Shame on Faux Everest Climbers

It’s been only a year since fake “climbers” sent 16 Sherpas to their deaths on Mount Everest. Now it has happened again.

An expedition in the primitive Himalayan range to climb the highest mountain in the world was once an amazing feat of climbing skill, physical endurance and mental toughness.

Great climbers such as George (“because it’s there”) Mallory and others famously perished in their attempts in the early 20th century. Finally, a New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, reached the top in 1953, and was promptly knighted by the queen of England.

Hillary summited with one of the indigenous people of the local Sherpa tribe, Tenzing Norgay. Hillary spent the rest of his life raising millions to build “Hillary schools” in the remote Sherpa villages. Norgay, too, was a terrific, if untrained, climber, a great man and an advocate for his people.

The respect between these two friends of dramatically different backgrounds was evident when the world asked which of them stepped on the summit first. (They were roped closely together, so the fact is not significant to a climber.) The man who was second reported that the other was first, while the man who was first refused to answer the question — for the rest of his life.

It’s all gone downhill from there.

Now, Westerner successors to Hillary hire the Sherpa successors to Norgay as pack animals. Sherpas are paid a few dollars a day to haul backbreaking loads 40 miles up to the base of Everest where a “base spa” is established each April. (“Base camp” doesn’t do it justice). In this 1,000-person base spa, Westerners enjoy gourmet food, WiFi, laptops, movie theaters, professional chefs, beer, wine and helicopter service, all while relaxing in private tents with wood floors and furniture including tables, chairs, sofas and loveseats — all of which arrived on the backs of Sherpas.

Western tourists pay commercial guiding outfits upward of $100,000 for this pampering.

This sounds tacky, but not immoral, right?

Here’s what is immoral: The Sherpas die. They carry the Westerners’ stuff not just to the base spa, but all the way up the mountain so that the Westerners themselves can carry just a small pack on their “climb.” The Sherpas also fix virtually the entire route with miles of rope for the Westerners.

Loaded with backbreaking loads as they climb repeatedly through the notorious ice fall and further up the mountain, the Sherpas succumb to altitude sickness, are crushed by avalanches or slip and tumble thousands of feet and their bodies are recovered in pieces. Sherpa deaths far outnumber other deaths on Everest.

Last year, the inevitable happened: An entire group of loaded Sherpas were crushed by an avalanche. Sixteen died. Two bodies were never recovered and won’t be seen again until the glacier disgorges mutilated mummies centuries from now. Forty-one Sherpa children were left fatherless.

I decried this slaughter of indigenous people in a column last year. westerners-western.

This time, the avalanche swept through the base spa. Sherpas died and so did Westerners. All of them have my prayers, and the families of all of them have my sympathies. But the Westerners were there for expensive amusement. Only the Sherpas were there as pack animals.

I’ve heard the justifications for the yearly slaughter. It is said that the Sherpas are not enslaved — they could choose not to be hired for such dangerous work. But since when do we allow indigenous people to sell their lives to us on the grounds that it’s voluntary?

We don’t allow them to sell their organs to save a Western life. So why do we allow them to sell their lives to save a Western ego?

It is said that the climbing scene on Everest helps the Sherpa economy. But would we conduct gladiator fights to the death among indigenous people on the grounds that it helps their economy?

Besides, there are other ways to help their economy. Trekking in the spectacular Everest region is common. Sherpas typically carry the trekkers’ loads, and do so safely. Such trekking could be made more remunerative for the Sherpas.

In any event, let’s be honest. The faux climbers on Everest are not trying to help the Sherpas. They’re trying impress their moms back home by bagging a brand-name peak. (Real climbers are not impressed, believe me.)

Well, I have news for these pretenders. Even your moms are not impressed. Even your moms know that faux “Everest climbs” have nothing to do with real climbing. Even your moms know that a commercial “Everest climb” is to real climbing as moonwalking is to walking on the moon.

In fact, even your moms are a little embarrassed for you and your incessant need to manufacture attention for yourself. So shame on you.

(Published May 24, 2015 in the Aspen Times at

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