Krakauer’s description of Mount Everest raises two interesting complaints about the commercialization of mountaineering especially with regards to Everest and the Seven Summits. Not does commercialization reduce the prestige of having summated these mountains, but also increases the risk associated with these climbs.
In all three of the readings we have completed before Into Thin Air the protagonists were attempting to some how be the first to accomplish their goals. Krakauer found a new route up the Devils Thumb, Herzog was the first to summit Annapurna, and Blum led the first women’s expedition up Annapurna. It is very important to these climbers that they are the first to accomplish their tasks. Furthermore in the case of Krakauer and Blum, it is important that only a few people have summated their peak before them. However when dozens of people climb Everest each year the climb loses its prestige. The prestige of the climb is further weakened as the skill level required to summit decreases. Krakauer notes that many of the climbers on hall’s expedition as well as others did not have much mountaineering experience. The most interesting examples of this are Sandy Pittman and Beck Weathers. Pittman is described as carrying as much computer and electronic equipment climbing gear. This “high style” form of climbing is significantly less adventurous or extreme as Herzog’s ascent. Furthermore, Weathers is described as having less-than-mediocre mountaineering skills. This is much different than Herzog and Blum’s expeditions, which are both described as highly experienced and skilled. If a Dallas pathologist and a New York socialite can both climb Mount Everest than does that diminish the accomplishments of experienced climbers who summit Everest.
The influx of inexperienced climbers also raises another question, do these climbers create unsafe conditions for others on the mountain. This is most clear in Krakauer’s discussions of the South African expedition and Taiwanese expedition. Krakauer describes the South African expedition and more specifically their leader Ian Woodall as being reckless, inexperienced, and inconsiderate. This is clear when Krakauer’s writes, that on hearing the South African’s would attempt to summit at the same time as Hall’s expedition Hall stated “I don’t want to be anywhere near the upper mountain when those punters are up there” (Chapter 10). Krakauer shows the same concern about the Taiwanese’s lack of experience. He writes, “The presence of the Taiwanese on Everest was a matter of grave concern” (Chapter 7). He states that other expeditions were concerned that, due to the Taiwanese’s inexperience, they may be require to give up their summit attempts and even put their own lives in danger in the event that the Taiwanese needed assistance. The increase in climbers on Everest, and more specifically the increase of facilitated routs up the mountain allows much weaker climbers to attempt to summit the mountain and could potentially put other climbers at risk.
While the two expeditions I noted were not commercial expeditions it is clear that they are largely able to attempt to summit due to the commercialization of Everest. Commercial expeditions are helping to create a safer climbing environment. Fixed ropes are able to used by all the expeditions. This is especially clear in the case of the Icefall, which in Mal Duff maintained 1996 and those who passed through compensated him. This sort of operation would not be possible without high numbers of expeditions but also makes it possible for highly unskilled climbers to pass through.
One final benefit of the commercialization of climbing mountains like Everest is that they allow skilled climbers to climb without having to worry about logistics. This is largely the case with members of Fisher and duff’s expeditions including Pete Schoening, Charlotte Fox, and Veikka Gustaffsson. All three of these climbers have successfully summated 8,000-meter mountains and could likely lead their own Everest expedition however commercial expeditions allow them to climb without worrying about logistical issues. Looking towards the end of this narrative, and knowing it ends in tragedy, it will be interesting to see if Krakauer comes to a conclusion about weather the increase in climbers on Everest is a good or bad thing.