Everest, the peak of drama
May 21, 2003 11:10 AM   Subscribe

It's just after mid-May and that means one thing: it's summit time on Everest. Current reports are mostly good with only a broken leg and attempted rescue reported so far. If you've ever followed Everest, you'll certainly know about the 1996 disaster, the stories that surrounded it, and the constant death toll (4 out of every 100 that attempt the climb will die trying). There are a lot of teams going up this year, including a team with the youngest american to ever peak and an attempt from the oldest (who was also the guy that first climbed all seven summits). Yesterday and today look like the big summit attempt days, with the north side route having the best luck (though it has the more difficult route). Should be interesting to watch over the next few days, especially to see if the british climber with the broken leg will survive.
posted by mathowie (27 comments total)
Now would be a good time to start training for the Everest Marathon in November! Just do it!
posted by Hackworth at 11:15 AM on May 21, 2003

would this make great reality tv or what?
"in order for zack to regain the lead, he'll have to slide down the crevasse, avoiding razor sharp ice shards, discarded oxygen bottles and the bodies of his teamates. can he do it? let's watch!"
posted by quonsar at 11:38 AM on May 21, 2003

I appreciate all climbing, but Everest's monopoly on the popular interest in high altitude ascents, and status as a brand, is, erm, over the top. Apparently, climbing only K2 won't cut it for motivational speaking gigs, though the pictures would be better (and the name is sleeker).
posted by liam at 11:40 AM on May 21, 2003

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson (yeah, the one who supports drug legalization) is supposed to make the climb. And he's been known to jump into things without enough experience. For example, he had to be rescued while white water kayaking a while back.
posted by hyperizer at 11:44 AM on May 21, 2003

Isn't K2 widely regarded as a far more difficult and technically challenging climb, and Everest gets props only because of the height?

posted by xmutex at 11:58 AM on May 21, 2003

Oh, and Krakauer's Into Thin Air is an amazing and captivating read. Of course it's just one's man's take on the events and all, but still, couldn't put it down.
posted by xmutex at 12:05 PM on May 21, 2003

Everest's popularity is taking its toll on its environment as well. So many people climb it now that its getting trashed!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:11 PM on May 21, 2003

A less cluttered website on Everest with all the current news can be found here.
posted by birdsong at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2003

Everest's popularity is taking its toll on its environment as well. So many people climb it now that its getting trashed!

Nepal gets many thousands of dollars for each climbing permit. Since there will always be people willing to pay to climb Everest, they have no incentive to keep it clean.
posted by hari at 12:19 PM on May 21, 2003

It's true that K2 is a much more difficult climb, and I actually thought this book on the 1986 K2 disaster was better than Krakauer's. Still, as a former peak bagger myself I can't help but watch with excitement every May as people flock to the spot. I agree that most climbers there have too much money while not having enough experience, and that eventually something will have to be done to lessen the crowds, though even with the $50k/person price tag for a trip the place is packed.
posted by mathowie at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2003

There's actually been a push in the last several years to clean Everest up. Sherpas are sometimes offered a bonus in pay for each used oxygen canister they bring off the mountain.
posted by birdsong at 12:32 PM on May 21, 2003

Couldn't they combine the X-Prize with this? The first successful rocket-assisted Everest attempt wins a million dollars or something?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:46 PM on May 21, 2003

Regarding the "1996 disaster," I cannot call anything a disaster where people willingly trudged upwards towards a very possible death.

Face it, Nature hates us.
posted by agregoli at 1:37 PM on May 21, 2003

Everest is the tallest, everyone knows it, and so it gets the most publicity and the most traffic. Hiking up to almost 30K feet is never going to be considered easy, but compared to other climbs Everest is not as difficult.

K2 will try and kill you starting with the damn bus ride to the foothills, and gets worse(a lot worse) from there. People die every year crossing the rope bridges above gorges swollen with raging glacier melt just getting to the mountain. Then something like 1 in 3 climbers that peak out on K2 die trying to get off the damn thing. It kills porters with crevasses, it kills guides with avalanches, it kills people just strolling around for a look with falling rocks, hell, it's killed a cook at base camp with lightning. Al-Qaeda and their ilk have been known to hang out in regions nearby. You have to deal with Pakistani military escorts, Pakistani government agencies and the attendant forms, Pakistani tour agencies, and if you were on the wrong side of the ridge at one point their was shelling from the Chinese to contend with occasionally. The whole area is apparently nothing but fun, a real tourist destination.

Of course, the Great Trango Tower is a 3,000 foot vertical rock face like El Capitan in Yosemite, only it starts at about 18,000 feet in the Karakoram range in Pakistan, before topping out somewhere near 21K. It sheds rocks, boulders, and ice blocks down at you all day, when it's not flash freezing with instant ice sheets and the same storms that make K2 a permanent zone of core temperature deficit, all while depriving you of oxygen due to altitude.

One climber, heading up to the face after being chased off Trango told his two climbing partners "Forget this, I don't want to be buried out here in a shallow, rocky grave", to which one partner replied "Oh come on, I promise that we'll bury you real deep.". He didn't climb anymore that trip, and didn't care what anyone said, he was staying at base camp.

Here's a link to "I Was a Trango Love Slave" by Greg Child, written for Outside magazine in 1994. It'll give you an idea of what this type of work is supposedly like, and Child is one of my favorite writers on the topic of cold feet and ropes.
posted by dglynn at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2003

I think the main point in Krakauer's Into Thin Air was that the commercialization of Everest climbs makes it all the more dangerous. More climbers, more potential fatalities. And he was very good at describing how very,very unpleasant things up there can get.

Krakauer's earlier book, Into the Wild, also pointed out how us modern, TV generation Cro-Magnons can go horribly wrong thinking that the natural world is easily tamed.

When adventure becomes a commodity it becomes banal, unless of course there is the chance of somebody freezing his hands off and going snowblind.
posted by zaelic at 1:40 PM on May 21, 2003

A most interesting article, thanks matt, and the rest is bookmarked for a evening when I am not supposed to be working :)
posted by ajbattrick at 1:44 PM on May 21, 2003

Some interesting links on this year's climbing:

A speed climb being attempted, from base camp to summit and back in less than 24 hours.

A disabled climbing team is raising money for disabled groups in Texas.

A group out of South Africa includes what could be the first black woman to summit Everest.

A couple canadian firefighters are trying to be the first canadians to summit sans oxygen.

This guy is going back to climb it again after failing the first time. Talk about pushing your luck.

It sounds like there were 100 people attempting to summit yesterday, which is absolutely nuts and makes me think another disaster is quite possible with that many people on the South face. From looking at all the dispatch sites, it appears that people are leaving camp 4 right now for the summit, shooting for hitting it in about 12 hours from now.
posted by mathowie at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2003

And here I sit in my cube, braving the elements of office park sprawl and 6-hour old coffee.
posted by xmutex at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2003

the 50th anniversary of the first summit
Did I hear correct his son may retrace his father's climb?
posted by thomcatspike at 2:24 PM on May 21, 2003

Tenzing Norgay's son already did, in the fateful '96 season, with IMAX film crew in tow.
posted by liam at 4:13 PM on May 21, 2003

My, this link makes it all sound so easy!! Just follow these 5 steps and you, too, can climb everest!
posted by aacheson at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2003

aacheson, that link is classic.

It's a neat feeling to climb a steep, dark, wet and cold hill at night, and then dress up in the car for a fancy dinner at an upscale restaurant!

Neat! *pukes*
posted by luser at 8:04 AM on May 22, 2003

And this man just became the oldest person to climb Everest
posted by darsh at 10:45 AM on May 22, 2003

My cousin's husband, Paul, summited Everest via the North side back in May of 2000. While we were all excited by his successful expedition, I think we were more pleased with the Himalayan gifts he brought back with him. (It was just around the time Oprah was extolling their virtues.)
posted by debralee at 12:00 PM on May 22, 2003

If you liked Into Thin Air, you should read Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev's book The Climb, which is his rebuttal of Krakauer's story. Basically, Krakauer accused Boukreev of ignoring the clients in order to further his personal goal of summiting without oxygen, and Boukreev's defense is quite an amazing story.
posted by some chick at 5:13 PM on May 22, 2003

would this make great reality tv or what?

Check out the outdoor channel. They've had a hiking,climbing...endurance elimination show for the past few months. There are 5 or 6 folks left and they were due to summit Everest today.
posted by poodlemouthe at 5:25 PM on May 22, 2003

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