Monday, February 17, 2014

Commercialization of Mountaineering

The first thing that struck me when I opened Into Thin Air was Krackauer’s list of people on Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996. I know that his purpose for being on Everest was just this, but I still found it shocking. I was surprised by the sheer amount of people working and climbing on the mountain and was further surprised to read his note at the bottom of the page: “Not everyone present on Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996 is listed.” Wow! After reading both versions of Annapurna, it was surprising to think how much mountaineering changed in about 50 and 30 years. Herzog and Blum were both accompanied by accomplished and well-practiced climbers. Beyond that, they were attempting to climb the tenth highest mountain in the world, not the highest!

I have a feeling that much of the controversy and critique about the 1996 disaster and Krakauer's writings, that Krackauer mentioned at the beginning of his book at least brushes on the commercialization of the mountain and how a disaster was “bound to occur.” I did a bit of research on the commercialization of mountaineering and thought I’d share it: first some perspectives against commercialization and then some in support of commercialization.

A 2006 interview with Edmund Hillary reveals his disapproval for the crowds on Everest. He thinks that the 2006 tragedy was very linked to inexperience and poor judgment. In 2012, 3 deaths on Everest were also attributed to overcrowding by novices. Beyond inexperience, the waves of people leave trash and broken equipment scattered on the mountain. The big question is, are these novice climbers pursuing Everest to enjoy the natural world and accomplish something for themselves, or are they simply looking for a means to bragging rights?

The biggest positive that comes out of the commercialization of mountaineering seems to be the insurance of steady work for sherpas and guides. Now that so many people come to Nepal (and other mountainous countries) to climb, sherpas can be sure that there will be jobs to count on. Their yearly salary now far exceeds the average Nepalese salary. A note from 2/18's class that I wanted to add here- Since tourists have started coming to the Everest area to climb, they have put money into hospitals restaurants, etc. Money is being pumped back into Nepal. However, is this economic benefit worth the environmental degredation?

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. I know how romantic the idea of achieving something that you never thought you could, can be, but I think that perhaps Everest clients should have to have a bit more mountaineering experience. Also, there are plenty of smaller, more safely attainable mountains around the globe that Everest-interested people could either complete as stepping stones, or make their goal.


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