Sherpas, guides, fixed-ropes, bottled oxygen, helicopters – they are all a sign of human devolution. They replace skill, independence, integrity and earned experience with money and technology. Read an interview with mountaineer, polar adventurer and explorer Damien Gildea on what climbing the world’s highest peak means today.[©Type of content: Interview]
Photo: Traffic jam on Everest. Author: Ralph Dujmovits, in 2012.
How do you comment on the crowds climbing Everest every year (l.e.: over 700 summits reported this season)?
Nowadays, I try not to comment on the Everest crowds every year. The number of people is relatively similar now from year to year, the big increases in numbers happened years ago. Sometimes now there is more concentration of people on certain days in May because they have better weather forecasts that show the optimum times that everyone tries to fit into. The changes are more how those people are climbing – more bottled oxygen on higher flow, more Sherpas, less-experienced clients, particularly from China and India. More clients from these two nations are the real change on Everest recently, in terms of people or crowds.
What does a piece of paper – the summit certificate – say about an Everest climber on standard routes, these days?
A piece of paper, a summit certificate, is just a sad sign of the need for external validation, as if without it the experience, the process, was not enough, was not complete without the government telling you it’s complete. Do you need to win a trophy to enjoy or benefit from playing a sport? Everest now is just trophy-hunting, but then it always was in the past too. The difference now is that clients get others to win the trophy for them, but claim they earned it. It’s also conforming to a bureaucracy, which is traditionally something that climbers tried to escape. But in the bigger picture of climbing, Everest summit certificates are not important in any way. Just a minor symptom of devolution 🙂
What impact do you think this industry has on the environment?
The Everest industry has a relatively little impact on the environment, other than on the BC area and the campsites on the route. Everest is nothing. Our environment is much more seriously impacted by meat production, burning fossil fuels, over-fishing the oceans and wasting water and food in our daily lives.
There are climbers who claim to ascend Everest without Sherpa support on the commercial routes. How is this solo climbing possible there?
Solo climbing on Everest is only possible if you go off the normal routes and be totally alone. You cannot be solo using ropes fixed by others, following a track made by others. You can not be ‘solo’ with other people on the route. It gives you psychological aid to have others around, and it means they can rescue or help you, even if you did not want them to. It reduces the commitment, and so reduces the seriousness, value, and achievement that we have come to associate with the climbing solo.
“I see little good in this”
I have always been more concerned with how the industry on Everest affects other climbing in the Himalaya/Karakoram. People defending the Everest industry always say “Well if you don’t like it don’t go there” but we have seen Everest-style climbing and the ideas behind it (fixed ropes, mandatory Sherpa ‘guides’, helicopters etc) leak out onto other mountains – Manaslu, Makalu, even onto K2. So this affects how other people climb other mountains, even if they are not on Everest.
Sherpas, guides, fixed-ropes, bottled oxygen, helicopters are all a sign of human devolution – replacing skill, independence, integrity and earned experience with money* and technology. Claiming the trophies without earning them. Fostering mediocrity over ability. I see little good in this.
*People pay between $30,000 to $120,000 to be on the mountain’s standard routes (National Geographic).
Note: The interview took place over e-mail (Damien lives in Australia).
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About Damien Gildea:
Damien Gildea is a mountaineer, polar adventurer and explorer who has led expeditions to the high mountains of Antarctica. In 2010, he published “Mountaineering in Antarctica: Climbing in the Frozen South”, with the peaks and mountains of the most remote and wild regions of Antarctica.
Previously, Damien had published the Antarctic Mountaineering Chronology (1998), followed by topographical maps of Livingston Island (2004) and Vinson Massif (2006).
Damien Gildea has also guided a ski expedition to the South Pole and made various journeys to the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Andes (Explorersweb).