Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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The Rape of Everest


German climber Ralf Dujmovits took pictures of 100s of tourists on the slopes of Everest in May. Some died on the mountain, due to overcrowding, inexperience and crass commercialism as The Guardian reports.

The entire Everest region suffers from tourist overkill. And the locals, for the most part, are frozen out of the financial equation – the hobby climbers spend about 70.000US$ each on trying to reach the summit and most of the money ends up in the pockets of guides, all of them foreigners. The Nepali government takes around US$10.000 a head. Another 5000US$  or so per client pays for the Sherpas, the provisions and the wi-fi in heated tents to pamper the wealthy holiday freak scene at base camp. This year, a 14 year old and a woman in her 70s made it to the top. As Dujmovits mentioned, a guy carrying his bicycle tried. Others perished.

A bit further down, trekkers, around 35.000 a year, more than twice the visitor numbers of the 1990s, trample through an extremely fragile biosphere at the foot of the mountain, generally unaware that the men who carry their provisions don’t have the money to buy themselves a pair of shoes. Porters often walk all the way to base camp in flip-flops, their employers, international and local tour companies providing nothing but base salaries. More than 60 flights a day tumble into Lukla, one of the nearest airports to Everest, which was originally built to help the Sherpa people. Instead it is used to ferry oblivious foreigners into the Himalayas, most on a 12 day trip with little time to acclimatize to race to base camp or an adjacent peak.

As Dujmovits points out, the urge for people who’ve hardly ever walked to the local supermarket to reach Everest is like the flashing of the Mercedes symbol, proof that even the highest mountain in the world is not immune to the disposable vulgarity and greed that’s so pervasive in our culture. The triumph of spectacle is everything.  Mass tourism on Everest and on its slopes is the flavor of the month way to keep diminishing its natural wealth as well as the dignity of the planet. Who needs corporations when we can do it ourselves.

But regulation, suggested by some pro climbers, might create more problems. For starters, it’s against the whole concept of climbing in a place where nothing is certain and death is everywhere. Why regulate the ultimate expression of freedom, the freedom to risk your life? That said, preventing people to use oxygen bottles beyond a certain altitude might keep some of the worst offenders off the mountain (btw, those who do die on Everest are left to the elements directly by the trail. The climbing staff, underpaid as they are, pilfer the corpses’ valuables and then they lie or sit there, frozen in their miscalculations).

Looking at the images taken of the peak’s flanks in the past weeks, the thrill of freedom is definitely gone. Real climbers should perhaps get over the fact that Everest has been taken over by the chavs and seek other challenging summits. More than 5000 people have now reached the top of Everest, it’s no longer that special an experience.

The big losers in all this are the local Sherpa and porters from other ethnic minorities who get badly paid, take many of the risks and find their homeland soiled by visitors who come with zero respect for the mountain or local culture.

The guides, along with an indifferent government, share a huge part of the blame. Mountaineers themselves, they should know better than to endanger the lives of under-qualified holiday makers and locals to make money to finance their other climbs. Stop ripping off the planet, leaving thousands of spent oxygen bottles as well as scores of corpses littering the mountain while giving back next to nothing. Guides might point to the romanticism of the entire endeavor as an excuse, but that is long gone. Jon Krakauer wrote about this in Into Thin Air (1997) and since the publication of that book the business around the world’s highest mountain has gotten worse. And to think that Nepal is still at the after effects of a recent revolution of sorts.

Closing the mountain completely for a time would be a good idea, but if the Nepalese did this alone, the summit would be flooded by Chinese tour groups. And who’d want that? A lot more holiday climbers, Sherpa and guides will die until there’s a shift in perception.

Watch footage of the recent traffic jams in this clip from OutsideOnline.


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