Overdue Thursday Thought: Simone Moro and the Ethics of Everest

As many of you know, Everest, and the ethical issues surrounding it, have long been a part of my dialogue here on The MountainWorld Blog and elsewhere. I often speak to groups about Everest ethics, and it is a point of discussion in many a conversation. 

And, as 2010 the Everest season ramps up, we find the usual discussion whirling and swirling about: 

  • Should commercial expeditions be allowed to operate on Everest?
  • How should rescues and emergencies be handled on the mountain? 
  • Is it ethical to bring amateur clients to the Top of the World?
  • Is oxygen use unethical on Everest, or anywhere?

There is never an easy answer to ethical debates. Much of it comes down to personal style, preference, ability, and situation. And, as a result, ethical debates have a way of simmering for years, and boiling over when the right agitation comes along. (Just look at the sorry, squabbly state of our political system!)

With the high level of debate and sometimes mud-slinging that goes with Everest each year, it was refreshing to me to hear recently on ExplorersWeb from the renowned alpinist and climber, Simone Moro

Moro is a climbing veteran, and one of the most respected and successful alpinists in the world today. His climbs are legendary:
  • First winter ascent of Makalu in 2009, alpine style without oxygen
  • First ascent of 6950 meter Beka Brakai Chhok (Karakoram) in 2008
  • First solo traverse of Everest, climbing the Southeast Ridge and descending the Northeast Ridge, in 2006
  • First non-Polish winter ascent of an 8,000 meter peak, climbing Shishapangma in January, 2005
  • Rescue of Tom Moores on Lhotse in 2001, earning him the Fair Play Pierre de Coubertin trophy from UNESCO, the Civilian Gold Medal from Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and the David Sowles Memorial Award from the American Alpine Club

And the list goes on.

Moro, one would think, might then follow the oft-repeated mantra that commercial expedition climbing, and expedition climbing in general, is simply "not right", that it is a bastardization of the sport, as is the use of supplemental oxygen on the high peaks. These are arguments that have been posed and debated time and time and time again. 

Is there some truth to these statements? Certainly. As I've discussed here before, climbing on Everest and other high peaks of the world needs some rethinking. There are bad decisions being made every year, and people being taken up high beyond their limits and beyond their skill levels.

But, that said, everyone has their own reality in climbing. Not everyone can be a Steve House, a Vince Anderson, or a Simone Moro. And, even Steve, Vince, and Simone had to start somewhere. By demonizing a segment of our industry which gets people into, and enthralled by, the mountains, don't we in the end limit and diminish the very sport we love? 

So, back to the point, and to my Thursday Thought: Simone Moro is hoping to climb Everest this year without oxygen. A veteran of heroic, light ascents on remote peaks, he'll be walking uphill this spring with 500 others, all climbing in different styles with different prerogatives and ideas. But, Simone, in his interview with ExplorersWeb, seems OK with this, saying:

[This spring] [ will be an immersion in “high altitude tourism,” but the world and the mountains are – or should be – accessible and free for everybody to live their dreams. The only thing I hope for is that everyone there is honest in declaring and understanding what a summit climb is and what it is not; the difference between a new route vs the classical; and what is oxygen use and what is not. 

Those things should be obvious, but Everest history is full of mistakes, lies, lack of sense, reality and team spirit.

Anyway, I respect everybody and hope to follow my style of alpinism and realize something unusual, different or new, even in that crowded Base Camp. We'll see if I will be able to do it or not… 

What are your thoughts on climbing ethics? I'd love to hear more!

And, for extra credit, here's a cool video of Simone reaching the summit of Makalu:

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

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