A Reparable Mount Everest

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

Riveting story by Mark Jenkins for National Geographic. Here’s an excerpt:

Our team was on Everest to mark the anniversary of [the first American] expedition. Yet as we witnessed, the mountain has become an icon for everything that is wrong with climbing. Unlike in 1963, when only six people reached the top, in the spring of 2012 more than 500 mobbed the summit. When I arrived at the apex on May 25, it was so crowded I couldn’t find a place to stand. Meanwhile, down below at the Hillary Step the lines were so long that some people going up waited more than two hours, shivering, growing weak—this even though the weather was excellent. If these throngs of climbers had been caught in a storm, as others were in 1996, the death toll could have been staggering.

This sort of traffic changes the stakes and has taken quite a toll on the mountain:

Everest has always been a trophy, but now that almost 4,000 people have reached its summit, some more than once, the feat means less than it did a half century ago. Today roughly 90 percent of the climbers on Everest are guided clients, many without basic climbing skills. Having paid $30,000 to $120,000 to be on the mountain, too many callowly expect to reach the summit. A significant number do, but under appalling conditions. The two standard routes, the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Ridge, are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps. And then there are the deaths. Besides the four climbers who perished on the Southeast Ridge, six others lost their lives in 2012, including three Sherpas.

Jenkins goes on to suggest a number of ways to “repair Everest.” Among these is the Leave No Trace philosophy, which seems obvious but in practice requires intentionality.

When my wife, father-in-law, and I climbed Mt. Rainier last summer with Rainier Mountaineering Inc., they were all about Leave No Trace and even gave us a special orientation regarding best outdoor practices. It was easy enough to practice on a two-day climb. It’s hard to imagine, though, how difficult that becomes on such a magnified scale (i.e. Everest). That's why it's so important to use a guiding service that is actually built for the long-term.

In the last half-century humanity has had a visible impact on some of Earth’s most remote territories. Here's hoping Jenkins, RMI, and others can help us keep the next half-century's impact invisible.