Monday, February 4, 2013

Maps and condensed milk

I'm not very good with visualizing scale. Ask me how tall a tree is or how tall a ceiling is, and I'll probably tell you some wildly inaccurate distance. So I think it's safe to say that I have difficulty conceptualizing Annapurna's actual size. More than 8,000 meters. Ok. I understand that's big. Really big as a matter of fact. But how tall is 8,000 meters? I looked at pictures and I looked at more detailed topo maps to try and get a better understanding of the terrain, elevation change, and distances. I was glad to have the picture with the route and camps labeled on a photograph of the mountain because it helped me figure out what was going on, especially when loads started coming and going and the expedition was becoming more spread out.

On a totally different note, the fact that a tube of condensed milk was left on top of the summit made me furious. I read the sentence "I swallowed a little condensed mile and left the tube behind--the only trace of our passage" (210) and was so bothered by it that I shut the book and walked away from it for a while. Having had LNT beaten into my brain, I couldn't believe that instead of placing the tube in his sack, it was left behind. I wonder why he was compelled to leave something on the summit. He took his pictures, he had proof, why leave the tube? It wasn't as heavy as when it was carried up the mountain. It reminded me of an article I read a couple years ago about the trash that covered the slopes of Everest. Apparently there's an incredible amount of trash that's been left behind by climbers. While there have been efforts towards its removal, few people have gone to collect waste from the highest camp (understandably) but there's new efforts to start removal from that camp. I was also surprised to find an article about a group that uses the trash from Everest as a medium for artwork. In the last year, the group has collected 1.5 tons of trash from the mountain. Even today, people still leave an incredible amount of garbage on the mountain, and I can't help but wonder why. If you carry it up, and use it, it's probably going to be lighter on the way back down. Why just leave it? Once something is thrown away people seem to lose a sense of awareness about the object. It doesn't disappear though. It just sits on the slope, waiting to greet the next group of climbers. And I can't imagine that they enjoy the sight.

When I was reading about the decision to leave behind some of the gear as they made their way off the mountain in the face of severe weather and frostbite I didn't have the same reaction as when I read about the tube of condensed milk. I don't quite know why that my reaction was so different. I think it has to do with the difference of time, effort and the new situation. The necessity of dissent to the next camp seemed to explain the choice well enough for me. I'll keep thinking about it.

1 comment:

  1. I had exactly the same reaction to the condensed milk!!!! My annotation on the page actually reads, "???wtf???"...but really. Logical thought would assume that anyone who cares enough to expend such an enormous effort to summit a mountain would care enough to leave the environment in its relatively untouched form. Surprisingly, adventurer does NOT imply environmentalist. I experienced this in the most striking sense when climbing Kilimanjaro; the trail was periodically littered with trash. Throughout the entire expedition, I made daily note of the same small yellow candy wrapper that reappeared every hour or so on the trail. I imagined a careless asshole just paces in front of me, mindlessly tossing his wrappers as he indulged in his candy on the trail. This image infuriated me to say the least. On another note, the Everest trash article included some beautiful photographs and an admirable initiative of raising awareness of pollution on Everest while shaping something beautiful out of discarded waste.