Monday, April 21, 2014

Oh, Just Get Off The Mountain

Calhoun's Cannons for April 21, 2014 

Yes, Nepal's a desperately poor country.  Yes, the Sherpa guides need the money.  That's the usual game, isn't it? Poor desperate "natives" basically paid to go into harm's way or paid to die so rich western adventurers can have their sport.  But, c'mon.  Thirteen? With three others still missing?  Really? When is enough, enough?

Look, when Hillary and Norgay did it, now that was a challenge!  But Everest's been done.  Dude, it's so done that during climbing season the place looks like an ice-filled e-ticket ride at Disneyland, with long lines of climbers waiting to summit. And the sacred mountain is now a garbage dump filled with empty oxygen bottles, discarded climbing junk, human excrement, and dead bodies.  It's ridiculous.  Time to move on.

But, instead, what we've got now is a  yearly stream of rich outsiders willing to cough up $100,000 bucks just so they can have bragging rights.  Or fulfill some kind of egotistical personal need to expend huge amounts of energy and money to get altitude sickness, have a stroke, lose some fingers and toes to frostbite, freeze to death or die in an ice fall.  That's great, I get it, high personal drama, "man against nature," that sort of thing.  Fine.

And I get that many top Sherpa guides are extraordinary mountaineers in their own right and are earning a great living being guides.  As an L.A. Times story by Binaj Gurubachayra and Tim Sullivan (AP) notes, " "A day after the disaster, many Sherpa guides spoke of their work in ways that reflect the complexities of poor people working in a deeply hazardous place.  . . .  'The mountains are a death trap,' said Norbu Tshering, a 50-year-old Sherpa and mountain guide who lives mostly in Katmandu. . . . 'But we have no other work and most of our people take up this profession, which has now become a tradition for all of us.' he said."   

A tradition "born out of  sheer desperation," he forgot to add.

And I get that the "Everest Economy" brings in tens of millions of dollars a year to Nepal, money the government will do nothing to endanger.  But Sherpas do not have a tradition of "sport climbing" Everest just for fun.  They live in the mountains, they know the mountains and they do not willingly go into the mountains just for the heck of it. No sane Sherpa would.  Here's the Times again, "For the Sherpas, the once-obscure mountain people whose name has become synonymous with Everest and whose entire culture has been changed by decades of working as guides and porters for wealthy foreigners, it was a brutal reminder of the risks they face."

The risks they face so they can try "to make a better life for themselves and their families in a desperately poor country," he forgot to add.

What the Sherpas and all the people of Nepal really need is help building an economy that makes guiding a real choice, like, "Do I take this micro-loan and start and grow a small business to support my family, or do I risk death on the mountain while hauling tons of crap up Everest so some rich guy can sit around sipping a glass of wine regaling his friends about how tough his climb was?  Hmmmm, let me think."

Now that would be a "choice," just as it is for the wealthy westerners who show up with pockets full of cash, looking for a thrill.

So here's a modest proposal:  From now on, western mountaineers could hire Sherpas to schlep up their tons of stuff  but only to the safer, lowest base camp.  Past that point, all those wealthy, challenge-driven climbers would be responsible for laying their own guide-ropes, putting in their own ice-ladders, and blazing their own trails across the deadly "popcorn" fields and ice-falls, all the way up to the summit.  And if they die by the dozens while doing it, well, isn't that what the idea of  "Everest" is all about --personal best against a formidable, unpredictable, deadly foe?

And if they're unable to do that on their own, then maybe it's time they just got off the mountain altogether.


Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Great proposal, Ann, and I completely agree with it, but you buried the lede -- I had to deduce from the column that sherpas had died in a climbing accident recently because I missed that news, myself.

Churadogs said...

Oops, Sorry, it was all over the news for days, figured it was a given. especially since people have been dying on that mountain every year.

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

It is sad that inflated egos and money to burn put these people's lives in danger. Sherpas have so few choices on how to make a living, $5,000 a year to do that work vs. the $700 a year average. One sad story among many worldwide that is now getting some publicity.

Anonymous said...

There is more to Nepal than the expressway to Mt. Everest or K2:

It's also not as poor a country as some are led to believe, not as wealthy as the Qatar or even the US, but certainly not the Congo.

What is it that liberals want? Not have any wealthy peoples? Everyone in the world equally poor? Should the US give huge sums of tax dollars to the Nepal government? Maybe the liberals could unplug their I-pods, computers and TV's and sent those to the Sherpas? Maybe the Sherpas could simply lay around and meditate while waiting the next monthly payment from the US?

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Why does the dollar figures of poverty in Nepal bring out an irrational leap from Anon 11:16 AM to imagine that the liberal's (Patrick, Ann and I apparently) desire for some equity for the Nepalese would also require everyone to be equally poor? The US gives small tax sums to Nepal, very, very small. Go look it up. You must be awfully frightened of something to make such an irrational leap.

Anonymous said...

You should really do some research before irrationally determining that the Nepalese can not possibly decide their own business. The Sherpa guides are in fact deciding whether to continue this year or not.

The US or Britain or Australia or Saudi "wealthy" don't just decide to clamp on the latest climbing fashions and trek up the tallest mountain in the world this weekend. There are a great deal of prerequisites to be met before those expensive little hikes. Those guides are no slaves and can decide what they want to do or not do. This is no weekend sightseeing trip to top of San Luis Peak.

Do a little research before just picking up one of the many disasters occurring around this world before trying to solve those problems from an easy poetry blog. There is usually a lot more behind the stories than the pap we hear about in the evening news. Nepal is a beautiful country with intelligent peoples. They have decided on Tourism as an industry they can market to grow their own economy. They have decided whether the dangers of mountain climbing is worth the cost/profit. Climbing is only one of several tourist destinations. They control their economy in their own ways. They don't need or want the US to try telling them how to live.

Honestly, I'd prefer NO tax dollars be sent to Nepal or any other country for that matter. There is plenty of need for assistance right here in the US and even in "poor" Los Osos.

That's my opinion and I'm certainly not "afraid" of my decisions nor your irrationality!

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Yes, the Sherpa guides are going to make up their minds...$5,000 vs. the average of $700.

This is NOT a "poetry" blog. It contains poetry, but look back to see what else is there.

No one is trying to "solve" anything. Maybe if the government there wasn't so corrupt, the country would be doing better.

You may not be afraid of "of (your) decisions nor (my) irrationality," but you are clearly too afraid to use your real name like the others on this comment section.

Anonymous said...

I too agree with Anon 5:15 PM.

IF you were running this "blog", then you could establish the "rules"!

But since the game has been played without requiring name, then perhaps YOU should either get the rules changed or blow it out your ass!

You have pissed off so many folks and been called on the many asinine comments you've made, perhaps you should move along.

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Anon 7:50 PM: It wasn't whether or not a name was used, it was nothing about "rules," it was just the assertion of fearlessness on Anon 5:15's post, yet he/she did not have the courage to use his/her name.

Now IF YOU Anon 7:50 PM were running this blog, then YOU could tell me to blow it out my ass—or move along. But you are not. So I won't. That is up to Ann, the author of this blog, and you are not Ann.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Lynette doesn't have a job or a life. She could make $7.50 an hour at the McDonalds in Osos, but she blogs because her mental illness prevents her from doing anything else. She could be a sherpa, make $50 an hour and get swept by an avalache. Nature would be doing Los Osos a solid.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:37. Very well thought-out, creative and constructive comment based on fact while offering a healing, permanent solution.

bunchadogs said...

anonymous 11:37
nasty comment.
I agree this situation is a conundrum. Unfortunately there are choices, and none of them are "right" or easy.
I think the sherpas have a choice.
$ vs. danger.

I wish the US could solve the problems of the world, but we can't even solve our own.

and litter on the mountain is disgusting. if someone's going to get paid, maybe some of the costs of traveling the mountain should go to clean up.


Churadogs said...

To date, the sherpas have called a halt, are negotiating with the government and the climbing companies for a better deal. Good on them! There really is so much that can be done to improve this situation and one key element is to treat the sherpas like the professionals they are and let them take the lead vis a vis safety for their crew and the western climbers, most of whom are now amateurs who don't know those mountains -- sorta like a Fire Chief who assesses a fire, allocates his firefighters where needed, and then has absolute authority to pull everyone out if he deems things too dangerous. They also need to be in control of the absolute numbers allowed on the mountain at any one time to avoid dangerous traffic jams (which caused the last disaster a few years ago), enforce clean up rules, and etc. Maybe then, this ridiculous Chilkoot-Pass / WalMart $2 48" TV loss-leader pre Xmas Sale type mob scene is stopped.

One can only hope.

Anonymous said...

HaHaHa Keep watching Fox and making your very own opinion pieces and conclusions. Keep trying Ann, you really are so out of step with reality. You really don't know what's going on in Nepal other than what you've watched on TV. Enjoy your very slanted view of the world.

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Oh Anon 6:38 AM, so when was your last trip to Nepal that makes you the expert to make a critical comment here?