Everest: A tourist trap at 29,000 feet
Arizona doctor Ed Dohring had dreamed for years of reaching the summit of Mount Everest. But when he finally got there in late May, said Kai Schultz in The New York Times, he was shocked to find that “he had to wait hours in a line, chest to chest, one puffy jacket after the next on an icy, rocky ridge with a several-thousand-foot drop.” At the summit itself, about 20 people were jammed precariously into a flat area “about the size of two Ping-Pong tables.” On the way down, Dohring had to step around the body of a woman who’d just died. Chaos like this was typical in “one of the deadliest climbing seasons” on the world’s highest peak. So far, 11 people have perished, many during traffic jams of climbers snaking to the 29,029-foot summit, where selfie-snapping mountaineers caused potentially fatal delays for oxygen-starved climbers awaiting their own turn below. “It was scary,” said Dohring. “It was like a zoo.”
“Everest, as an idea and cultural force, is over,” said Margret Grebowicz in TheAtlantic.com. Since Himalayan mountaineering became popular in the early 20th century, climbing the world’s highest peak has symbolized the “pursuit of something mysterious and authentic.” The accomplishment belonged to the climber alone. Now an “Everest industry” has grown up to indulge “privileged amateurs” who pay up to $70,000 and “dishonor the mountain” by treating it like a tourist destination. The solution, ironically, is “more commercialization, not less,” said Adam Minter in Bloomberg.com. Nepal’s government should sell concessions to qualified operators who would have a financial incentive to keep Everest safe. Since the 1990s, Nepal, a poor country, has issued greater numbers of Everest permits to raise revenue, encouraging unqualified climbers and guides willing to compete on price.
“There’s a lot to roll your eyes at about the modern Everest experience,” said Svati Kirsten Narula in The Washington Post. But “for all the bad it brings out in people, Everest will always be an invigorating, awe-inspiring wonder.” An avalanche nearly killed me at Base Camp in 2015. Still, I would go back. To see Everest “with your own eyes is a gift,” and for all the criticism and claims of folly, “the desire to test your own limits by walking to the top of the world on your own two feet remains pretty darn pure.” ■