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Wednesday, 13 June 2012


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This seems to be a deliberate (?) quote of some of the classic images from the Klondike Gold Rush? I guess any two pictures of a line of people on a snow covered slope are going to look pretty much the same, but still. It definitely evokes a sense of folly and madness by way of the connection, which makes it the quotation an excellent idea.

I don't see any hotdog stands in the picture. Now THAT would make me want to sign up as well.

Given the tone of the Guardian article, it's somewhat disturbing that Google Ads is serving up links to Everest base camp tours. In fairness, the tour company at least makes reference to participants being in good physical shape and having experience climing in the Himalayas.

All year long people die out in Colorado because of this kind of stupidity. They head up into the mountains without adequate preparation or knowledge of the risks involved and are under-dressed and carry the wrong (or no) equipment. Then, they get lost or stuck on some rock face and whip out their cell phone expecting to be rescued as though they had parked their car with valet service. The rescues are dangerous for the responders and costly to the rest of us. Many people just die out there. It makes me really angry. Some jurisdictions have at least started billing these morons for the cost of their own rescues.

The situation on Everest is even worse in that it is motivated by the greed of the expedition operators, and greed compromises judgment when it comes to decisions regarding whether to go for the summit or turn back. Don't want to get a reputation for not getting people to the summit, do we? Sadly, Everest has turned into a frozen morgue with hundreds of bodies along the ascent route, and a garbage dump with piles of used oxygen bottles and garbage piling up. Perhaps they should have Disney manage it; they have a better track record for running amusement parks.

Sorta weird, these little human specks trying to prove things to themselves about themselves for the betterment of them selves and then croaking because they left the lines in McDonalds only to find some other lines to wait in. And all the while they still have to go to the bathroom, all over that hill.

The Lemming Award?

Many people have died on Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the Northeast. Although only 1917 meters high, it has particularly vicious weather, and hikers are very often unprepared for the changes in temperature at different altitudes and with the onset of weather fronts. The website lists dozens and dozens of deaths from many causes, several of which involve lack of preparation or casualness about inexperience.


They should put an escalator in there.

A few years ago an attorney told me that he was expecting a large payout and would use the money to climb Mt. Everest. Write a brief, win a case, climb the Earth's highest mountain. So simple.

Why? I always ask that, ever since the first human climbed it and proved that humans are capable of it, why do it again? Ok, maybe there was something special about the first guy, maybe he was superhuman, but after the first ten!? These days, even a 76-year old grandma can do it, so why bother proving you can do it? And waiting in line!? What's up with that? Soviet times nostalgia?

I've always held the Eiger in higher regard partially for this reason.

Also we have a Snowcat burrito truck here in Mammoth, CA so for XmanX, I made this the next logical step: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21261294@N00/7369950498/

The rescues are dangerous for the responders and costly to the rest of us. Many people just die out there. It makes me really angry. Some jurisdictions have at least started billing these morons for the cost of their own rescues.

1) The whole "dangerous for the responders" thing is a canard. No one makes anyone do it. Many of these rescues are just practice for the SAR volunteers who otherwise would be out practicing on healthy volunteer "victims". So the expense to you is largely the same anyway, unless you just disbanded SAR entirely, or had them not practice, which would be the worst of both worlds. If the SAR folks don't want the danger, they don't have to sign up for it. The first duty of rescuers is don't be a victim.

2) Many more people would die if you started charging for rescues. If people knew they were going to get hit with bankrupting bills (heli rescues aren't cheap), they simply wouldn't ask for a rescue at all. So, more dead morons, or as I like to call them 'fellow citizens'. Not rescuing them works until one of those morons' dying 911 call makes the loop on Fox News and senators start having hearings.

3) 99% of all rescues aren't of climbers or extremophiles, they're simply average people who went out for the usual hike in shorts and t-shirts, took a wrong turn, or got caught out by unexpected (to them) weather. If you've never done that, then you don't get out much. I don't know anyone without a story like that. Usually with the ending of "I spent a cold night out", or "I found the trail at 3am," but sometimes with "I got rescued." I can certainly sympathize with that. I've gotten back to the car in the dark more than a few times, and I've had a few unplanned bivies. Sometimes it's an idiot who did something stupid or didn't check the weather, and it makes the news. Sometimes the weather forecast is just wrong. That's why it's called the news. It's uncommon.

I'm speaking as one of the morons. Never been rescued yet, but have often been in the mountains pushing my limits with what you would consider inadequate gear, but what I would call "alpine style".

The US could go to the European model, where everyone buys rescue insurance, but then you get a lot more rescues - the "fine is a price" effect. If you're paying for rescue insurance, you have fewer qualms about calling for a rescue.

And for what it's worth, there are no rescues on Everest. My suspicion is that everyone in that picture knows that, having already stepped over the dead bodies, and decided to take their chances anyway.

[This is a good example of why I try not to allow insults and provocations in TOP comments. I apologize--I should never have let through the original use of the term "morons" that has obviously antagonized HD. Will try to do better in the future. —Ed.]

To me, using oxygen at all is defeating the purpose. And if you must use it, pack the tanks out. As an aside there is a movie of my favorite mountaineer (Reinhold Messner 1st to summit Everest without oxygen) directed by Werner Herzog called ‪The Dark Glow of the Mountains‬. Worth checking out. It's not about Everest but more about the motivation behind the climbers.

Two enjoyable books about Everest during earlier times are "Into The Silence: The Great War, Mallory & The Conquest of Everest" by Wade Davis and "I Take Pictures for Adventure" by Tom Stobart. The latter includes a section on filming the first successful Everest climb with Hillary and Tenzing. The book is out of print but readily available via the web. Mallory's body, of course, was found not too long ago, fairly well preserved.

On close inspection, I see the photo is tilted almost 45 degrees clockwise. The small orange dots in the lower right are tents and it's very unlikely they'd be on such a steep slope. Also, climbers would be more spread out on a slope that apparently steep. I have mountaineering experience and would never be on a mountain with a crowd that size. Do any of those hordes really care about the mountain's danger and intrigue? Or just bragging rights back home? This illustrates a sad state of mind on a large scale.

Agreed about Into Thin Air -- I read it in the heat of summer, and I found myself shivering.

As Mike says, there has been a lot of good writing on mountaineering, mostly by mountaineers. My favorite is Bill Tilman. A great stylist (and extraordinary mountaineer) whose sardonic wit and understatement might lead those who have not climbed themselves to underestimate his accomplishments. His most famous books have been reissued as compilations by Diadem/The Mountaineers as "The Seven Mountain-Travel Books" and "The Eight Sailing/Mountain-Expedition Books". Strongly recommended.

Is anyone else bothered by the angle of the snow in that picture. I am certainly no expert but it seems strange the angle that the tents are at. Too steep to be useful for holding supplies or sleeping in? Maybe they are dug out flat but my impression is that most of the camps are in relatively flat areas. Did the picture editor crop the picture at an angle to make the line of people go diagonally from one corner to another. It might be interesting to try to recrop it to look flatter.

I'm a regular bushwalker (around 30km per week) and a small group of us joined a tour to walk the Inca Trail to Machi Picchu. It's an easy 3 day trek when you've got porters carrying all the food and tents, etc. Keep in mind that the porters find this kind of work a "good job" and the treks represent a tourism industry for the locals.

Some of my bushwalking group also did a trek to the Everest base camp, as part of another tour. I had work commitments and couldn't join them. I can't be bothered now; I'd rather do a trek like this with some of the bushwalking gang.

But the idea of scaling Mr Everest is an entirely different ball park. To me it's like an Olympic standard event and you need years of experience and training.

Mike, Joe Simpson's book is great. However, you really need to locate copies of two of David Robert's first books. "Mountain of My Fear" and "Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative". These two are among the best mountaineering books ever written. They were a major departure for mountaineering literature.

David- You managed to summarize the entire human condition from cradle to grave in two sentences!

I just dug up a link to the original "Into Thin Air" magazine article for a friend. I had to go to the Wayback Machine to find it.


If you like the article the book is even better. It explores the climbers and their motivations in more depth. Krakauer's "Into the Wild" is actually an even better book, because he isn't so emotionally involved in the subject.

Lack of exxperience & equipment & training is a problem afflicting many outdoor sports these days - from simple hiking through more adveturous stuff like mountaineering, mountain biking, scuba diving. As access & equipment improve the bar lowers for starting on these activities. The skill, experience & motivation that used to be required are needed less.
And so, sights like this one are the result. It is sad, really. Too many are getting hurt doing the things I love to do due simple failings.

Thanks, Mike, for the interesting article.

There's a recent three or four part video documentary available on DVD that covers one of these commercial guided climbs. It is appalling to watch; I should think the definitive turn-off for anyone considering joining one. The group became part of a queue which stopped and waited for two hours or more in poor weather at one bottleneck (the Hillary Step, I think). Those behind were unable to communicate with those blocking the way, or budge them along. With toes and fingers turning wooden as time dragged on.

And being led up a fixed rope is not climbing. It's a mis-use of the word.

And I agree that Joe Simpson's book Touching the Void is an un-put-down-able read. The documentary film on DVD is excellent, too.

Don't forget about the film "Touching the Void". Done incredibly well with first hand interviews and beautiful re-enactments. Aron Ralston tried for years to have "127 Hours" made the way this film was: (He settled for the narrative take that Danny Boyle ultimately made.) Truly great documentary filmmaking: Sometimes the film is as good as the book.

There is a wonderful BBC documentary "Century of the Self" that posits that modern life has evolved into this manic pursuit of personal fulfillment and achievement. This photo –- a high altitude Conga line of egomaniacs with little regard for the impact of their actions -- reminds me of that documentary.

I don't know if "Century of the Self" is available anywhere but online. Here's the link:


The privileged few have become to many...

I can't recall a specific book, but the stories of British rock climbers in the 50s are full of colourful characters. Climbing had previously been the preserve of wealthy Cambridge types. Joe Brown and Don Whillans spring to mind, plumbers both. They put up terrific new rock routes, invented "nuts", and went on to do impressive new climbs in the Himalayas.

I'm sure Whillans would have a delightfully caustic comment to make about that image. My favorite tale is where he was giving a talk and a streaker ran across the stage. Whillans said, "Well I'll be buggered," and after a moment, "and so will he if I get my hands on him."

I always thought a big part of the climbing experience was the remoteness, empty spaces and self sufficiency - thats what always attracted me. Obviously Everest doesn't! Firstly, I have no interest in crawling up a crowded rope fixed by sherpas and guides and secondly if I climb a mountain I want it to be a pleasant experience with very good odds of getting home again.

As a climber, I'd just point out that the Krakauer account of the 1996 SE ridge expeditions is largely derided in much of the guiding world, for inaccuracies in details and being written with an agenda in mind.

The Frontline documentary "Storm over Everest" also tells the story of the '96 disaster (it's a cheap iTunes download). Seeing the survivors and hearing them tell their stories is all you need to know about the danger.

A couple of quick comments:

- If the picture is tilted, which I suspect it probably is, then it's very clearly and deliberately misleading and not fit to be considered 'documentary'

- the dismissive use of the descriptor 'tourists' is pretty distasteful. Surely the key difference is that the people in the queue have paid their own fares to be where they want to be at the time?

- Martin Doonan's comment is meaningful. I've walked and run on the UK's fells from childhood and have a few 'stories', but as the activity became more fashionable the level of preparedness of the participants fell. I remember observing that someone would die in an 'Adventure' Race' before long a few years ago and it was only a matter of months before a fatality occurred on an open water canoe section. I do wonder if we are less prepared or aware of the risks than in the past.

- Also, the skills and mentality for survival are not immediately transferable. I took part in a sailing and fell running race during which the weather deteriorated. I was entirely comfortable with the risk level on the cold and windswept Paps of Jura, as I and my running partner had a good knowledge and experience of the conditions and how to manage if one of us were to be injured. Back on the boat, shipping water off the Mull of Kintyre in a strong South Westerly I was as frightened as I've ever been.


Now that very few special skills are required to climb mountains, thanks to modern-day technology, it appears everyone can be a mountaineer if they can afford the cost.

Sort of like photography and photographers, now that I think about it...

One of the other participants in that "Disaster on Everest" of John Krakauer's was Beck Weathers a hobby climber who was gunning for the "Seven Summits" and in the title of his book was Left For Dead.

A propos blowing the top of Everest and the seven summits; it is a known fact among mountaineers that the second highest mountains on each continent is a much harder set to bag.

"Tilted image? Sure looks like it to me."

Yes, tilted for dramatic effect, but not by 45 degrees as some have suggested. Unless humans no longer try to walk upright on a slope, the photo is tilted by 15-20 degrees. Level areas on Everest are hard to come by... and, yes, you can sleep in a tent on a slope - you grade the snow!

Perhaps that "tilt" isn't to exaggerate the slope, but to try to show the length of the line...

Another great mountaineering book: The White Spider.

And if you want to understand how one goes about doing really big routes in good style, it's hard to do better than Twight's Extreme Alpinism. The Foreward, Preface, and first chapter can be read for free at Amazon.

Regarding the "tiltedness" of the image, I suspect the photographer tilted the camera in order to fit the line into the frame. In other words, had it not been tilted, he would not have been able to get the head of the line on the left, and the camp on the right. Rightly or wrongly, I'm guessing that getting the length of the line seemed more important than getting the horizontals correct.

Well, I guess there's something to that song by Those Darn Accordions: "Dumbass On The Mountain."

Interesting. My only exposure to mountain climbing was reading "Climbing Mount Improbable" by Richard Dawkins.

"the dismissive use of the descriptor 'tourists' is pretty distasteful."

From what I've read, it's also an accurate word. People, some with very limited climbing experience, some with no Himalayan climbing experience, sign up and pay for package tours that guarantee them a shot at the top of Everest, arrange the support, and provide them with guides.

Google "Everest climbing tours" and take a look at a few of the sites you'll find. Here are a couple of quotes from the first one that comes up:

"1 to 1 Sherpa Assistance on Summit Day. On your summit day you will have a dedicated Sherpa to carry your extra bottles of oxygen for you. This support along with the guides gives you the best possible chance of success and greatly increases safety."

"Meals on the Mountain: We prepare all your meals in every camp and throughout the entire trip. Many companies require you to cook at different camps on the mountain. This is a laborious task that often requires several hours of work to melt snow and cook meals."

I don't think "tourist" is a dismissive word. It's a descriptor for people who go on tours. QED.


Although "retired" I have had a lot of experience in the UK and Europe with mountaineering and mountain rescue teams. One thing that is missing in a lot of the comments here is that the biggest thing that outdoor activities like climbing have to offer is how to do dangerous things safely. Few climbers have a death wish in my experience

Ralf Dujmowits' photo shows a line climbing up the Lhotse Face (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lhotse#Lhotse_Face) which is a pretty steep wall of ice. I think that the angle in the picture is correct.

Yes, the photo is tilted. I suspect that Mr. Dujmovits was trying to record as much of the queue as he could by going from corner to corner.

Some of the comments seem to imply that there's some kind of attempted deception going on, which I don't think is the case at all.

Re tilting - looks like a fairly easy snow route, well made, heavily used trail. The effect of the photo seems greatly exaggerated. How many people have attempted a 45degree slope? I can assure you that is not easy. Even 20 degrees certainly cannot be walked up as these people appear to be doing.

Sorry - one more comment. Mountain literature would be incomplete without "The Ascent of Rum Doodle"

Soon we'll reach the point (if we aren't there already) where most of the people climbing Everest are lawyers and orthodontists, rather than mountaineers. It's like big game hunting: a rich man's sport.

Krakauer's Into Thin Air is great; but you might also want to read Anatoli Boukreev's rebuttal, The Climb.


I just watched practically every documentary on Everest that's available on NETFLIX and I'm fairly certain that this picture was not tilted much.
Looking at this map:
You'll see the steepness of the gradient of the Lhotse face and the location of camp III. It's said Ralf too the photo from South Col, so this most likely would be camp III at the bottom of the photo. From what I remember from the various documentaries, it's pretty dang close to a vertical climb up that part of mountain.


"Into Thin Air" is the perfect morality tale. It should be required reading in high school. It reveals greed, stupidity, selfishness, terror, courage, dumb luck, selflessness, serenity, and heroism. The entire human condition in one read.

Absolutely a great rendering of a remarkable human event.

Expiring Frog:
Here's an all time classic:

@Anurag: I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read that book, though I've wanted to visit the inner Sanctuary forever. Thanks for the recommendation.

I hope to stand on the top of Mt Rainier for the third time next week with my G11. My climbs are nothing compaired to what these climbers experience. I do understand why they do it. Getting to the top of Everest is no small feat, so give these climbers some respect.

Try Maurice Herzog's, Annapurna (1952), if you haven't already read it. It is an account of the first ascent of Annapurna in 1950 - remarkably from reconnaissance made in the same expedition and without oxygen - during which both Herzog and Louis Lachenal lost their toes to frostbite and Herzog lost his fingers too when he dropped his gloves on the summit while taking photographs at the summit.

"Mike, Try Maurice Herzog's, Annapurna (1952), if you haven't already read it."

I haven't read it, but I have it. I will get to it, assuming I live long enough.


Simple solution ban the use of oxygen on the Chomolungma/Sagarmatha (the thing allready had two names before some English a-hole decided it needed another) climbed first by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler in 1978 (without bottled comfort left there by the Swiss).....

Greetings, Ed

Climbing comes up sometimes in surprising contexts. The memoirs of mathematician Karl Gustafson discuss rock climbing and the Zen-like effect of cleaning and simplifying the mind: "The Crossing of Heaven: Memoirs of a Mathematician" (Springer, 2012; ISBN 978-3642225574).

Here is a quote from the memoirs: "I stopped rock climbing at age 50 after a dangerous pendulum off-route on a high peak exactly three weeks after my girlfriend had died on a climbing trip to Peru."


Thank you for your comments. I am still not sure. From my, very limited experience of mountains, skiing in the Alps, the snow scape seems the be too steep. Also when I look at the figures I can see very few leaning forward, assuming they are travelling right to left; in fact most seem to be leaning backwards? The figures in the Gold Rush images are all leaning forward, at least their tops are, carrying their heavy loads.The tents really do look odd!

However I have to agree that the level of detail is not enough to make a better judgement.

Tilting.- Not need to look at the people climbing. When I saw the first photo, I thought: "what a dangerous Site Camp". Look at the snow, ready to fall down over the yellow tents camp. Much less avanlanches danger in the second one by Darin Boville.

I don't know if its been mentioned yet, but Touching the Void was adapted into an excellent and gripping (excuse the pun!) documentary film, with narration by the two mountaineers involved.

I care little for climbing or mountaineering but this amazing story had me captivated. Highly recommended.

Into the Silence is a fantastic read about WW1, Edward Mallory and the "conquest" of Everest. Highly recommended!

A commenter above has mentioned this - but the tents are the best indicator of the tilt. They are at about a 45 degree angle.

Also, the snow banks in the background would not hold together at the angle shown in the original


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