Mount Everest has long been considered the end-all be-all of mountaineering. The summit, which is located along the China-Nepal border, sits at 8,849 meters and has attracted thousands of climbers eager to add its ascent to their list of accolades. However, with time, summiting Everest has become increasingly accessible to wealthy and inexperienced climbers. As a result, the mountain and those who depend on it are suffering.
In recent years, climbers approaching the summit of Everest have witnessed an increasingly worrying phenomenon: traffic jams. As larger masses of people aspire to reach the highest point on earth, the mountain becomes more and more congested. According to Freddie Wilkinson from National Geographic, the Nepali government issued a record-breaking 381 climbing permits in 2019 alone. Taking into account expedition guides and Sherpas – an ethnic minority native to the area – over seven-hundred people summited Everest that year. The article explains that experienced mountaineers attribute the traffic jams to an increase in the number of inexperienced climbers who struggle to navigate the more technical sections of the ascent. Overcrowding has made climbing Everest even more dangerous as long lines near the summit make climbers more susceptible to hypothermia and running out of oxygen.
Everest’s improved accessibility has turned it into a wealthy person’s playground.
Many have attributed this rise in inexperienced climbers to the increased commercialisation of Everest. If you can afford the $30,000 to $130,000 price tag, as reported by the BBC, chances are you can find a tour group to get you to the top, regardless of your skill level. Everest’s improved accessibility has turned it into a wealthy person’s playground. The transactional nature of climbing Everest has made it increasingly mainstream, almost alienating it from the rest of the mountaineering world. The barrier to entry for Everest has long been both financial and skill-related. One’s ability to pay exorbitant sums should not override the fact that mountaineering is a serious sport which carries considerable risk. As reported by Reuters, some suggest that the Nepali government should cut down the number of permits supplied. Others believe this action will not address the growing number of under experienced climbers and argue the government should require proof of prior mountaineering experience when requesting permits.
The high level of tourism in Sagarmatha National Park and on the mountain have had drastic environmental impacts. When climbing Everest, each person produces around 8 kg of trash, National Geographic details, most of which stays on the mountain. The path to the summit is littered with discarded food containers, human waste, and abandoned equipment. As climate change has worsened, snow and ice have begun to melt, exposing debris and contaminating Everest’s watershed. Thousands of Nepalis rely on the water coming from Mount Everest for their livelihood, and the increasing levels of pollution on the mountain have put their health at serious risk. Efforts have been made to clean up the mountain but – like most things on Everest – the responsibility has largely fallen to the Sherpas. The Nepalese government and NGOs have launched projects which have successfully removed thirteen tons of waste from the mountain, according to National Geographic. However, most of the participants in these efforts have been Sherpas: not only do they guide tourists up the mountain, they have to clean up after them, too.
Indigenous groups have often been exploited by colonial expeditions and then subsequently erased from the narrative once congratulations are in order.
Though the term ‘Sherpa’ has recently become synonymous with Everest’s mountain guides, it actually refers to an ethnic group native to the Eastern Himalayas. Sherpa have played an indispensable role in making it possible to summit Everest, but rarely receive the recognition they deserve. They’re in charge of setting up and taking down the fixed ropes, as well as doing most of the heavy lifting whilst on expeditions with clients.The Sherpa continuously risk their lives to prepare the mountain for climbers and though they earn more than the average Nepalese person, they earn drastically less than the Western guides despite having much higher death rates, as reported by National Geographic. A Western guide can expect to earn around $50,000 per season while the average Sherpa will only make approximately $4000.
Climbers who reach the top are quick to proclaim their success but often fail to mention how said success would’ve been impossible without the team of Sherpa helping them throughout their ascent. This issue isn’t limited to individual climbers but to the West’s perception of indigenous people as a whole. In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit Everest. Hillary – a New Zealand mountaineer – was knighted for his efforts, while Norgay – a Nepalese Sherpa – only received an honorary medal. Indigenous groups have often been exploited by colonial expeditions and then subsequently erased from the narrative once congratulations are in order. This long-standing idea that the Sherpa people exist to help rich foreigners summit a mountain not only reinforces colonial-esque relations, but it also denigrates their accomplishments as some of the best mountaineers the world has ever seen.
The new wave of people summiting Everest have little consideration for how their actions are aggravating an ongoing climate crisis and contributing to an economy which disproportionately harms local ethnic minorities, such as the Sherpa.
Climbing Everest has become an individual feat used to satisfy one’s ego by exploiting others. It is no longer about pushing the boundaries of mountaineering, it has mutated to a profit-driven endeavor that makes accessible to rich foreigners what was once considered impossible for the average human to achieve. The new wave of people summiting Everest have little consideration for how their actions are aggravating an ongoing climate crisis and contributing to an economy which disproportionately harms local ethnic minorities, such as the Sherpa. The Sherpa call Mount Everest ‘Chomolungma’ which means “goddess mother of the world.” To them, Everest isn’t just a peak to climb or a way to make ends meet, it is a holy place that is being desecrated by the mass of wealthy foreign climbers who are simply trying to cross an item off their bucket list.