opinion

KATE EMERY: Climbing Mt Everest isn’t just dangerous, it’s tacky too. It’s time for this practice to stop

Kate Emery
The Nightly
Look at all these people, lining up for hours to reach the summit, risking frostbite, altitude sickness and death. And for what, Kate Emery asks.
Look at all these people, lining up for hours to reach the summit, risking frostbite, altitude sickness and death. And for what, Kate Emery asks. Credit: HANDOUT/AFP

Looking for a challenge that will push you to your physical limits, offer a break from the corporate grind and, let’s be real for a moment, sound impressive to others?

Good for you. Just please don’t climb Mount Everest.

It’s Everest season right now, which means five climbers are dead and another three missing (ie: probably dead) as hundreds more slog it up the world’s highest peak, hoping for a summit and an experience akin to what climber Guy Cotter was talking about when he described its appeal like this: “The mountain is so high and so indifferent, it calls upon every climber, at one time or another, to rise to his or her better self”.

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There are plenty of reasons not to climb Mount Everest: It’s really hard, it’s bad for the environment, you might die or cause others to do so.

But the simplest reason might be this: it’s gauche as hell.

Photos from Mount Everest — not just this year but for years now — show a snake of primary colours: hikers queuing like they’re waiting to order a coffee at a busy weekend farmer’s market.

Corpses (more than 200 of them), abandoned oxygen cylinders and piles of — I’m not sure there’s a nice way to say this — frozen human s..t — litter the mountain.

At times climbers must navigate nose to arse, moving at a pace dictated by the slowest, least experienced, among them. And that pace can be slow because you don’t have to be an expert mountaineer to get onto Everest, you just have to be able to pay.

On good days the summit can be so crowded that successful climbers struggle to find a place to stand for that all-important selfie. On bad days. . . well, you know what happens on bad days.

Mount Everest is no longer a mountain: It’s a commodity.

Before his death, Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander credited with being the first to summit Mount Everest 71 years ago this Wednesday (along with sherpa Tenzing Norgay who, if he put his foot on the summit first, was far too polite to say so), was scathing of what had become of the mountain.

If mountain climbing is your thing try K2 (it’s harder), Mount Khuiten in Mongolia (it’s prettier) or Mount Kosciuszko (it’s closer).

He said this after the 2006 death of English climber David Sharp, whom dozens of other climbers passed without trying to rescue: “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”.

New regulations have been brought in to tackle some of Mount Everest’s problems but it’s finger in the dyke territory: No businesses at base camp, a greater onus on tour operators to remove rubbish, poo bags for climbers. Without major restrictions on numbers, which will never happen because the Nepalese Government needs the money, nothing will change.

So we are back where we started, with a call not to give in to the lure of spunking that spare hundred grand on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slow motion climb a mountain with hundreds of others also trying to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience alongside corpses and poo and sherpas trying to make a living wage by hauling our wealthy western arses up a mountain.

Choosing to climb Mount Everest no longer tells the world you’re a highly-motivated risk-tasker who loves a challenge. It tells the world you couldn’t come up with a more creative way to spend your time and money.

If mountain climbing is your thing try K2 (it’s harder), Mount Khuiten in Mongolia (it’s prettier) or Mount Kosciuszko (it’s closer).

Better yet, try volunteering for a charity or learning a new language. You’d almost be better off buying one of Elon Musk’s ridiculous cybertrucks, which will also let people know you have a lot of cash lying around and enjoy taking unnecessary risks.

At least you’ll have a close to zero chance of winding up as the highly-motivated corpse speeding down a mountain in the background of a stranger’s Instagram post.

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