Who says romance is dead? I spent St Valentine’s evening watching the 2015 film Everest. Hardly a chick flick, but it was enthralling. (Incidentally, the image above was taken from the Wikipedia page for Rob Hall’s company, Adventure Consultants – he was one of the main characters in the film – I chose it then saw the connection!). It sparked an interesting discussion at home along the following lines.
Is it right for man to climb these massive mountains, at so much risk to themselves and others? Is it right that they leave behind loved wives, husbands, parents, children, other family and friends, in pursuit of their dreams? Is it right that they should leave so much litter – ropes, empty oxygen canisters etc – not to mention the bodies of those who perished. Is it right that humans erode the trails up to the summits of the majestic peaks, that we create traffic jams of climbers because there are so many people vying for limited resources on the way up and down? Perhaps worst of all, is it right that people are allowed to climb some of the higher peaks with little or no climbing experience, but with a healthy bank balance to indulge their dream?
I’ve done a bit of hill walking and summitted a few hills and mountains, none of which required so much as a rope, let alone crampons, ice axe, oxygen masks or the skills to use them. All were in essence little more than a steep walk, albeit Kilimanjaro was nearly 6000 metres high and took more than a week. I enjoy my days on the hills, but am not a risk taker and would much rather walk off the mountain in one piece to try another day (as I did on my first Kilimanjaro attempt) rather than do something which could endanger my life. My main driver for doing those summits was because I wanted to be as high as possible with my feet still on the ground. But did I contribute to the erosion and other damage to mountain ecosystems? I always take my litter home with me, but even just by walking the same path as others, have I made the situation worse? John Muir once said:
Take nothing but photographs
Leave nothing but footprints
Kill nothing but time
I think that for some mountains the middle one also causes problems. Im not sure what the answer is, because some people just want to climb to these inhospitable places “because they’re there”. But at what cost? Above 8000 metres our bodies literally start to die, and the only way to survive is to descend.
The recent tragedies like the avalanche at Everest Base Camp last year, even the deaths in 1996 which inspired the film I saw last night, could be seen as a sign that Mother Nature is flexing her muscles, showing us that she’s not happy at being defiled so much. Maybe we need to start paying her more attention, and stop dreaming of going places where humans are not welcome.