Everest: 60 years Later – Do We Still Need to Conquer the Mountain?


(Photo: Esha Chhabra) 

Once you see the Himalayas, you’re hooked.

The sheer immensity of nature is awe-inspiring, to say the least.  It also puts a lot in perspective, including my miniature 5’8” (1.5 m) frame against the backdrop of peaks at 7,000 meters plus.  Here, however, nature will always win.  The odds are well against us.

At the base of these beauties, the nature is foreboding, majestic, and spiritual.  Perhaps, it’s also where they’re located, wedged between Bhutan, India, Nepal, China, and Pakistan, that makes them so exotic and intangible.

But 60 years ago, Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, decided to challenge nature.  With a local climber, Tenzing Norgay, and a team of more than 360 porters, 20 sherpa guides, a dozen climbers, and 18 tons of food and equipment, he was able to climb the tallest of the Himalayas.

And they succeeded: Norgay has been photographed at the summit of Everest holding the flags of the UN, the UK, Nepal and India.  They climbed 8,848 meters together – a feat of humankind and of friendship.

A sign of power, heroism, and aspiration, some have dismissed the efforts of mountaineers to reach the summit of Mt. Everest as simply selfish. And the 60th anniversary has sparked a debate about our relationship with nature – should we let it be or should we continue to fight it? But, as humans we want to dominate, we want to challenge ourselves, and we continue to leave our mark in the most remote places.

Images have surfaced in National Geographic of a line of mountaineers crowding the route up, leaving behind waste, tools, and trash.  The Indian and Nepali army reportedly removed more than 4 tons of rubbish from the mountain – just this season. Other local mindful mountaineers have begun the Eco Everest Expedition, which cleans up trash from base camp to the summit.  They’ve gathered 13 tons of garbage.  That includes frozen human waste.  As we’ve learned, nothing really decays up there.  They’ve also discovered frozen corpses of unsuccessful missions.

It has become such a popular quest that the Nepali government will have to reassess their system.  Should they grant everyone access – everyone who can pay the $10,000 permit to try the ascent?  Should they distinguish between those truly skilled and physically fit to those simply trying to defy the odds? And have the local Nepali people truly benefitted from this tourism?  There are no simple answers -especially when you’re working with government officials.

It gets better.  Now, there is talk of putting a ladder at the final steps of the ascent.  Referred to as the Hillary Step (after Edmund Hillary), it’s a sheer vertical killer of 40 ft. of rock at 29,000 ft.  It’s a bit inconvenient.  So why not add a ladder to the mountain?

Yes, the anniversary of man’s first successful ascent up Mt. Everest should be celebrated.  It was a climatic moment – literally.  But it was also the beginning of a wave of tourism that is questionable.  We share an odd relation with nature – we admire it, yet we also harm it.  So, why not use this anniversary as a turning point?

Why not admire its beauty from afar, from the base.  Why not live in harmony.  Why not simply have respect, and not the greed to dominate.

Edmund Hillary passed away in 2008.  The mountain still remains.  That will be the story for all of us.

Given the other reports of shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas, the result of climate change and greater pollution, why not we celebrate the beauty of the mountain by letting it breathe freely.

After all, we can’t breathe up there for very long.  So, let it breathe – free of our waste and our invasion.

This originally ran in the Ventura County Star. 


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