I’ve climbed over 17,000 feet several times, and not really enjoyed it. Altitude sickness is a bummer over 15,000 feet, and the last time – on the summit of an extinct volcano on the edge of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile – I blacked out and had to swig oxygen on my way down.
Yes, the views from the top of any peak are remarkable, but I doubt I’ll be repeating the experience. It won’t be simply for health reasons: I’ve come to respect mountains, and the way they are used for kicks by a “look-at-me” generation just makes me despair.
I’ve trekked in Nepal, but would never visit again – the desecration of small villages, some of which have dug up every field for campers to pitch tents, and the obscenity of poverty-stricken porters in rags ferrying Coca Cola and fizzy drinks up thousands of feet to spoilt hikers, has turned me. Nepal needs tourists, but does it have to destroy the environmental gems that make it so special?
In 2015, a Nepalese earthquake killed 9,000 people, and 18 died trying to ascend Everest – no one reached the summit. In 2016, five people died and 640 were successful, half of whom were Sherpas guiding rich clients who now spend between $35,000 and $85,000 on the trip. Don’t tell me this is essential to the local economy, because the amount porters and guides are paid is pitiful.
The Nepalese government charges $11,000 for a permit to climb the peak, but that is no deterrent. The mountain is littered with rubbish and bodies – so if we really care about the environment, why not leave Everest in peace as a monument and a memorial to those who remain entombed there?
As it is, reality TV crews stalk climbers and flog the footage of accidents to the highest bidder, in return for paying for helicopter rescue. The climbing season has just begun, with record numbers expected, and an 85-year-old Sherpa is attempting to be the oldest person ever to summit. DJ Paul Oakenfold has just held “the highest party on earth” at base camp last week, which is going to be turned into an album and a documentary, with proceeds going to local charities. Mountains deserve our respect – so let’s close Everest for good.