August 22, 2019

Everest Is Over

“Alex Honnold, the death-defying rock climber known for scaling thousand-foot granite walls without a rope, has a well-rehearsed rule for survival: The key to climbing, he likes to say, is knowing when to quit. This applies in the small sense, as in knowing when to go home for the day. But it also applies in the larger sense, as in knowing when to stop altogether.

This is a rule most adventure-minded people are not good at following—including rock climbers and other mountaineers, for whom the costs can be especially high. Take Mount Everest: Since the explosion of Himalayan mountaineering in the early 20th century, the world has swooned over the madness of climbers and their refusal to stop, even—or especially—in the face of great risk. Today, that infatuation can seem more pervasive than ever. Jarring reports this season have described climbers waiting in line at Everest’s peak while others take selfies. Crowds are leaving behind piles of litter, and the death rate is spiking. Some struggling climbers have said that others ignored their pleas for help en route to the summit.

Leaving behind injured, hypothermic, or otherwise struggling climbers to fend for themselves has long been the stuff of some of the beloved accounts of both death and survival in mountaineering, especially at high altitudes. On Everest, there are no explicit rules about helping others, and forging ahead to ensure your own survival is common. The recently publicized problems on the mountain, however, have brought this code of conduct under widespread scrutiny. Many people have responded with surprise and anger, calling for more safety and altruism on Everest.”

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