Monday, May 29, 2006

this I'll admit, you are a wonder

Ripping my gaze away from my navel for just a moment (thanks, btw, all those of you who chimed in on my last post--expect a brief essay soon about my love-hate affair with the shuffle feature) to focus on this bit of world news.

I've had a fascination with Mt. Everest for several years now, ever since reading Jon Krakauer's excellent Into Thin Air about the '96 Everest expedition disaster. I will never attempt to climb that mountain myself--too great a chance of death or, at the very least, severe frostbite due to my circulation problem. But I'm utterly fascinated with the people who DO decide to climb it, and perhaps more chillingly (no pun intended, I swear), the often bizarre actions of the climbers in the Death Zone (above 26,000 ft/8,000 m). One of the most terrifying is this all-too-commonplace occurence of literally passing by a climber having problems on one's way to the summit, as happened to David Sharp, who ultimately died. I mean, I understand that you have to be a fairly driven person to even get that far in an Everest summit attempt, that it costs thousands upon thousands of dollars that you'd rather not waste--and, hey, it's not your fault Sharp decided to climb without adequate supplemental oxygen and ended up crippling himself. But wouldn't you want someone to help YOU if you happened to fail in your summit attempt, even if your failure was due in part to a poor decision you made? Conversely, isn't literally stepping over a dying person in order to reach the top of a freaking mountain an immeasurably callous act that you'll have to live with your whole life? I realize it's easy for me to critique these climbers' decisions here, scarcely above sea level on a nearly-ninety-degree day with more oxygen than I know what to do with, but with 40 people passing Sharp by, is it really too much to ask someone to stop and assist their fellow man? Hell, even the guy they interviewed for the article (a double-amputee, and certainly a remarkable person for achieving the summit given his disability) gave Sharp some oxygen, but ultimately left him there so he could summit as well. Maybe this is all part and parcel of the "commercialization" of Everest which many mountaineering experts criticize for allowing inexperienced climbers on a dangerous mountain--if Asian Trekking had done more with Sharp's $6k than simply give him what he asked for, if they'd vetted him to see if he really knew what he was doing on the mountain, maybe he'd still be alive, because he wouldn't've been allowed to climb with so little oxygen, or without a guide or Sherpa.

Furthermore, are Everest climbers so desensitized to the possibility of death, so ready to cut and run at the first sign of weakness that they left Lincoln Hall outside, just off the peak, for an entire night before the next day's climbers realized he was still alive? Maybe it's just the effects of hypoxia on the brain that makes people act irregularly (and downright cruelly), but these stories alone are enough to keep me home and off the mountain--that, and the fact that the bodies of those dead people are all still there. Creepy. You're literally on your own up there, regardless of whether you're in an expedition or not, because if you can't save yourself, no one can.

Don't get me started on skydiving, either. I think I'll stick to rollercoasters, instead.

1 comment:

trunger said...

I've read both of those stories many times over before and I'm still appalled each time I read it. Just goes to show what a little money does to some people. It really sucks that these "thrill seekers" don't want to waste their "hard" earned cash to save some souls life. I mean far be it from me to nay say someone that spends a small pittance of their fortune to reach a really really tall place rather than turning around and helping somebody down to one of the many base camps along the trail. Geez, if they wanted a thrill, why don't they just go to the mooon or something. Hell, Lance Bass almost did it. I would rant some more but thoughts are getting incoherent since I'm starving and there are egg rolls waiting for me somewhere...