I’m not one to crush dreams, but in this case, I will: Don’t climb Mount Everest.
Yes, it’s there. Yes, it’s an endeavor of the human spirit. Yes, it looms over us, the highest point on planet Earth, but don’t climb it. Don’t even think about it. I don’t care if it is your one and only dream in life. Dreams can change, the mountain can’t. Do something else.
Everest, in all of her majestic glory and beauty is quickly becoming the landfill of the rich and bored and that is no way to treat our highest place on Earth. May 29th, 2013 marked the 60th anniversary of the historic first (reported) summit of Everest by the legendary expedition of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. That was a feat of the human spirit. In 1953, Everest was a remote force of nature that people looked at in awe. Even Hillary and Norgay could only remain at the top of the world for 15 minutes due to oxygen deprivation. It was an area that shunned humans away.
Everest invites everyone who has the money to spend on her. It has become a lost idea of just how dangerous Everest can be. Even with reminders such as Jon Kraukauer’s Into Thin Air and the recent loss of four hikers on the weekend of May 18. In her article for the Guardian, Kate Connolly chronicles the aborted journey of Ralf Dujmovits on Everest. When he finally turned around, he snapped a now infamous picture of more than 600 people marching like ants up the mountain.
Mount Everest, a place once reserved for the best hikers in the world, is now a place for the hobbyist.
This is no longer an achievement of the human spirit. Everest has been defaced in the worst possible way. She has been reduced to an unnecessarily dangerous wait in line. Climbing Everest has nothing to do with the present experience. It has become a talking point. It is something to wear around after, not something to grow from. Watch one episode of the Discovery Channel’s Everest: Beyond the Limit to see what I’m talking about. It’s enough to make anyone feel sorry for both the mountain and those hiking it.
But, this whole Everest situation brings me to a larger point: our natural world is disappearing before our eyes.
A recent This American Life focused on changing the conversation of the stale-mate debate over climate change as it has been going nowhere for years now. People have their talking points and beliefs and lines have been drawn and that’s fine. But, regardless of where one stands on the issue of climate change being a result of humans, we must come to the realization that a.) we are a growing species and b.) our world is changing place. So, instead of focusing on the “right” science, we should be taking a look around and deciding what the best way to live our lives in this present world should be.
Yes, Everest has become a trash dump and its glaciers are receding. But do both parts of that sentence need to be happening? No.
The point I want to make is that a receding natural world can be stalled if people collectively begin to realize that the natural world is everywhere. One does not need to make an expensive journey to Everest to invigorate their spirit. A person who spends $100,000 on a climb up Everest will get the same soul-stirring rejuvenation as a person who hikes a 1,000 meter mountain just outside the city.
The image of 600 people hiking in a straight line up Everest is a microcosm of how so many people view travel and tourism. There are key names and places that thousands of people flock to each year to “see it” without actually “seeing it.”
(I’ve mentioned it in an article before, but Don DeLillo’s “most photographed barn in America” totally applies here)
In a related story to the traffic jam on Everest, Cambodia has seen an exponentially growing tourism industry spring up around their national treasure of Angkor Wat. The BBC sheds light on the rapidly crumbling temples of Angkor Wat as each year, thousands of tourist flock to it on the same sunrise tour, they take the same sunrise pictures and then they go walk all over it for a day.
With a shrinking amount of natural places and ancient wonders comes a great responsibility to be mindful of them and careful of them. This, in some cases, might include not going at all.
We exist in a physically changing world that is leaving our natural places fewer and farther between, but they are not gone yet. Having a natural place like Everest or a historical treasure like Angkor Wat is a privilege that people are taking for granted. People see Everest like a badge to wear because it is the biggest, not because they will live a fuller life because of it. So many people have already been there and, like the trail of people climbing up the mountain, more and more are lining up to go. If people have not found themselves on a run through the woods, they surely won’t find themselves on Everest.
There are still many places to travel that are off the beaten track, it just takes the realization that wherever we are completely present can be just as powerful as the biggest mountain on Earth. It just takes a little more self-discovery and a little less following. It’s time to let Mount Everest be for a while.