Climber Andy Kilpatrick once wrote a beautiful answer to the question of How to climb Mount Everest. He suggested starting with the 14 Peaks in Wales, and the Bob Graham round; moving on to the Muros while learning about climbing; then comes the Alps, Alaska, years of work, but developing a deep love and understanding of climbing. By then you’d have “enough climbing and incredible days on the hill to know that Everest is a waste of time.”
Everest has become a trophy, and climbing it is an achievement, but this achievement has changed over time. If you have a little skill and enough money you can find someone to take you up there, even if you’d be a danger to yourself and others.
At the height of the 2019 climbing season, sensational pictures appeared on the Internet, showing a long queue of climber waiting for the summit. These images have haunted me.
The drive to climb ever-higher reminds me of what happens to ants infected by the parasite dicrocoelium dendriticum, which includes both ants and cattle in its life-cycle. With the ants it changes their brains, causing them to climb to the tops of blades of grass, even though this means they are likely to be eaten by grazing cattle. People can be similarly suicidal when they are close to the top of Everest, something known as ‘summit fever’. Being so close to their ambition, they are reluctant to turn back, even if continuing is not safe.
Everything I read about Everest makes it sound like a hell-hole. The journey itself is suffering, and expensive suffering too. The long queue took place in the ‘death zone’, where climbers cannot survive long without oxygen bottles – those same oxygen bottles that, once empty, litter the top of the mountain. GQ’s story about the queue did a good job of explaining the situation. There’s even a wikipedia article (link contains disturbing pictures) about one of the bodies on Everest that cannot be removed.
PS – There is a tenuous connection between Hove and Everest, as the man the mountain is named for is buried here. George Everest never actually saw this mountain and even protested the name as unsuitable for local use.