Think twice before making Mount Everest climb

Ryan Stieg

If there’s a list of incredible human accomplishments, climbing Mount Everest is probably near the top.

The feat used to be deemed unachievable for years and rightfully so. To climb the highest point on Earth, a person takes on heavy risks, including low oxygen levels, high-altitude edema, hypothermic temperatures, thrombosis, cliffs and crevasses, avalanches, extreme sunburns and the fact that storms can show up pretty quickly.

However, that all changed in 1953 when Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay reached the summit. The achievement shocked and impressed the world, and since then almost 5,000 people have followed Hillary and Norgay and made it to the top.

Since then, climbing has grown in popularity with people of all ages attempting to either conquer massive mountains, large rock faces or just that wall at their local fitness club.

This year’s Academy Award-winning documentary, “Free Solo,” is about a guy trying to be the first person to make it to the top of the rock face El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any equipment or assistance.

More than six decades after Hillary and Norgay pulled off their feat, people are still trying to be like them or even outdo them in making their own huge climbing achievements.

These days, if you want to catch someone’s attention, saying you climbed the largest mountain in the world is a good start. The problem is the climb doesn’t have the same luster in society anymore. More than 4,000 other people have done it as well and unless you managed to reach the top without any clothes on, you may not wow anyone at your next dinner party.

And that’s where we run into problems. Climbing Everest used to be an amazing thing that few could do, but now, anybody with a good chunk of cash and a lot of free time on their hands can make an attempt.

It also seems like people are trying to climb it just to say they did it. It’s not this intense desire that they’ve had since they were a kid. It’s almost as if it’s a panic decision for some people.

Most folks buy a sports car or get a fancy haircut or something that’s different, but at the same time, not insane.

Expeditions to Everest are becoming more and more popular, with Nepal handing out a record number of permits. However, there’s a lot of issues resulting from that.

The first is overcrowding on the mountain with a lot of the climbers being inexperienced. Basically, it’s a bunch of people who brought a lot of money and near-zero ability to reach the summit.

When we imagine what it’s like to climb Everest, we tend to think that we’d be doing so in a blinding snowstorm with a handful of people. In reality, it’s the exact opposite of that.

There is a photograph that’s gone viral of a group of people climbing Everest and instead of the brutal images that we might be expecting, it looks like a bunch of people waiting to be seated by a hostess at Red Lobster. It’s a long, winding line of people in parkas and it quickly dispels any past theories you had about reaching the summit.

A recent New York Times feature had people stating what their experiences were like at the summit and let’s just say it’s like you’re in line for Splash Mountain at Disney World.

People were apparently shoving around to get selfies at the top in an area that was described as the size of “two ping-pong tables” and you had to wait for hours to get there.

Seriously, what is the appeal there? You’re freezing your limbs off with a huge group of strangers on a small ridge where at any moment you could slip and slide to your doom. Not only that, but considering how tightly packed the line is, you’d probably take a few people along with you.

That same guy who gave the ping-pong table quote also said he had to step around the body of a woman who just died. Who doesn’t want to have a reminder that you could potentially croak at any moment when they’re standing in line?

Just imagine that at Starbucks. You’re waiting to get your Venti Frappuccino and there’s a corpse lying next to you. A CNN report said that that photo was taken in the area known as “The Death Zone” — 26,000 feet and above — where every breath you take in will only give you a third of the amount of oxygen you’d get at sea level.

Seems like a massive risk to take to just be there at the top for a few minutes to get a photo and then potentially die on your way down. Eleven people have died so far this year, so there’s an eerie reminder of what is at stake if you attempt to do this.

Overcrowding has also caused the mountain to fill up with leavings. A Times article last year said that over the course of two months (how long the Everest trek lasts), the average climber will leave almost 60 pounds of excrement, which will then have to be carried down by porters.

A Washington Post article stated that last year, 14 tons of human waste were carried down the mountain. Earlier this month, CNN said a volunteer group had collected three metric tons of trash in just a two-week effort. Their goal was to collect 10 tons in 45 days, which really destroys whatever majestic visions you had in climbing Everest.

Climbing over and around frozen dead bodies, garbage, actual crap, long lines and a decent chance that you might die. Sounds like a hoot.

Is there a way to fix this growing issue? Probably not, but we can try to limit it. First, countries need to stop issuing such an absurd number of climbing permits. I understand that money is money, but if you have a problem with too many people in an area, the solution isn’t to make it easier for more people to show up.

Since we can’t force other countries to do that, we could try to ease the problem ourselves by going up prepared. As I said earlier, a lot of people attempting to climb the mountain are inexperienced or not in the shape needed to do so.

If you do have a lot of money to spend (it can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on which agency you want to work with and it costs $11,000 just for a permit), make sure that you’re ready to go.

Not just with having the supplies, but that you’ve trained enough to be able to complete the trek, both to the summit and back to base camp. It’s one thing to make it to the top, but you do eventually have to come back down.

Reaching the top of Mount Everest is a huge achievement and something you can be proud of. However, one of nature’s most majestic features is turning into a mess. If mountain climbing is your favorite thing to do and your ultimate goal is to make the summit of Everest, go for it.

Just be sure to know what’s in store for you when you arrive. There will be several obstacles to overcome and not all of them are going to be majestic.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.