Let’s face it, these days the majority of people climbing the mountain are doing so for the view from the top, more importantly to put an Instagram picture of them at the summit on their Facebook page. Perhaps 1% are serious climbers. We should also acknowledge that thanks to better equipment, better weather forecasting and guided climbing (people carrying you up there) it’s been done by so many average dudes now that it’s no longer the challenge it used to be. But it remains dangerous, so it’s a bit like Formula 1 in the old days but without the need to be a particularly good driver. When people as old as 80 and as young as 13 have reached the summit, you know something’s up.
Scaling Everest is much easier than it used to be. In 1990 just 18 per cent of summit attempts were successful, but in 2012 that figure was 56 per cent.
In fact, it’s so easy to get up Everest these days that the queues, first brought to my attention by Ralf Dujmovits now iconic yet perhaps ultimately counter-productive photo, are ridiculous.
The overcrowding has been dangerous, with a South Korean man suffering snow blindness, delirium and hypothermia as he waited four hours for more than 300 climbers to pass.
We are so far removed from Hillary & Norgay’s 1953 heroics that it’s obvious we have reached the point where we need to separate the wheat from the chaff before we get more of this happening:
Last month [April 2013] there was a new development: three Western climbers were involved in a bloody brawl at 21,000ft with an estimated 100 Sherpas. Ice picks were brandished, rocks thrown and the snow stained with blood. Swiss climber Ueli Steck – one of the world’s celebrated mountaineers – was hit in the face with a stone.
The fight broke out after an altercation higher up the mountain, when the three climbers crossed paths with a group of Sherpas laying ropes for wealthy clients, who will pay up to £50,000 for the trek. Angry queues and criss-crossed ropes are now a common sight. All the evidence suggests that Everest is at risk of becoming a towering symbol of human intrusion, rather than endurance. Hillary and Norgay famously declined to say who reached the summit first in order to share the credit. Now people are elbowing each other on their way to the top, often with scant regard for their own safety and that of others.
It is time to build a cable car. If Table Mountain can have one, so can Everest.
This is the only way forward in my opinion. The tourists can take the oxygen-rich cable cars to the top and use the observation platform to take telephoto pictures of the real climbers down below struggling to do it the hard way. Rich bastards can take the “Pullman style” cars and enjoy the added benefits of hot meals, Nepali dancing girls and retired Sherpa’s giving renditions of the Dambuster’s or The Great Escape theme music on sarangis and other traditional instruments. By the time you get down to the bottom your souvenir T-Shirt and mug printed with the picture of you at the summit will be waiting.
Construction may cost a bit but with tourists currently willing to pay anything between $10-60,000 per head to get up there I’m sure the payback will be acceptable.