Everest 2008: false summits and adventure imperialism

Posted: Jun 04, 2008 06:02 pm EDT

This 2008 Everest season ExWeb's mailbox was abuzz with the usual readers' thank-you notes. That is, until the summits arrived. Why the sudden silence?

Everest Google alerts offered un-inspired news about Apa Sherpa and the oldest summiteers. Then, at the very end of the season, two articles were forwarded to MountEverest.net; both published on the same day, May 27th.

Olympic torch a PR nightmare - except on Everest

"False Summit: China, the Olympic Torch, and the Politics of Climbing Everest" read the headline of the first piece, published by Huffington Post.

In this article, Freddie Wilkinson described how the Olympic torch became a PR nightmare for China right from the start, but: "It's ironic then, that one of the very few locations the flame visited without incident also happens to be the most difficult to reach: the summit of Mount Everest," he wrote.

In fact, the flame's Everest ascent was a singular triumph for the Communist Party of China's propaganda machine, Wilkinson pointed out.

A few voices and nothing more

The journalist detailed the bans imposed on climbers on both sides of the peak, the censorship, the Chinese security guards, the snipers stationed at Camp 2.

"A few voices in the mountaineering community criticized the media censorship surrounding the Olympic torch's Everest climb and China's blatant meddling in Nepal," stated the article.

The journalist mentioned the Groupe de Haute Montagne who issued a statement calling on all mountaineers to condemn the ascent and even Messner who reportedly decried the ascent as an insult to the people of Tibet.

"What's truly remarkable, however, is the degree to which Everest climbers willingly submitted to these strong arm tactics," wrote the journalist and lined up the facts:

Few canceled climbs on moral grounds, no talk of boycotts or organized protest among climbers, one young climber given a two year ban on climbing in Nepal after his small flag pro-Tibet flag was handed to authorities in camp.

Abdication of moral responsibility

The article compared the situation on Everest this year with the murders at Nangpa La, summarizing: "the changing demographics of Himalayan climbing has something to do with this appalling sort of abdication of moral responsibility [...] today Mount Everest means big business, and few appear willing to put their livelihoods on the line for political conviction."

The Olympic principles stand in rank contrast to current cost of doing business on Mount Everest, ended the journalist, "where enough money, and a willingness to sacrifice a few ideals along the way, can buy you a place at the top."

Read the full article here

The charities

Remarkably enough, many of the mountaineers who turned a blind eye to the people killed in Tibet this spring (some quite possibly climbing by their side on Everest and Cho Oyu only last year) claimed to climb for humanitarian causes: calls for finacial donations abounded on expedition websites and their charities.

The second article forwarded to ExWeb on May 27, touched on this subject exactly, with the sub headline "when [...] charity trekking becomes adventure imperialism."

In this piece, published by UK Times online, Melanie Reid described Everest as "a vulgar circus - with wealthy egotists queuing like ants to conquer it," and launched straight into her tale of "a darker, hidden story to be told about mountain guides; one born of this burgeoning age of adventure imperialism."

Good causes or exploitation?

Offering examples from Kilimanjaro and the "obliging Tanzanian escorts, Africa's forgotten sherpas," Melanie wrote about the extraordinary growth in charity trekking: "the fashionable way for thousands of Europeans to raise money for good causes while having a jolly good time in an exotic place."

Up to 20 young guides and porters die on Kilimanjaro every year, Melanie reported, more than double the number of tourists on the peak. Forced to eat the tourists' leftover food, sleeping in shelters while tourists enjoy luxury A-frame huts, wearing secondhand throws, lacking gloves, hats or sunglasses - the porters earn $3 a day; guides up to $10 - if paid at all (some are left to rely only on tip).

"Set against the £2,500 the individual tourist must raise in sponsorship, both to cover their jaunt and aid charity, these sums speak for themselves," wrote the journalist.

"Let us not kid ourselves: there is nothing heroic left in any of this," ended Melanie. "Not in the checkout queue at the top of Everest; neither, especially, on some naive sponsored walk in Africa."

"Kilimanjaro [...] demands urgent debate about how, in the playing of these supposedly philanthropic games in the developing world, we behave like the worst kind of colonials from a past era."

Read the full article here

#Mountaineering #Polar #Mountaineering #Oceans #World #Opinion #feature

Body of the Tibetan nun, left in a snow path on Nangpa La. Courtesy of Pavle Kozjek (click to enlarge).

Melanie Reid: "Kilimanjaro [...] demands urgent debate about how, in the playing of these supposedly philanthropic games in the developing world, we behave like the worst kind of colonials from a past era." Image of climbing porters in Tanzania courtesy of kiliporters.org (click to enlarge).

Chinese officers in ABC with captured tibetan childen, looking at Nangpa La. Image courtesy of Pavle Kozjek (click to enlarge).
But no bigger than these guys. Alberto's vision reminded us that decisisons and actions for democracy and human rights are far more self-evident in the light of history than our own, present time. 2008 photo from Dharamsala refugee camp of Nangpa La survivors courtesy of Mark Gouli (standing in back) click to enlarge.

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