Mount Everest taken during a flight from Nepal to Bhutan. SARAH LAI/AFP/Getty Images

There are eleven more bodies on Everest

People are dying in a waiting line at the top of the world and that’s about typical of how we treat the last of our sacred spaces, writes Don Rowe.

There are eleven more bodies on Everest – nine this month – and doesn’t that seem fitting?

“For many people [climbing Everest] is a dream and for us it’s a spiritual journey,” sherpa Norbu Norgay told Morning Report today. “But with money it’s a really bad mix.”

Norbu is the son of Tenzing, who Sanitarium caricatured as Edmund Hillary’s hapless and genial assistant, dragged to the summit by the Kiwi mountaineer way back in ’94. Now, 66 years to the day since its first ascent, Nepal’s sacred peak at the roof of the world is overcrowded with amateur climbers and that makes perfect bloody sense. Just look at the picture:

Like a Monday night at the self-service, they’re stacked back-to-back-to-back in their puffy jackets, jostling in crampons, huffing on bootleg oxygen canisters and quite literally starving for oxygen as they crawl over actual dead bodies in a manic shitfight to reach the top of the world. 

“Some people lose their sense of decency,” reports the New York Times.

The regulatory environment in Nepal is all but non-existent and the government refuses to stop issuing permits and so the mountain itself is open to the beautiful free market, which brings $20-30m a year and about 300 corpses to the region. Everest even has its own insurance scams.

There’s just one week in May where the weather means you might have a shot at the summit. The decision on who gets to go is made by storefront cowboy operators in Kathmandu. But the line is too long now and half the climbers shouldn’t be there anyway. When the oxygen runs out, sherpas are asked to hand over their own. Sherpas have been agitating for better treatment for 100 years straight. 

The deaths this month are “mainly due to the carelessness of climbers,” a sherpa told the Guardian. “The government should ensure that prospective climbers should have prior experience of climbing peaks before trying to conquer the mighty Mount Everest.”

In short, they don’t deserve to be there. But might makes right and nothing is more powerful in the third world than a fat stack of cash. In 2014 a 10,000 ton block of ice cleaved off the mountain and killed 13 guides partway through filming the documentary Sherpa for Universal. According to producer Bridget Ikin, the first thing the studio asked was when they’d be going back.

The world’s highest permanent resident lives on Everest, residing among the literal tons of human shit left by climbers every year. It’s a small black jumping spider whose name euophrys omnisuperstes means ‘standing above everything’. He’s the only one up there, and survives on stray springtails and flys, blown up to its heights on the Himalayan winds.

Near the end of Werner Herzog’s documentary on Antarctica he laments the mapping of the South Pole and the cultural end of adventure.  

“Exposing the last unknown spots of this earth was irreversible, but it feels sad that the South Pole or Mount Everest were not left in their dignity. It may be a futile wish to keep a few white spots on our map, but human adventure lost its meaning, became an issue for the Guinness Book of World Records.”

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Adventure, says Herzog, has become a series of absurd quests. Right now there’s a plastic bag at the bottom of the Marianna TrenchHumanity is one more catastrophe in a long line of them, Herzog continues – at true magnetic South there’s a sturgeon buried beneath the ice. What could be more appropriate than a fish placed in a tunnel at the bottom of the world, just to show we could?

Even still, I wish my brain was the sturgeon buried beneath the ice, waiting a thousand years for an alien archaeologist to lift it out and and examine it with cool alien archaeological hands. There’s no cellphone reception at the South Pole.

There are eleven more bodies on Everest – nine this month – and it kind of feels cathartic.


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