Tuesday 14 July 2015

Peak fitness

form an orderly queue please / Nucksfan64

The mountaineering world is turning Everest into a gymnasium

Sixty years ago, a New Zealand mountaineer, with a Nepalese Sherpa climbed Mount Everest, the highest point on the Earth’s surface and brought an end to the quest to conquest nature’s high spot.

Today, the Nepalese government is considering putting a ladder on the mountain, to help a long and lucrative string of adventure tourists enjoy the view without having to do anything too tricky, at least compared to the men and women of courage who preceded them.

Many years ago, in the British Lake District, the home of rock climbing, a friend had made a remarkable ascent of a route on Raven Crag, behind one of the land’s finest pubs, the Old Dungeon Ghyll.

The climb was so difficult, it was awarded the first in a new highest technical grade, but there was more to it than that. The crux, or hardest move, was at a full rope length and and on an overhang above a blank wall, a fall would certainly lead to the severest injury or death.

My friend was from a long line of climbers in his family, but he had an idea. Knowing the almost certain risk of death would put off many, indeed some of his climbs have not had a second ascent, he decided to drill a bolt in the cliff to protect the hardest moves.

The result was fury, as adding anything to a mountain climb has been severely frowned upon. Angry climbers abseiled down and cut off the bolt. However good the route was, the general feeling was, as this is a very traditional climbing scene. It should be climbed in the original manner and if you weren’t good and bold enough, then tough.

This view remains today and the sport, and mountains are the better for it.

Everest has many ladders and fixed ropes and all manner of junk on its sides. Much early exploration was made by large teams, often with military precision and military quantities of rubbish left behind.

Then the purists started, like future MEP Reinhold Messner and low impact expeditions became more common. Then the commercial groups started and the trouble began.

Nepal uses the mountains to obtain large sums of hard currency and they loved the sight of all these ‘dollars on legs’ staggering incompetently on the mountain, the fees increased, the commercial expeditions increased.

People died, but, you know the fees had been paid, so, tough.

Now a ladder is to be put in place to stop overcrowding. Why not simply sell fewer permits? Of course not, why do that when your economy is partially based on treating your sacred peaks as cash cows.

The tourist route is a pretty major slog, but not difficult, from a technical perspective. It’s the Khumbu glacier that terrifies those smart enough to recognise danger themselves, but the ladder is going near the summit, on the Hillary Step, a small rock wall above the South Col, the most challenging part of the climb.

Perhaps this will open the hill to more tourists, essentially rich people who can be dragged to the top by others, The Nepalese can no longer be trusted to look after this special place, but we can only help those who want to keep it special, and the way to do that is to stop the over commercialising, which is already killing Sherpas and their visitors.

In the meantime, let’s start a reward scheme to the heroic mountaineer who will throw the bloody ladder into the oblivion it deserves.

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