Everest Isn’t a Climb. Discuss.
Mt. Everest, like anything "est"—highest, deadliest, costliest, etc.—is polarizing. And Everest season, which more or less officially ended yesterday with the retreat of speed climber Patricio Tisalema, tends to illicit a collective groan from elite climbers (examples from Rock & Ice's Jeff Jackson and Will Gadd in explore). They see the media fawning over an over-hyped, non-technical (not to mention polluted, congested) hunk of rock that's been sold to the highest bidder because it happens to be 778 feet higher than K2.
But that kind of sniping, right or wrong, can be a useful thing, particularly in pursuits where lives are so often on the line. We thought we'd draw your attention to a recent screed from climber Andy Kirkpatrick, if for no other reason than his conviction and over-the-top bombastic delivery. Kirkpatrick is elite. Climbing once described him as a climber with a “strange penchant for the long, the cold and the difficult,” with a reputation “for seeking out routes where the danger is real, and the return is questionable, pushing himself on some of the hardest walls and faces in the Alps and beyond, sometimes with partners and sometimes alone." He's also, if his essay is to be believed, one of the the media's first points of contact for comments on Everest. He begins:
Every time someone dies, my mobile rings.
Every time there’s another stunt, my email pings.
Every time someone finds a pair of Malloy’s old underpants, I’m asked what this means for world mountaineering.
My stock answer is to point out that I’m a climber, and that Everest isn’t a climb, but a walk. This usually gets the person at the other end a bit confused and flustered as they check their notes. “Yes,” I usually continue, “If you have to step over a dead body halfway up, then it’s classed as walk. On real climbs the bodies fall to the bottom.”
He goes on to say that all of the death on Everest is what gives it its "brand" cachet, and that the only real achievement of a summiteer (the paying, guided, O2-sucking kind, anyway) is how "undead" they are at the end of it:
“Oh, dying is great—it’s what it’s all about,” I tell them. “It makes it all so much better when you don’t.” I explain the fact that every single summiteer will stress how ‘undead’ they are on their return (as well as in their book/website/TV doc voiceover), weighing their achievement by the number of ‘proper dead’ there were. Sure, they’ll speak to the BBC via sat phone and say what a tragedy it is, but deep down they love it—it makes it real—gives it that edge, like sucking on the barrel of loaded gun. If you summit in a year when no ones dies, then you’re forced to go back to 1996 and tell how eight people died in one day just to prove how ‘undead’ and hardcore you are."