Guiding Everest is not morally defensible


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Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - May 16, 2012 - 12:05pm PT
The Corpses thread got me thinking about the issue of guiding on Everest and other 8000 meter peaks. I feel that the motives of most clients on Everest are similar to those of a big game trophy hunter. Ah...the glory of being the second guy at the water cooler in some Manhatten office building to have summited the highest point on Earth. Not exactly the motives of dedicated alpinists who spend years perfecting their skills in order to explore the challenges of alpine faces far from public scrutiny.
Many of these clients are unqualified or barely qualified to be in such a rareified and dangerous environment. Dick Base once said to me..."hell, I never said I was a climber, I can't even tie a knot." Guides have little reason to do serious vetting of the few with the time and money for such a trip. Money in the bank for the guides, nothing else to say.
Alex Lowe once told me, after he had successfully guided Everest twice, that he decided to stop guiding the mountain because he felt that the saftey margin was insufficient with such unqualified clients. This conversation happened a year before the Scott Fisher et al tragedy.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 16, 2012 - 12:08pm PT
Since when do people let morals stand in the way of making a living?

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - May 16, 2012 - 12:09pm PT
Good question...then there was Alex Lowe.

Given that, why be concerned about the body count?

Trad climber
Alta Loma, CA
May 16, 2012 - 12:11pm PT
If you have lots of money and time it seems you can buy your way up most peaks or routes these days. Hence the reason I am not really impressed with things like climbing the 7 summits. If I was rich and had nothing else to do I just might go climb Everest as well.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - May 16, 2012 - 12:12pm PT
Doing the Seven Summits shouldn't be regarded as climbing.

May 16, 2012 - 12:12pm PT
Only when one dove tails all their actions with Chomolungma (Mt Everest) only then has one actually reached her summit.

Only a real bonafide guide and student is able to do this .........

The Granite State.
May 16, 2012 - 12:14pm PT
I'm with you.

IMO, there ought to be a major rethinking of the whole business when it comes to 8000m peaks.

Sent from my couch.

Mountain climber
South Lake Tahoe, CA
May 16, 2012 - 12:16pm PT
The most annoying thing about Everest is that every non-climber who finds out you are a climber wants to know if you're ever going to climb it. I get a lot of blank stares when I tell them I have no interest in getting short-roped up a trash heap.

I usually tell them that there are many better objectives to be had and that the tallest doesn't equate to the best. Usually more blank stares.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
May 16, 2012 - 12:16pm PT
what's the bid for an ascent of Olympus Mons?

Olympus Mons is a big volcano. It is almost unimaginably huge. It is 550 kilometers (342 miles) across at its base, and the volcanic crater (the technical term is Ďcalderaí) at the peak is 80 kilometers (53 miles) long. If you were standing at the edge of the caldera, the volcano is so broad and the slopes are so gradual that the base of the volcano would be beyond the horizon. Thatís right, it is a volcano so big that it curves with the surface of the planet.

And it is tall. 27 kilometers tall. Thatís 16.7 miles from base to summit. 88,600 feet. Thatís about three times as tall as Mt. Everest. Even Mauna Kea, Earthís own giant shield volcano doesnít come close. Measured from the sea floor to its summit, Mauna Kea is 33,476 feet (10.2 km) tall: taller than Everest, but only about 40% the height of Olympus Mons.

Ok, so throwing those numbers around is fun if you like stats, but it still doesnít convey quite how tall Olympus Mons is. So hereís an eye opener. Olympus Mons is so tall that it essentially sticks up out of Marsís atmosphere. The atmosphere on Mars is thin to begin with, but at the summit of Olympus Mons, it is only 8% of the normal martian atmospheric pressure. That is equivalent to 0.047% of Earthís pressure at sea level. Itís not quite sticking up into space, but itís pretty darn close. In fact, it was first confirmed to be a huge mountain when Mariner 9 saw it towering above the top of a global dust storm like an island in a rust-colored sea.

Trad climber
Alta Loma, CA
May 16, 2012 - 12:18pm PT
Some of those dipshits on the Everest series from discovery channel couldn't even put their own crampons on. But heck they had 75 grand to give Russel so up they went.

Technically expert, safe belayer, can lead if easy
May 16, 2012 - 12:24pm PT
"Guiding Everest is not morally defensible"

Most true climbers would agree, but it ain't gonna stop.

Social climber
boulder co
May 16, 2012 - 12:29pm PT
I totally agree with Jim, Having guided in Rocky Mountain National Park for the last 8 summers and realizing the extra risks that guides take just to get clients up moderate alpine climbs I don't think that there is any way guides can sufficiently reduce the risk in an environment like everest. Short roping is one of the most dangerous things guides do because you are connected to the client and often not connected to the mtn. Additionally I don't think the summit counts unless you share in the lead. I know that sounds hypocritical coming from a guide but I think most real climbers (leaders and trad in my opinion)would agree that if you didn't share the lead than you definitely missed some critical part of the climbing experience. Many of the clients I have worked with are similar to Jim's antecdote about some banker standing around the water cooler bragging about what they climbed when without the guide or a qualified leader they would never have climbed the route. There was a recent article in rock and ice (i think) that talked about how everest is irrelevant to climbers because it has been dumbed down so much that all is needed is an ability to use an ascender and climber a ladder or fixed line. If some badass took me up the sea of dreams I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror and claim I climbed it unless I lead my share of the pitches. And I think we can all agree that if someone turned that route into a bolt ladder it would still take you to an amazing place with great views but other than that it would be meaningless. Just my 2 cents

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
May 16, 2012 - 12:30pm PT
I hear Jim on this and to some extent I totally agree. But there are a bunch of gray-area factors here which make this no easy issue to understand and evaluate. I don't have time to dig into this now but the business of short-roping people up long stretches above 25,000 feet is largely overstated. And if someone actually does this, and later flies apart with pulmonary problems, you have to consider that the professional should have known better, not the client. What's more, many of those peaks are not so much "climbing" in the normal sense of he word (technical), but are basically the most brutal kind of slogs. And in many cases, world class hikers are in fact more suited for this work than an ace ice climber and alpinist, talents that never remotely come into play on the big ass slogs. For instance, my friend Sandy Hill can rock climb okay but it's not her thing. But she's a genetic freak cardio wise, with a VO uptake capacity in the upper 5% and she can hike like few I have ever seen before - she literally just flies up trails. Most of the Seven Summits she did alpine style with just one other person because she can hike so fast and altitude rarely bothers her. That kind of person is always going to fare up better on a big mountain slog than I (technical climber) will. So if I ever got up on those big peaks and shagged out, I could just as easily be accused of being unfit for being up there because my cardio is only average and I've never been a crazy-fast hiker - which are really the go-to aspects you want up there on the big ass slogs.



Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
May 16, 2012 - 01:07pm PT
Everest? Hell, the problem is abundantly clear even on Mt. Hood. Just about anyone can get up and down it on a decent day, but if anything at all goes sideways then most of those same folks aren't going to have a clue as to how to respond.


Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 16, 2012 - 01:17pm PT
I think the problem is viewing 'climbing Everest' as the same type of 'climbing' that most of us on this forum do. If there was a fixed rope all the way up El Capitan and all you had to do was just 'jumar' up it to top out, I don't think anyone here on SuperTopo would do that and say they had climbed El Capitan.

Everest is the exception, K2 is a mountain that everyone, as of 2012, has to 'climb' to get to the summit.

As far as guiding is concerned, yes, there are some unscrupulous guiding services which will take $$$$ from unqualified clients and put not just their team, but everyone on the mountain, at risk. But, there are other examples of guide companies who impose time limits, etc. to weed out those who are not qualified.

Look at this year on the south side of Everest. Russell Brice of Himex pulled the plug on his whole effort because of rockfall on the Lhotse Face. If he was really into just for the money, he probably wouldn't have done that.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - May 16, 2012 - 01:28pm PT
I'm not thinking about the locals, the Nepalese are some of the poorest people on Earth and whatever they due to keep life and limb together is okay with me. I am talking about the First World guides and guide services who have many other options available.
Never said anything about trying to ban guiding on Everest, that would be an exercise in futility.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 16, 2012 - 01:28pm PT
In '96 Scott Fischer came to the same conclusion and wrote to me after bringing Dale Kruse down.
It went out by runner, and Scott went back up on the mountain to tend his other clients.

I got the news before the mail reached me.

Too many people fail to understand the difference between legal and moral.
Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

I wonder what it will take to conclude such foolishness.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
May 16, 2012 - 01:30pm PT
Who said that guiding, commercial mountaineering generally, and indeed climbing and mountaineering have anything to do with style, morals or ethics? Once money and "fame" are in the equation, isn't it pretty much a race to the bottom, so to speak?

Trad climber
Westboro, MA
May 16, 2012 - 01:36pm PT
So is your beef about the guides - as your subject title would imply - or the clients - as the majority of your rant implies?

The guides are just doing what guides have done for decades - whore themselves out to suppose their lifestyle. No different then working for Exum.

The clients by and large are extremely successful type A people. They have been successful in the real world in a way you never were able to - do I detect a tad of jealousy?

How dose what the clients or guides do effect YOU? why don't you just worry about your own climbing?
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
May 16, 2012 - 01:36pm PT
"dumb, greedy guides"

Frozen ball sacks will break your toes or foot bones. Those guides know that. They are such cruel, mis-guided people, used to being taken advantage of, yet they too are just trying to make a living. How conflicted some of those boys must be about their jobs. No wonder Alo made his choice. A Cosmic Comic bump for his spirit. Those dudes whose remains sit up there are laffin so hard...
Don't stop now.

Frankly, knowing Jim's rep, he has no need to be jealous. He is doing the right thing by asking the question.
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