I have always been an avid student of subcultures - small, but passionate groups of people who pursue a single-minded interest. In the past few years I have enjoyed reading books and watching documentary films about the people who are obsessed with climbing Mount Everest. The culture of Mount Everest may also be viewed as a mirror microcosm of the paradigm shift in our economy - the very rich completely rule over everyone else and have little regard for the safety or success of the lower classes. Mount Everest brings the wealthiest climbers from Western culture to be served by the very poor Nepalese climbers who make very little per year and have no health or life insurance.
Mount Everest is a Goddess
Westerners view Mount Everest as the highest point on our Planet Earth. They want to climb it and to reach the summit for bragging rights and to conquer the world. The Nepalese have a very different view of Mount Everest, a mountain that they call Sagarmatha, the Tibetans call it Chomolungma which translates to Goddess Mother of the Land. The people who are native to this region regard the mountain as a goddess. The Tibetan prayer flags that are ubiquitous in all Mount Everest photos are prayers to the gods and goddesses carried on the winds that inhabit these high altitudes. The native peoples who help wealthy Westerners climb this mountain feel that proper prayers and respect must be paid to the mountain to ensure a safe season. But in the past two years, it seems the goddess is not pleased.
Hillary Helped the Himalayas
In 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first humans that we know of to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Both men refused to say who summited first, in true gentlemanly form, and Hillary spent much of his wealth giving back to the community at the bottom of Mount Everest. The Himalayan Trust was established in 1960 to establish schools and hospitals for this rural and underserved population. Sir Edmund Hillary was a class act who respected the people who aided him up the mountain.
The Poor Serve the Wealthy
The Tibetan Sherpa people have lived at high altitudes for so long that their bodies have evolved to be able to survive at higher elevations than most without oxygen. This makes them well-suited to carry heavy packs for us flatlander Westerners. These Sherpas can make up to $8,000 in the three-month climbing period every year that brings climbers to conquer Everest. While that may be a lot of money for this part of the world, if a Sherpa dies on the mountain there is no life insurance for families left behind, no retirement plan, and no medical insurance for injuries sustained on the job.
Avalanches on Everest
In the past two years, two powerful avalanches on Mount Everest have claimed lives and altered the geography of the most coveted mountain. In April 2014, a powerful avalanche killed 16 Nepalese guides who are referred to by most as Sherpa. It was during the 2014 that a climber was hoping to be the first to wingsuit fly off of Mount Everest. It's part of the reason the Discovery channel was there to record the avalanche in 2014. April 25, 2015--a 7.8 earthquake rocks Tibet and causes another avalanche on Mount Everest claims the lives of 19 would be climbers, including Google icon Dan Fredinburg. The death toll in Tibet at this writing is approximately 6,300.
The Cost of Climbing Everest
While the news media loves to cover the tragedies of lost lives on Mount Everest, what is more difficult to explain to people is the cost of climbing this sacred mountain. The license fee (which goes to the Nepalese government) is $11,000 per person. Nepalese climbers pay $750 per person. Most online guides quote a cost of between $30,000-100,000 per person to climb Mount Everest. And if you know all the perks, that's a great price. The Sherpas are the people who carry Everything for you. They have the tents set up for you at the various base camps. They carry your oxygen. They make tea for you and bring it to your tent. Ladders and guide ropes are already set in place for you by Sherpas and others who have come before you. If there are broken ladders or guide ropes, the Sherpa will replace them. All you have to do is haul your body up the mountain if you are able.
The Goddess is Angry
Some might say that the avalanches on Mount Everest are the product of global warming. I would like to suggest that The Goddess is angry. The people who live here and who enable wealthy Westerners to reach the top still live mostly in poverty and with few opportunities for success. The mountain is full of dead bodies, empty oxygen tanks, and frozen feces and urine. Wealthy Westerners may party at the top of Mount Everest while the underclass who made it possible still live in poverty. I will also suggest that it is arrogant and presumptuous to think that you can wingsuit fly off the top of Mount Everest and survive. It is disrespectful to the goddess and she deserves better. It is time to clean up the mountain and re-think the whole climbing process. How can a better system be set up so that the symbiotic relationship between Western climbers and native people can be more profitable for the Sherpa? Sir Edmund Hillary had the right idea by building schools and hospitals but there is still more work to do. The great goddess, Mother of the Land, deserves better, and people need to respect the planet as a whole.