Has Everest Changed for the Worse?


Recently Mt. Everest has gone through a metamorphosis. Mostly due to developing technology, Everest is moving into an era of “pay-to-go” expeditions. Technology has basically opened Everest. This increased accessibility of the mountain has many elite climbers frustrated with the new attention the mountain is receiving. Many feel it cheapens the accomplishment of climbing Everest or that it insults the mountain’s spirit. Others are using the new era as a time to attempt new routes or challenges unattainable before.


Technology has impacted virtually every aspect of how Everest is climbed. Modern day equipment is more efficient, lightweight, durable, and astronomically better overall than that of the early Everest climbers. For example, the average climber now brings five bottles of oxygen which can last them 20 hours of constant use at average to high flow (MountEverest.net, Oz). These oxygen bottles weigh around 5 pounds apiece. By contrast, in the 1920’s when George Mallory and “Sandy” Irvine attempted to summit Everest, they wore bulky oxygen tanks with much lower capacity weighing approximately 25 pounds. Even at low flow, these heavy tanks could only last a twelve hour summit attempt (NOVA). Newer lighter weight equipment allows for an easier summit. The higher capacity oxygen tanks also prevent exhaustion from lack of oxygen as depicted by Sir Edmund Hillary in his account of the first summit of Mt. Everest (Hillary 30, 31).


This explosion of technology has one negative effect however: overcrowding. On May 23, 2001, eighty-nine climbers summited Everest, an unheard of number in the past (Roberts). Most of the overcrowding can be attributed to the success of “pay-to-go” trips. Technological advances make it possible for people other than the climbing elite to summit Everest. One such “pay-to-go” trip ended in disaster. In 1996 a turn of bad weather killed twelve climbers of questionable ability on such an expedition. These events, combined with the build up of garbage on Everest, have caused many experienced climbers to resent the new wave of tourism. Many climbers resent the relative ease of climbing Everest today believing it cheapens the experience. Others however are less worried about the new trends and think they could be beneficial to climbers in the future (Markey).


Climber Conrad Anker, famous for finding the body of George Mallory, is not so sure the commercial boom on Everest is such a bad thing. He argues that without the media attention and money tourism has brought into the industry, climbers like himself would never be able to spend their whole lives pursuing their love of climbing. He says, “…climbing is a real job for me now… it’s possible to be able to make a living at it. I think it’s a good thing.” He called the garbage now littering Everest’s slopes “aesthetic garbage rather than something that’s going to affect life and the quality of it.” (Markey). These comments starkly collide with those of other well respected climbers who think Everest’s increasing crowd is a reason for worry and anger. Climber Chris Warner said, “I found myself managing a lunatic asylum,” referring to his recent summit on the busy day of May 23, 2001 (Roberts).


Despite the controversy, people continue to be drawn to the challenge of climbing Everest. In spite of accusations that it has cheapened the Everest experience, technology has opened new challenges for others. Last year, a South-African expedition attempted a new route via the North-East face (MountEverest.net, New). These expeditions usually garner less media attention but are a testament to the opinion that new challenges exist on Everest. No matter what changes technology brings, Everest will always present a challenge with numerous unexplored routes and uncontrollable factors such as weather.


In the modern day Mount Everest has been subjected to many changes. Whether these changes are for better or worse has been a topic of discussion for many years and will continue to be debated. Technology and tourism have bestowed a mixed blessing among the climbing community and have called into question whether the spirit of Everest has been retained. Most agree although the newfound popularity of Everest is frustrating, it opens gateways to new challenges as well. The general attitude seemed to be, in the end, that one must take the bad