Saturday, May 9, 2015

Everest Industry

I normally refrain from writing about Everest simply because Everest has already been written about at least a million times by literally every Tom, Dick and Harry and their equivalent women brigade. I wrote one post last year after the incident where 16 Sherpas died (including few of my close friends); and again this year nature has struck leaving many dead, injured and dejected, disoriented and disproportionately satiated. As speculations are flying at the speed of light in volumes defying rational readability, I felt an unbiased to the point practical look is again necessary; not only to dismal fears and ignorance but also to put forth objectively what many fail to understand in totality. I know this prelude sounds confusing, but then it is just play of words. Here follows the hard facts and figures along with hard line thoughts without apologies to none.

I took this picture of Everest BC few days before it was all demolished

Let’s face it, whether you like it or not, Everest over the years has become an industry. It is an industry or an assembly line if you may call it, which provides the world’s largest tourist revenue to one of the poorest nations in the world. No matter how many times you shut it, it will rebound since it cannot be shut down, neither by nature, nor by human, not even by God I suppose. Nepal’s dependence upon Everest cannot be overemphasized. The figures speak for themselves. Over a million people directly or indirectly feed from Everest industry. Even if we only look at the number of Everest and surrounding peaks climbing permits issued in one year, it comes to mind-boggling revenue of around 4.5 million USD. More than double this amount is pumped into the Nepal economy for other things like food, transportation, lodging, Sherpa fee, oxygen, guides, etc. Add to this the humungous volume of trekkers to Everest base camp and surrounding valleys all through the year. They bring in at least couple of millions more in revenues to the country.

Do the maths and you will realize that there’s no going back. Nepal’s dependence upon Everest is absolute and final. This is one industry in the world that will never face a permanent lock out. We will keep floundering in this industry till doomsday. A score of dead people here and there is nothing compared to what one gains. Loss of life is nothing to be worried about, since death is an inevitable part of life. I don’t know how if one dies in bed  at home surrounded by families is a death worth dying while if you die up in a mountain inside a crevasse or suffocating under an avalanche it draws horror and disbelief, though it makes you a posthumous hero for certain. Death is death; either you die in the thin air or in the thick polluted air of a city.

I am always amazed that more people are not dying on Everest. Once upon a time we had reached a respectable figure of 1 out of 10 people dying. It was something to brag about, something to debate about, but then it fell so low that Everest suddenly didn’t seem that risky anymore. Every Tom, Dick and Harry and their women counterparts, whoever could sum up the figure of 50,000 USD felt had a right to climb Everest. Become the youngest (of something) or the oldest, or the boldest or the coldest, to fly off from the top or to fly to the top, to slide or to glide, to advocate or to vilify, to marry or carry, to design or damage, to be or not to be, the reasons or motivations galore would leave all of us confused. Everybody was summiting and you were a damn fool if you didn’t or couldn’t, subject of endless ridicule. The tangible damage to nature and pristine mountains were not really something to bother about. After all the world was going to end soon enough so what’s a little hill of garbage or human waste to stand between human ego and top of the world.

Obviously it was time for some shake down and notoriety that Everest rightfully deserved. Avalanches and earthquakes are not unusual phenomenon. They are natural phenomenon, they are supposed to happen, they should happen. What is unusual is to see a non-climber hanging on to his Sherpa and oxygen and making his way up through Khumbu Icefall. Bloody hell, Everest is the world’s tallest peak, it should kill people, and it should make it so tough for the people climbing it that only the very boldest and insane people with adequate experience and skills should vie for her lofty summit. No one less ordained or qualified deserves a place on the conical top. Or that’s how nature should feel.

2014, an avalanche triggers off and kills 16 hardy Sherpas for being where they were. The world wakes up like crazy, citing bad choice of route, crowding, Sherpa insurance and compensation (forgetting that death cannot be compensated, since the only compensation is to return life but that is an impossibility), insensitivity of the clients, greed of the agencies, lackadaisical attitude of Nepal government, etc, etc. It was all pure nonsense of course since death is death and no one can avoid it or postpone it. When millions of malnourished children in Africa die from hunger, when millions of kids are forced into labour, when women are raped and abducted, when we burn each other alive in name of religion, the world at large continues to sleep, now that is what is more bothering. Not the death of handful of men for whom it all boils down to occupational hazard working in the Everest industry.

Looking into the ice fall from Base Camp, Nuptse in background
Statistically Everest is not even among the most dangerous industries in the world and in terms of hazardous occupations it is almost a toddler. Far more people are killed in the armed forces, para-military forces, police forces, fire fighter forces, medical emergency responders, reporters and journalists, health workers, etc. These people die regularly from sheer brutality, failure of systems and governments, lack of infrastructures, ignorance and indifference. No one gives a shit, no one cares. Only the directly affected people care since they lost something real. For the rest of us, oh what else can you expect man, you are into a dangerous occupation. The problem with Everest leading to this global outcry is that climbing Everest is not perceived hazardous enough. It is dangerous but statistically it isn’t. Call it sheer luck or nature’s benevolence that Everest has been merciful for all her life and even today allows this human invasion into her sacred grounds.

2015, earth rumbled, few tumbled, and the world grumbled. What an asinine joke! Less than 30 dead, around 70 injured, several hundred lost souls floundering through the debris. Helicopters plucking people off the mountain, others running down, few fools stayed back with the hope that the summit was still not too far. A real circus if I have seen one. People lost lives but more importantly lost their money. Those who died became martyrs and greatest climbers on earth (as we say, no one speaks ill of the dead), those who survived or lived became world’s leading authorities on mountains and Everest, people back home became messiahs of peace and compassion. Suddenly everyone prayed for global unity and an end to poverty and voiced their concern for rehabilitating mother earth. I wonder how come the world unites only during a calamity. Why don’t we reach out in times of peace and normalcy when it would be must easier to repair and rehabilitate and facilitate. When good times prevail everyone with money and means are busy having a good time so the whole world looks good through coloured glasses of selfish materialistic well-being. Suddenly shake their world, throw in one of their friends or family members in a remote out of sight vulnerable spot and look how things transform.

It’s a selfish world we live and we all are selfish. No one climbs Everest or does anything in life that doesn’t have some amount of self-profiteering embedded within. Some of us cloak it well while some shout from the top of the roof, ‘look at me, I am the one who will change the world.’ It’s so puerile, go and first change yourself. I don’t claim any glory or immunity from human fallibility. I am perhaps the most selfish human being on this planet since I insist that I live selfishly, everything that I do is only and solely for my own self. And I also climb Everest, again and again and again.

Everest will never shut down since it cannot be shut down. People will keep climbing Everest till it is there or as long as our species remain; and hence some of us will keep dying up there. Everest doesn’t claim victims; it is simply doing what nature decrees. It is what it is, we die because we venture into its icy environs, just like people die in the roads because we choose to drive or walk on roads, just because we choose to create new lives so they will die one day. Let us not blame Everest or nature and natural phenomenon for human loss of life or destruction to our properties. The earth will rumble, things will fall, earth will open up, and resources will dry up. One day, perhaps not too far distant, we all would cease to be. Nature would persist I suppose since it must. New species with new ambitions and aspirations will emerge may be who will stay away from Everest for reasons best known to them.

We will not stop dying if we stop climbing Everest, neither will you stop dying if you stay in rich developed countries with excellent infrastructures. Poverty is not a virtue so poor people deserve misfortune as much as the rich ones; neither is poverty a crime so they don’t deserve misfortune more or less than their rich counterparts. Natural disasters can strike anyone, any nation, anywhere, any time. So this time it is Nepal, before it was Haiti, next time it could be one of the wealthy developed nations.

Everest industry will keep churning its assembly line, putting crowning caps on heads like jam bottles, and yes occasionally people will die but then people die occasionally and more frequently everywhere. But worth of a human life is certainly showcased most appropriately upon Everest; it is directly and indiscreetly proportionate to your paying capacity. If you can pay more, your life is more valuable. And who am I to judge if such evaluation of human life is ethical or not, in a similar situation I am sure I too would call up my wealthy friends and ask them to loosen their purse for a greater cause, since I am the most worthy human on our planet and my life is most precious.

So while you should do whatever you can to help your fellow human beings (while we continue to destroy our planet) in Nepal or elsewhere (don’t forget the malnourished African kids, or homeless elderly widows of India, or the victims of religious genocide) please keep climbing Everest. That is the best and the only way we can and must support this industry.

Only thing I request is come with an open mind that anything can happen and with better preparation and with more respect for nature and your fellow support members. We the guides and Sherpas are human too, we will do our best to save you, pull and push you to the summit, get you back down and send you off with a smile (no matter how stupid or vain or unskilled you may be) but we too have families back home and we love them dearly too; just like you love your dear ones. And to them we are valuable. 

1 comment:

  1. Now i quite like this take on climbing on everest though i sincerely wish only hardcore climbers would climb her and not the one's with simple whims and fancies. But, then who are we to decide who's a true climber! Everest will decide herself for sure. And in the end, till you and your sherpa friends are safe, thats what matter. I guess i am selfish too! ;-)