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Everest Diamond Jubilee Special: Agostino Da Polenza Editorial

Posted: May 29, 2013 02:47 am EDT

 (Tina Sjogren/Montagna.tv) Time to pause and reflect, says Agostino Da Polenza in this editorial courtesy of Montagna.tv. Right up there with Messner and Moro in Italian mountaineering,  among his other climbs in 1983 Polenza realized the first Italian K2 north side ascent, napping a few hours on the summit before descending.


Once one of the most famous climbers in Italy, following a knee injury  Agostino Da Polenza became the biggest Himalaya expedition organizer in the country outfitting dozens of expeditions either for scientific or exploratory purposes, such as the first ascent of GII North Face by Daniele Bernasconi and Karl Unterkircher in 2007.


Despite his experience Polenza never organized commercial expeditions. His day job for 20 years has been as President of the EvK2Cnr Committee, an organization that manages the Pyramid Laboratory in Nepal. The lab is involved in the most important international research projects on climate change at high altitude. 


60 years after its first ascent Mount Everest has been through a major transformation when it comes to the culture of its climbs. This year a large mob of Sherpa hired by commercial expeditions to fix the mountain attacked three independent climbers trying to forge a new route on the peak. One of the climbers was fellow Italian Simone Moro and here is Da Polenza's take on the events.


Da Polenza: Limit the number of expeditions


“I believe that the controversy risen on Everest and the following facts are enough to make us consider the Diamond Jubilee for what it really is: a risk, not an opportunity. Nowadays, Everest is tackled every year by hundreds of mountaineers and sherpas. It’s like trying to put 30 people in a boat for 10: it’s inevitable that furious arguments will arise. We should return to place a maximum quota for expeditions, otherwise unfortunate events like these will occur again."


"Because of their special ability to climb at high altitude Sherpas have always been invited to collaborate with international expeditions. Their technical skills began to build in the 50s and the troubles began 15 years ago.  The disturbing element were commercial expeditions: anyone wishing to climb Everest was allowed to do it, even without preparation, relying solely on organizations nursing them on the mountain. The situation has exploded. On the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee, base camp was populated by almost 1000 people. Only in a few days last week, almost 500 climbers and Sherpas summited Everest. That's not even a minimum of breathing space."


The $80,000 Everest and the $8,000 Everest


"Considering the situation on Everest, Albert Mummery's quote from 1880 about climbing 'by fair means' seems a sentence pronounced by an alien these days. Except for the landscape, little remains of the 'noble' art of climbing. Competition has always been there, and not always fair. But once upon a time you knew the competitors, the nature, and yourself."


"Now you don’t know anything anymore. Everything is anesthetized, oxygenated, herded, and supervised - even your innermost needs and feelings.  It's a fast hustle without rules and always cheating (only a few people climb Everest without oxygen every year), all ending up with a Martini in hand inside a fancy livingroom on Manhattan, the Piccadilly Circus, or Milano Brera."


"Yes, it is a sort of luxury tourism. If you have the money you can do Everest 'business class': private 4m × 4m quarters in base camp with a couple of 24h servants, electricity, WiFi, breakfast in tent, restaurant service, doctor and pharmacy, porters, sirdar, high altitude cooks, oxygen. There is an $80,000 Everest and an $8,000 Everest."


"I believe that limiting expeditions on the 8000ers is the only solution. As it was done some years ago. We need to return to precise rules. I think that Everest should have no more than a dozen of expeditions every season allowed. An international commission, made up by mountaineers, organizations, sherpas, experts, and local people could be set up by Nepal to work out guidelines for the future of Himalayan mountaineering."


"Everest isn’t easy. But out of respect for those who were and are climbers, we can no longer talk about mountaineering on its slopes. A pause is necessary, to reflect."




Painting of Agostino Da Polenza by Sara Sottocornola, Montagna.tv