Archive for sherpas

Everest [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, I saw Everest with my daughter and was less than impressed. In fact, I had read the Karkauer book, Into Thin Air, quite a while ago (actually it had been recommended to me by George Casella, who thought this notion of climbing Everest on a commercial expedition was sheer madness!) and enjoyed it to the point I bought the French translation for my father. The book exposed the contradictions in the commercial approach to climbing Everest (and other mountains). From installing fixed ropes all the way to the top to guiding inexperienced or unfit clients to the top with a fair chance of not bringing them back. (It is not that I opposed guided mountaineering, hiring guides in most cases I am out of my comfort zone, i.e., above scrambling. But hiring a guide means that he or she is making decisions about where and when we can go and that I cannot argue when we have to turn back, as it happens about half the time. Obviously, I often feel we could try at least the next level of difficulty, however I consider I gave up that choice when hiring the guide. Which is most likely wise!) The book also covered how the accompanying guides dealt [or not] with the clients stranded above the highest camps. And the murky issue of the empty oxygen bottles that helped into the final disaster.

The movie did not enter into such details. Nothing revolutionary there, as feelings and hypotheses do not turn up well into a scenario, even though the script writer seemed too careful in depicting everyone in a rather positive light! In my opinion, the film did not do enough to connect the deadly outcome of this Everest climb with the commercial pressure of the success rate advertised by this company. Hence with the competition between companies and guides. It all sounded too much like the old superficial drivel that mountains are dangerous places, the possibility of death is part of the climbing ethos and glory, and so on. Missing the fact that the clients were not taking part in many aspects of climbing, from carrying gear, to reconnoitring, to setting camps, etc. That they were not equal to the task of climbing Everest. Thus ending up as an unconvincing melodrama, with everyone crying, a miraculous resuscitation, and an heroic helicopter rescue. And with surprisingly very little on the climbing itself, which sounded boring in the movie. And, last but not least, with no major role for the Sherpas. Who did partake to the rescue attempts in the real story. And of course laid all the ropes, set the tents and brought oxygen bottles almost to the top. Now that helicopters can theoretically reach all the way to the top and that there are talks of installing a permanent ladder on Hillary’s step, there is little doubt the pressure will grow and similar disasters happen again. Unsurprisingly, Krakauer did not like the movie very much, as he called it ‘a total bull’.

Himalayan fight

Posted in Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by xi'an

“Today,  Everest is too much of a business and there are too many heroes.” Simone Moro

I was reading in Le Monde yesterday about an ugly fight occurring between a team of alpine-style climbers Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, and Jonathan Griffith) and the team of sherpas installing fixed ropes on the normal route to Everest in preparation for the hundreds of clients waiting at Base Camp. The sherpas apparently did not accept the parallel  and faster climb of the three independent climbers to their tent at Camp 3, as well as resented these climbers having completed the fixed rope equipment in a gesture of good will (?). When the latter came down to Camp 2 they were faced by a mob of 100 angry sherpas ready to lynch them and had to be evacuated… Obviously, I have no further details than those I read in various interviews, from Ueli Steck‘s, to Simone Moro‘s, to the sherpas’. So I cannot judge of the responsibility of either side. However, facts are such that the team of three came closed to being stoned to death and that it had to leave Base Camp under a death threat.

This awful story reflects very badly on how much money has perverted mountaineering on Everest: while Steck and his team-mates were working on a genuine mountaineering feat by climbing a new route on a three person team, alpine-style, with no sherpa backup, the sherpas were working for half a dozen commercial companies and the millions of dollars behind (rates range from $50,000 to $100,000 per client!). Preventing climbers from climbing nearby (as long as they do not endanger anyone on the route) goes against the #1 mountaineering rule that mountains (and routes) do not belong to anyone, not even locals, and that faster teams should get priority. As shown in the book Into Thin Air, commercial expeditions have already demonstrated not caring about the #2 rule that one should bring assistance to anyone in danger: helping a perfect stranger down safely rather than bringing a $100,000 client to the top does not seem part of their equation. To be fair, Simone Moro also has commercial interests in the Himalayas through his helicopter rescue company, but I do not think this had anything to do with the current fight, besides being for the general “good—this is arguable, though, given that it gives a false sense of safety to people who should not be there…

Just a note on why I was shocked by this story: Ueli Steck is an amazing Swiss climber of Messner-ian class, who opened new routes in the Alps, Himalayas and Patagonia, often climbing them solo. (See Messner’s interview on Steck’s website, where he states that independent climbers are now perceived as parasites by sherpas.) One of his greatest feats so far is soloing the Heckmair route (the ultimate mountain climb in my opinion, see e.g. Joe Simpson’s missed attempt) on the Eiger Nordwand in 2 hours 47 minutes (it took Heckmair and his team three days in 1937).