to the gallows.'"

The darker side of the mountains doesn't get much attention in the instagram / Climber Magazine version of mountaineering. When I went on summer trips to Yosemite or the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the icy breeze blowing across the rock forbode feet of snow and gave me serious chills. But hanging out with the REI / Outward Bound crew, I always thought my dread of the mountains was weird. It's not something that I heard discussed, so I thought it was something that serious climbers just didn't feel. That's why, more recently, I've found it fascinating to see how some climbers' memoirs do grapple deeply both with the mortal danger posed by the mountains, and with the question of why they continue to be drawn there.

RIP to those who did not survive, and my deepest sympathies to their loved ones.
posted by salvia at 10:45 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

it is often very hard to tell if someone is in trouble.

No it isn't. Everyone in and above 8000m is in the Death Zone. There's a reason it's called that - you are actively dying once you're above that elevation. By the time you get to Camp 4 you are sleeping in it while your body dies slowly (but much more rapidly than it does at sea level).

Some people just function better than others in that environment. But everyone is dying at an accelerated rate. Getting down means you were able to flirt with death for a period of hours and walk away.

Point being, the decision to go past Camp 3 basically means you are committing to care about your survival above all others. You can't be a realistic help to others if you aren't yourself safe, and nobody is safe at that altitude, not even the Sherpa. It's a deep, dark, swirling pool with no lifeguards on duty. Making the summit in our day and age is not just a commitment to see people dying and walk past them, but in many cases to literally step over death and keep on going. It's fucking psychotic.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:56 PM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've been a little morbidly fascinated by Everest and other high altitude mountaineering, and I really appreciated Jane the Brown's answer.

It made me think about how, if you're rich enough (which isn't necessarily anywhere near the true 1%), very few of the decisions you make have serious consequences for yourself. You can always spend your way out, or around, or through (including spending to help someone else, if you're so moved).

You don't have to decide between rent and groceries, or health care and rent. You don't even have to decide between steak and new shoes. Decisions are really pretty low stakes.

Everest seems like a kind of real life role play, in that context. You decide before you summit how much to spend, and then you live with the consequences of that decision for yourself and other people. Your bank account does no one any good after a certain altitude. Like playing Oregon Trail or something.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:33 PM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend the French film, "L'ascension /The Climb" for a depiction of an unprepared amateur's attempt to climb Everest. The film is based on the successful summit attempt by the French Algerian Nadir Dendoune - who had no real previous climbing experience. Dendoune grew up in a Parisian banlieue and held up a sign "93" on the summit in tribute to this.

The film is an inaccurate representation which changes the race of the protagonist and adds some romantic interest to the plot - but it does depict the process of attempting to climb the mountain under-prepared and on the cheap. In this sense, the trip between Kathmandu and the Everest Summit comes over as like a vertical version of "The Beach" - at the beginning we are in a crowded, cosmopolitan mass market of prospective climbers. Even the route to base camp is a well worn affair. But for those who push beyond that there is a definite air of menace.
posted by rongorongo at 11:02 PM on June 3, 2019

i guess to combine how selfies ruin the great outdoors: "Climbers are literally dying while waiting in line and the ones behind them simply step around the bodies to get their selfie at the summit."

"It's 20+ years since Jon Krakauer's classic Into Thin Air -- on the consequences of crowds, guiding, and low climber skills on Everest -- and nothing has changed. If anything, it's worse."

Nepalese Sherpa Sets New Record For Climbing Mount Everest With 24th Ascent - "A Nepalese mountain climber has broken the record for ascents of Mount Everest. Kami Rita Sherpa, 49, has made it to the top 24 times."

also btw...
A THREAD ABOUT SAILING ACROSS VAST DISTANCES ALONE: "I'm lying here on my sailboat in New Caledonia, having just sailed 800 miles across from Australia, and I figured I'd share some thoughts about going to sea alone."
posted by kliuless at 11:11 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I really appreciate this conversation happening here on Metafilter. Like, I have no interest in mountain climbing but found this conversation really interesting in itself.

The thing that I can’t get over (and this admittedly is very axe-grindy, most of my comments on Metafilter are through this lens): we live in a world that holds athletes, especially those who do this kind of extreme risk type of sport, in such high esteem. And we consider fat people to be so dangerous that we aren’t shown with heads in news stories because that would humanize us, and everyone knows if you have a fat friend that shit is catching, and you know fat people are a burden and drain on society and we’re choosing to be that way, can you blame people for yelling obscenities at us from cars or blame the majority healthcare professionals who admit in surveys they find us too disgusting to touch and willfully non-compliant?

And there are people who do these extreme sports and we make documentaries about them and bestselling books and we talk about people who risk their lives for what ultimately comes down to entertainment as heroes.

And wow, that’s fucked. That’s a privilege that takes my breath way. I have also enjoyed a lot of media about extreme athletes because I think it’s highly relatable — we all have our private struggles and it is thrilling to read about near-death experiences overcome by extreme athletic prowess. I mean, I’m not saying there’s no value in these stories or in people pushing their bodies as far as they want to. It’s just so striking to live in a body like mine and look at who we grant the grace to use up resources without apologies.

This conversation definitely went way beyond that — my comment is about the greater world, not the increasingly welcoming metafilter. Hopefully not a derail. It’s just something that I can’t stop thinking about after getting through the linked articles.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:11 PM on June 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

Since I saw a speaker who had lost a leg or two and summitted Everest I've been reading a lot about the mountain and the people who climb it. As far as I can tell it's turned into an island in the Caymans or three Jaguars in your garage or dead Sherpas.
posted by bendy at 12:01 AM on June 4, 2019

Every year or three I come across a mention of the Rainbow Valley and obsessively and vicariously search out the most stomach-dropping parts of climbing Everest. The stupid ladders across the crevasses? (No. No. No. NO!) I can't even.

Time for some David Parsons.
posted by rhizome at 1:21 AM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about the Everest trend in connection with Adharanand Finn's book "The Rise of the Ultra Runners" - which he writes about - with some excepts here. Finn talks about how Ultramarathons are growing so fast in popularity: part of a general escalation in both the extremity of the popular events and of their popularity: marathons become quotidian achievements to be trumped by events which exceed 100 miles and encompass mountain peaks, deserts and the high arctic. Such events are popular with both men and women - and participants encompass a wide age range. Everest ascents do seem to fit right on that continuum.

There is is some interesting links here to our physiology and psychology as a species. Humans are the only surviving primate which can succeed at persistence hunting. An antelope may be massively faster than us - but we have the respiratory system, thermo-regulation and tracking smarts chase it for for 30 kilometres under the desert sun until it collapses from exhaustion and lets us spear it. Endurance, it turns out, is that special thing we do. The same endurance capabilities help us hike at high altitudes.

There are some "mind over matter" talents that are important here too - ultramarathon runners like Zach Miller talk about "going into their pain cave" - that dark moment when our brain is telling us that we must stop: that we have absolutely nothing left. Ultra-marathon runners know that this warning is premature - our bodies do have more fuel in the tank and it is possible to keep going through the barrier: to speed up even! As with any ignored warning - this takes us into a risky territory. Many of our ancestors would have succoured to exhaustion or accidents while chasing prey: predation is not always safe.
posted by rongorongo at 2:26 AM on June 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

scenes: one in which the snow atop the steep ridge that he is standing on starts disintegrating under him and you realize that they are doing something dangerous beyond all reason; another in which he thinks there is no way he can survive an injury he has just sustained and starts calculating how many hours he has until his death

I just re-read the book and learned that I remembered these totally wrong, though I captured the spirit of things. (It's hardly worth a comment except to correct the record.)
posted by salvia at 12:27 AM on June 7, 2019

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