27 October 2021

Mountain Girl blog: Putting the brakes on…

May 25, 2012

Unless you’ve been hiding under an umbrella with a pint of Pimm’s in hand this week, it is more than likely that you’ll have seen/heard/viewed a bit of the nonsense that has been going on at the top of the highest mountain of the world – Mt Everest.

For the last couple of weeks, Everest has been hitting the headlines for a whole host of reasons including miraculous escapes from avalanches, heroic summit rescues, and unfortunately a number of tragic deaths and disappearances.

Whilst these stories are all fascinating, what has really grabbed my attention this year has been the use of a phrase. Not a record, not a medal, not a miracle – just a phrase. ‘Traffic jam’. Two words used by most people on a daily basis. Three syllables that evoke feelings of the mundane, of hopelessness, and of average, uninspiring, existences sponsored by the colour grey. I cannot think of a phrase less likely to spring to mind when describing any experience in a mountain wilderness, let alone an attempt on the highest peak in the world in the remote Himalayan mountain range. Awe inspiring and inaccessible maybe, but traffic jam? Hmm… don’t call me Colombo, but I’m beginning to get the feeling that all something is not quite adding up.

If you’ve seen the photo that went viral this week, then you’ll have seen it for yourself – a traffic jam. On Everest. Traffic jams on Everest. The most unlikely of phrases and the most accurate of descriptions. So paradoxical is this that in my opinion the use of this phrase is the stand out tragedy of the Everest climbing season of 2012. 200 people all lined up in single file to… renew their Oyster card? Get their patriotic mitts on some Olympic tickets? Touch Justin Bieber’s bum? Nope. 200 people lined up to haul their way up fixed ropes put up by Sherpas and to the summit of the highest mountain on earth.

Please understand that I have no doubt that every one of these 300 people are single minded, determined, positive risk takers and achievers and an asset to this planet and those who come into contact with them. It goes without saying that we need more people with these kind of attributes in this world but being a strong character does not automatically make you a mountaineer.

Will and determination (and a fair amount of cash) should not be enough to get you to the top of any game, profession or mountain. You cannot pay your way to lifting the Wimbledon trophy, and contrary to what your parents may have said when you were young, in top level sport it is not the taking part that counts. Ask the All Blacks if you don’t agree. If you engage in the pursuit of greatness and strive for the superfluous it follows that you in turn you must earn your place. It should not be achieved by hanging on the end of a rope that someone else has laid down for you and it most certainly should not be bought.

It should not be possible to climb Everest unless you are the most skilled, the most practiced and the most talented of mountaineers, but somehow it is. And the results of this are as tragic as they are predictable. Each year, we are subjected to a list of tedious and pointless records and an ever increasing list of needless deaths. Each year what should be the greatest hostile wilderness on our planet becomes increasingly more like a very cold and scary circus. I would not expect to be avalanched on the M25, neither would I expect to get frostbite on the Tube or suffer from altitude sickness at Pizza Express on a Friday night. It doesn’t make sense and it’s confusing, weird, and just plain wrong.

Watch this video below taken from Outside Magazine – www.outsideonline.com

Traffic jams on Everest are more than out of place, they are ominous and sinister and following this year’s climbing season has begun to feel a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion. You get the impression that unless someone puts the brakes on very soon, Everest may well end up playing host to the most enormous, tragic and unnecessary pile up in history. I’d like to think that it would not require such a catastrophe to return the mountain to herself and restore her to those who temporarily belong with her, but I have a lingering feeling that this may indeed be the only way. Wannabe summiteers would do well to take heed of the glaringly obvious warnings, back up a bit, assess the current conditions and think long and hard about the road ahead. As the great bastion of mountain wisdom Billy Ocean once said, ‘Red light spells danger’ which would suggest a fairly insightful disposition. Mind you, he did also say ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ so who the hell knows…

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About Sophie’s blog

Mountain Girl is passionate about the vertical wilderness, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, hiking, trail running, biking, and rock climbing. Oh and Prosecco - she really likes Prosecco.


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