Everest would appear to be in the news quite a lot right now.
If, however, you have the time and inclination for a more serious look in to the subject then please read on …
People don’t die on Everest from being too old or too young (although it’s only a matter of time). They don’t die because of a disability (although it could be a contributory factor). They certainly don’t die just because they previously hadn’t been on a different mountain that was 6,500m high (previous experience at altitude on one trip doesn’t mean that you will perform well on another … but psychologically it may well help as you have taken away an unknown).
What people die from on Everest are generally (low down) mistakes accidents and mishap and (high up) lack of oxygen, exhaustion or altitude related complications such as HACE / HAPE / AMS.
But the good old Ministry of Tourism are considering imposing an age limit for those wanting to become the youngest / oldest summiters.
I can see where they are coming from but in reality this will only affect one or two people a year.
They are also talking about experience … but they are placing experience in to the realm of having summited a peak of 6,500m. With all due respect to everyone who has summited, say, Mera Peak (just short of 6,500m but will probably be seen as the benchmark) you can walk / trek up Mera without any previous experience but does that suddenly qualify you for the next expedition to Everest? I, personally, would say no. What about the Uber Alpinist who has over 20 years of hard climbing and mountaineering under their belt who has just forged a new route on Denali? I’m afraid that it is ‘only’ 6,194m and therefore you DON’T QUALIFY. What?
Experience is hugely subjective and there should be due diligence from the client AND the guides / companies to determine who is suitably experienced. If you are a liability to yourself then you are a liability to everyone around you. And perversely the really inexperienced, if they ask around enough, will eventually manage to get on to Everest with a shoddy outfit where they won’t be looked after, their Climbing Sherpas will be as inexperienced as they are, they won’t have enough (or spare) oxygen and they will become a problem for not only that team but for everyone else on the mountain. The likes of David Sharp and Shriya Shah-Klorfine spring to mind. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place and they died trying.
(Dis)ability though? Pah! There are plenty of (dis)abled mountaineers out there who are far more proficient and experienced than some of the fools I have seen on the mountain. This is a totally subjective area and cannot / should not be regulated. I agree that there are certain conditions and ailments that people may have that mean that they are going to be a potential liability. But, with the right training, a critical eye for what is achievable given the disability, the right guidance, staffing and provision of expertise there is no reason why, say, a blind mountaineer shouldn’t be on the mountain (and indeed a few blind mountaineers have now summited along with one legged, no legged, no armed etc etc people have succeeded and are surely pioneers who have shown just what is possible to those that they represent).
But to say that these people, from now on, would be excluded doesn’t sit well with me. They are being discriminated against by people who don’t understand the nature of the event that they are policing. In Nepal a person who has lost a leg probably can’t work and will inevitably end up as a beggar on the street or a person in a village who needs to be looked after by the wider community. To that end people view disability differently in Nepal and they are likely to see what the person CAN’T do as opposed to what they CAN ACHIEVE. They see the wheelchair rather than the person in it. Evidently the officials at the Ministry of Tourism have never heard of, or never watched, the Para Olympics where sportmen and sportwomen are performing almost as hard, fast, long and high as able bodied athletes.
And, for that matter, how can someone who is a disabled person who is a competent mountaineer be discriminated against in favour of the totally inexperienced inept person who wants to tick off Everest? Even if they have summited a 6,500m peak?
As long as they are catered for in the correct manner and are not going to endanger themselves, their staff and other mountaineers around them then why shouldn’t partially sighted, hearing impaired, club footed, hair lipped, ginger haired mountaineers be on the big hill?
Obviously I am being slightly flippant in my list but where, exactly, do you draw the line?
The officials at the Ministry of Tourism do not actually understand mountaineering in the slightest.
For a flippant look at the issue read Mark Horrel’s update.
For another good write up have a look at Alan Arnette’s update.
Have a listen to my radio interview with BBC World Service.
Or to see why people actually fail on Everest have a look at my previous blog post on the subject.