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The Absurdity of Everest

Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No…and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction…fulfilled a destiny. To struggle and to understand — never this last without the other; such is the law.

Dsc_00160510 My friends and I often laugh at some of the stunts and "firsts" people try to pull off on Everest – and elsewhere around the world – these days. It seems that the days where climbing mountains for personal joy, challenge, and growth are somewhat behind us and we have transitioned into a world where each climb must be a media spectacle incorporating some sort of first.

The first fondue party on Everest, 2002.
This was evidenced most poignantly last spring by the efforts of "The Iceman" Wim Hof who attempted to climb Everest wearing only sandals and shorts. An impressive attempt was made, but to me begged the question: What is the point? Was it to prove something to the world? To gain notoriety? To impress a girl?

We may never know, but we do know that the era of firsts on Everest and beyond are just beginning. More will come with each year. I do not fault people for figuring out clever ways to get to Mount Everest, but do question the ethic of "creating" a first just to include that in one’s CV.

Climbing has traditionally been about process, about growth and challenge, about personal, inward exploration in an environment which never ceases to humble, to point out our weaknesses and faults, strengths and successes.

When this ethic transitions – as it has recently – into one of pushing to gain the spotlight, climbing solely to make a buck, complete a "first", or be the star of the most recent reality TV series, the discipline of climbing is cheapened.

And, more importantly, poor decisions are made and lives and limbs are lost.

George Mallory put it eloquently back in 1911:

Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No…and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction…fulfilled a destiny. To struggle and to understand — never this last without the other; such is the law.

If you want to read a good article on Everest follies – and get a good laugh – be sure to check out Ben Vernon’s article Climb Every Mountain in today’s Townsville Bulletin from Townsville, Australia.

Jake Norton
is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational
speaker from Colorado.

  1. phil summers
    phil summersAugust 13,07

    Hello Jake,

    They’re a funny mob in Queensland you know. Townsville is in the middle of that too!.
    Here we call it “going troppo”- as in affected by the tropical heat……

    About the only Everest ‘first’ I’d qualify to try for is the first chap to climb Everest dressed in a Doctor Who costume (green velvet jacket, bow tie, dark trousers and a white frilly shirt….. Oo-er! ala’ Jon Pertwee 1970-74).
    What a nice look, come to think of it, I dress much like that anyway several times a week!.
    The ladies swoon and the fellers jealously abuse, but
    I have the last laugh!.

    If you see a funny chap up there in that garb, its probably me and in need of help!.

    Phil

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