Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tensions on the Money Making Mountain

Touching My Father's Soul highlighted the tensions that arise from the competing interests of economic need, commercialization, and spirituality on Everest. Many Sherpas rely on the commercialized mountaineering industry to support their families. However, the commercialization of Everest has led to the development of attitudes which imply expectations of a successful summit bid. These attitudes, often held by clients on guided expeditions, often conflict with Sherpa spiritual beliefs, which say that the goddess inhabiting the mountain will determine successes and failures. Sherpas will not climb without performing a puja, a ceremony that asks the gods for permission to climb and safe passage on the mountain. Because of economic necessity, Sherpa who work on Everest seem to be stuck in a bind between upholding their spiritual beliefs and contributing to the commercialization of the mountain.

Here's the link to the Outside Magazine article about commercialization on Everest. It's worth looking at if only to see the first picture.


  1. The article you posted was kind of horrifying. As the narratives by Krakauer and Norgay demonstrate, the commercialization of Everest has both good and bad consequences. While it has enabled many Sherpas, most notably Norgay's father, to make more than enough money to support their families and establish careers independent of mountaineering, it also conflicts with their religious beliefs and has led to the injury or death of numerous Sherpas. Norgay potentially shows how the commercial and spiritual aspects of Everest can be balanced. Although he doesn't climb for economic gain, he does participate in a nominally commercial expedition. The leaders of his expedition, though not Buddhists, clearly respect Everest and the dangers that it presents more than the guides from other commercial expeditions. Norgay's narrative suggests, then, that a balance between commercial and spiritual motivations can be, and indeed should be, found. The article you included here in Outside magazine implies that such a balance has become increasingly necessary, as purely commercial motivations have led to extremely irresponsible behavior on the part of some guides and the needless death of many of their clients. Perhaps spirituality, and the respect for Everest that it brings, would be the way to protect clients in the future.

  2. I like how this article talks about some issues and tensions (as you aptly call them) that I haven't even considered in our study of Everest thusfar- especially the effect of improved weather forecasting on Everest safety. The Krakauer and Norgay texts both feel contemporary - especially compared to Blum and Herzog's narratives, both of which took place before all of us students (and maybe Janelle?) were born - but the 1996 disaster was almost a decade ago, and technology has come a long way since then. It’s interesting (and discouraging) that innovations like improved weather reports, which you’d think would make climbing safer by helping climbers avoid unsafe conditions, have actually made the situation on Everest even more hectic and dangerous. By solving so many of the problems that previously prevented humans from reaching the summit of Everest we’ve opened the floodgates that have historically hindered our natural human ambition, and now we’re starting to see the negative side effects of our progress. I'm not usually a proponent of government intervention, but it seems like somebody needs to step up and take authority over the Everest situation before it gets even further out of hand.

  3. Anna, I agree with you that one problematic effect of the commercialization of Everest is the expectation of a successful summit. I think that the guides and the accessibility of the mountain give clients a false sense of security. Also, paying to climb the mountain gives people the sense that they are purchasing a ticket to the summit and back. Typically, in monetary transactions the quality of the good or service is guaranteed. People are so used to "money back guarantees" that, if anything they purchase is unsatisfactory in any way, they expect a refund. This can be especially dangerous on Everest because a sense of entitlement causes people continue on when they should accept defeat. I think that Araceli Segarra said it best in the IMAX film. She said something along the lines of "It doesn't seem right to continue climbing. The mountain decides if you are allowed up." This is important to keep in mind because even the most skilled guides (such as Rob Hall and Scott Fischer) can't survive a horrible storm on Mount Everest. People can prepare all they want and pay as much money as they have to spare, but, in the end, none of that is worth shit if the mountain decides to storm. Also, Segarra's personification reminds me of Jamling's treatment of Everest as a living being. In many ways this is a humbling and safer approach to climbing Mount Everest. Whether his prayers work or not, his fear of and respect for Mount Everest keep him mindful of the power of the mountain.