05 October 2015

Everest, the movie, and those who want to climb it (Chomolungma)

​We went to see Everest. In a way, it's a horror movie, although the beauty and grandeur are there too, of course. Got me thinking.

The top 15% or so of Chomolungma (you heard it here first (probably): McKinley is Denali, Everest will revert to Chomolungma, the Tibetan name for it recorded at least as early as 1715).... is in the freaking stratosphere. Human beings cannot live there. Not even for a couple of days. 24 hours, maybe, with oxygen. So why do people do this? Up to 1990 or so one in four who tried the summit died. (The first people who probably reached the summit, Mallory and Irvine, in 1924, were never seen again: most people who die on Everest die on the way down.) After they instituted the tourist agencies that did most of the work for the climbers, it went down to about 3%. But if you had a 3% chance of dying if you got in your car to drive to San Franscisco, would you even think about doing it? Yet people paid tens of thousands of dollars to do this; so many that the principal reason the 1996 disaster (the subject of film, since surpassed by the Avalanche of 2014 and the Earthquake/Avalanche of 2015). ..was mainly overcrowding. There were 34 people attempting the summit that day. Secondarily a hellacious blizzard, which is what you expect on Everest.

I confess I don't get it. The desire to go up into near outer space, face terrible pain and serious risk of death, just to be able to say you did it (and get about 15 min. of the best damn view in the world, other than suborbital)? Is that really worth it to anyone?
And I wonder. Some of the mountaineering purists won't use oxygen, even though once you're above 7500 meters, you're basically dying. Even with oxygen, it's a ticking clock towards death. At the summit, you have to breathe 90 times a minute just to stay alive, and it's exhausting. But unless they're walking up there naked, they're using technology, so what's the deal? What I'm getting at is, why the hell don't they just wear lightweight pressure suits? You, know, space suits. Seriously, I don't get it. ​

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