I would like to take this week’s column to remember and defend those lost in what is being called the deadliest day on Mount Everest to date. To bring readers up to speed, 13 Nepalese sherpas were killed in a devastating avalanche on Everest this past week with three still missing and several others seriously injured. The sherpas were preparing lines for the climbers to start their day when the snow slide swept them away.
The reason I am writing on this matter is not merely because it is a tragedy since that is evident to everyone informed on the incident, but because it is far too often that I hear criticism regarding extreme sporting and its frivolity. The act of summiting an unfathomable mountain is reduced by such critics to an excess amount of testosterone and no respect for the life that they are putting in a clear and present danger. The act is so much more.
Extreme sporting goes far beyond jocks with an ego complex and the need to prove themselves. Climbing a mountain is about living to the very fullest. It is about getting away from the most likely tedious lifestyle that person lives on the day to day basis and accomplishing something huge. Granted, the word accomplishment is different to each person. To some, accomplishment might involve finishing a long novel, baking the perfect cake, or getting to a new level in candy crush. It should be person-to-person to determine what accomplishment it is in their own life they deem worthy of pride, rather than criticizing others’.
The act of pushing oneself to the absolute utmost breaking point—to where getting enough breaths is all the climber can focus on—and coming out on top of the world is an experience that proves that obstacles can be overcome. That life can be lived beyond that desk job with thrill and danger and accomplishment.
When the role of climber is chastised for being selfish for risking their lives without an admirable purpose, I genuinely have to question the criticizer. Honestly, society as it is today is definitely not condoning the frivolity of life in other circumstances. I beg the condoner of climbing to think about all the other ways in which people purposefully make themselves just a little less prone to a long life: smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, eating lots of Cheetos, freeways, etc. Is that person against all of these day to day activities? In attempts to not overuse an argument, I will not list stats with regards to automobile accidents. However, they are hard to ignore when it comes to thinking about risking one’s life—even in the most minimal of ways.
People who climb in the interest of achieving a dream are not looking for danger in any way, they are simply trying to obtain a life-long goal. In the same way, people trying to get to the mall in their car are not looking for danger whatsoever when they send a quick text message and crash into an innocent driver—they are simply trying to get something done. It is NOT the danger a climber seeks, but the act of overcoming obstacles to get something done.
Equipt with highly trained guides, sherpas, and an abundance of knowledge regarding proper techniques and precautions, climbing safety is pretty well reinforced amongst climbers who intend on attempting such peaks. One might even say more so than the information imparted upon a fifteen and a half year old behind the wheel of a 10,000 pound machine with merely the guidance of a parent and a 20 question written test.
Although I am clearly biased on the subject—as I would like to one day attempt such a feat—I have read about most of the major disasters on peaks such as Everest, K2, McKinley and with them, their harsh critiques about what a shame it is that the thick-headed climbers had it coming.
In conclusion, I just beg those with such opinions to really honor the victims of mountain disasters as real people who lost their lives doing what they loved most—rather than to ignore the tragedy and jump to instant judgment by labeling their passion as senseless and foolish.