Sunday, May 28, 2006

The High of Mount Everest and the Lows of Human Behavior

I guess for people who have a dream of climbing Mount Everest, nothing else--not even a person dying--can keep them from their goal (Hat Tip: Ann Althouse). I say that's pitiful. It reminds me of the French tragedy when thousands of elderly died of heatstroke when their kids and the government went on vacation in the month of August. What do you think--would you pass a dying man by to reach the top of a mountain or leave the elderly to die so you could have a vacation?


Blogger DADvocate said...

I'd have to help. Recently, I read "Left for Dead" which is Beck Weathers' story of survival on Mt. Everest when he was abandon to die. The elements are incredibly harsh on Everest. But I would find that climbing a mountain would be a very hollow victory if I had let somebody else die in order to do it.

8:45 AM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What DADvocate said. Leaving someone to die to reap a tad bit of glory is not a human thing to do IMHO.

The dreams I hope this guy has...

10:25 AM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger Sissy Willis said...

These folks need a good dose of the new Disney.Pixar movie, "Cars": It's about the journey, not the destination:

It will grip car guys, car gals and their car kids, too

11:40 AM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely not, and am proving it every day. We haven't had a vacation in over four years because we're the caregivers for my elderly MIL with alzheimers.

I can not imagine stepping over a dying man in order to walk up a hill and back down again. Then again, I couldn't have imagined family members attempting to steal from their elderly, sick grandmother and it sure happened to my husband's mother and happens every day in this country.

As the old testament prophet said, "The human heart is wicked and desperately sick. Who can understand it?"

11:44 AM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always someone has to whip out the old "selfless" fantasy.

It is a selfish act to establish your own hierarchy of values. You establish values so you know how to act. It is selfish to act in a way that preserves your own self-respect in relation to those values.

The problem is not that people have ceased to be "selfless". The problem is not even that people no longer consider it necessary to establish their own values and act accordingly. The problem is that we are now taught that there can be no standards of judgement ... in fact, it is evil to claim that there are. If there are no standards of judgement, then what's the point of having values? And there's certainly no chance to define a hierarchy of those values.

So how are they to know if it's more important for them to keep trecking to the summit or save a dying man's life?

1:37 PM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Is it still that bad in NYC? When I was in school there in the 1980's, it seemed people overlooked everything from abuse on the subway to muggings across the street. People would steal anything that was not bolted down (and sometimes even then)for no other reason than because they could.


I think judgement is underrated these days--as you point out.I have had patients in the past who see nothing wrong with theft, lying or cheating just for the heck of it--some as young as 9. Unfortunately, many psychologists think it is necessary to practice non-judgement or give "unconditional love" to help a child such as this. Me--I tell the kid he is a thief, liar, cheater, etc. who causes others not to trust him and help him or her to change this destructive way of thinking. The problem is that our society is one that often tolerates this type of behavior and in fact, sometimes, rewards it. But I hope the pendulum will swing the other way.

1:48 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know anything about rescue in such conditions? The article said, "Inglis said Sharp had no oxygen when he was found. He said there was virtually no hope that Sharp could have been carried to safety from his position about 1,000 feet short of the 29,035-foot summit, inside the low-oxygen "death zone" of the mountain straddling the Nepal-China border."

Who knows anything about this?

1:53 PM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Well, apparently pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary does and as he stated in the article, he would have abandoned his efforts to climb to the top to help someone. The article says that other climbers have been abandoned and left to die which indicates that this is not an isolated incident.

2:01 PM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger TMink said...

Christy said...
"You have been in training for a year, spent more money than you had, and neglected your family for a once in a life time adventure you figure has a one in ten chance of killing you. And you are expected to stop and rescue - at peril to yourself! - someone who probably didn't sacrifice as much as you did to get there, didn't train as hard, and didn't plan as well!??"

Ummm, yes.


2:58 PM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...

I'm going to get criticized for this opinion and since I probably deserve it, feel free. Nevertheless, the French example bothers me a lot more than the Mr. Everest scenario. Taking August off has become so ingrained in French culture that no one is willing to stay home and work during August. The French apparently can't even make sure there are enough hospital and emergency workers to provide for those left behind. I am also troubled that it is the poor and the elderly who are considered expendable.

In the case of the man dying on Mt. Everest, I hope I would be compassionate enough to stop and help instead of continuing my climb, but I suspect Christy is right. The people who engage in extreme sports - and for the most part these are wealthy sportsmen and not well-trained explorers - are focused on themselves and their goals. I also read Beck Weathers' book and the margin of error on these climbs is minimal. It's not simply that they have barely enough food or gear, but they also have barely enough oxygen. In all likelihood, the mental functioning of the climbers was impaired. Maybe they would normally have stopped to help but were unable to mentally grasp the problem during the climb. Further, the endurance required is enormous. Most of the people who make these climbs aren't really able to take care of themselves and rely on guides who may (or may not) be up to the task. In other words, you risk your life each time you make a climb like this. Everyone going up that mountain knew that and had already decided to take that risk.

I don't mean to excuse letting another person die but I do find it easier to understand in the case of the Mt. Everest expeditions.

3:51 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I'd read on a mountaineering BB, it wasn't a matter of the other climbers somehow being compelled to proceed up the mountain, it's that they didn't want to go back down to get help - they do climb back down after reaching the summit you know. But if they'd gone down from that point, they wouldn't have the provisions, or stamina, necessary to rescale the mountain. All they had to do was descend far enough to signal a rescue team.

4:05 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a climber who climbs solo quite a bit I do not expect anybody to help me if I run into trouble nor do I think anyone is morally or otherwise bound to help me or assist me in anyway. I freely accept that any time I put my feet on the mountain. While it is my privilege to put myself in any dangerous position I may choose it is in no way my privilege to demand other people to put their lives at risk to assit me if I happen to run into trouble.

I have also been in the other side of the equation as a SAR team leader and I maintained the same position, I never felt morally bound to put myself at risk to help others who had run into danger voluntarily. I did it freely. This consideration was specially important since, as a leader, it meant that I was in no way justified to force or manipulate people under my command to put themselves at risk if they did not voluntarily decide to do so.

The exception to all this, of course, is a team situation. Members of a climbing team are bound by the moral obligation to help each other if needed. That is the tacit agreement you enter whenever you rope up with someone.That is what climbing teams are for. If you want anyone to be morally bound to help you then go in a team. If you go solo you are on your own. It is your choice.

5:34 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A Sherpa guide has a different view than Sir Edmund. This article quotes him saying, "At such an altitude, the climbers are weak, tired, having breathing difficulties and cold, so carrying someone else is almost impossible."

So, before judging from ignorance, perhaps we should determine what people who really know what they are talking about say.

6:10 PM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

anonymous 6:10,

Yes, and the same man also said this:

Ang Karma, a Nepalese Sherpa guide who has climbed Mount Everest, said:

"Mountaineering is not what it used to be a few years ago, when people helped each other and behaved like they were a family. Now every man or woman on the mountain is for him or herself."

He also blamed the increasing commercialisation of the sport. "Many are part of commercially organised expeditions, where people only meet just before the climb. Since they are paying a lot of money, they don't want to give up their chance at reaching the summit."

Apparently the same narcissists who climb Mount Everest and walk by their fellow man (because of lack of oxygen, of course!) have enough oxygen to think through their desire to make it to the top.

7:26 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that you mention commercial expeditions.Are you really aware of what is really happening up there? You seem to be under the impression that all the "climbers" that walked past the troubled soloist were free to assist him if they did so chose. Nothing further from the truth. If you plan to review and resolve the entire "guiding at altitude" controversy in your blog good luck, but notice that not even the UIAGM has been able to come up with a clear position even after much debate, the subtleties involved are mind boggling even for those who have dedicated long and careful thought to the question.

8:05 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you provide us with an analysis of the physical abilities of people at that altitude in those conditions? Can you tell us if they are capable of carrying someone down the mountain from that height? How do they do it? How much additional oxygen does it take? Do they have the strength? Can you tell us if their ability to make the peak means they have the ability to carry an injured climber back? Don't be shy. The world community of climbers needs you.

The International Federation of Mountain Guides Association hasn't come to a conclusion, but you have. Just let them know.

9:13 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest case is British David Sharp. David vanished on his summit bid last week, and the only reason the world knew was thanks to a blog entry by his team mate Vitor Negrete. Vitor dispatched that David had died, and reported 3 more climbers missing on the mountain. He was distraught by the situation, including the fact that his high camp had been robbed. “All these events have affected me deeply – I even considered calling the attempt off,” he said. The next day, Vitor was dead.

I don't know mountaineering, but I do know that I'd bring a gun. These folks seem totally amoral. They'll steal your gear won't even tell anyone that you'd died! has a lot of coverage. Strangely their reports don't imply that the expectation that climbers can render aid is 'the furthest thing from the truth'.


9:18 PM, May 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moe reread what I wrote:

"You seem to be under the impression that all the "climbers" that walked past the troubled soloist were free to assist him if they did so chose"

The fact is that nowadays most "climbers" up there are actually clients in guided parties. Clients in guided parties are not free to unilaterally launch rescue attempts. Sherpas in guided parties are not free to unilaterally launch rescue attempts. Clients are duty and contract bound to follow the instructions of their guides. Sherpas are duty and contract bound to follow the instructions of their guides. If any client or Sherpa in a guided party decided unilaterally to launch a rescue attempt he would put his entire party in grave danger.

Who was free to even consider launching a rescue attempt on that day? Guides and independent climbers were, after carefully considering the repercussions for the safety of their own clients, Sherpas and teammates to whom they owed their first allegiance. How many of those 40 that walked by were guides or independent climbers? I do not know... one, two, four, none?

If any did walk by. Was he in a position to launch a rescue attempt without endangering his party members, Sherpas or clients.? I do not know. Was he likely to be in such a position? if he was an independent may be, if he was a guide it would have been much harder, having a number of inexperienced clients spread like rosary beads along the length of the route, a limited number of Sherpas and oxygen to assist them in case anything were wrong, and he himself unavailable to attend to the rescue and the clients at the same time, a rescue attempt may have well ended in a disaster.

Is it possible that a guide or independent walking past sharp,if there were any, was in a position to launch a rescue attempt but his decision was colored by the fact that doing so would prevent him or his clients to reach the summit? It is. Do we know it happened that way? No, it is impossible for us to know.

Why wasn't Sharp assisted by his guide, his Sherpas or the other members of his own party? Because he had none. He was soloing. Something even Sir Edmund fails to consider when he said his expedition: "would never for a moment have left one of the members or a group of members just lie there and die while they plugged on towards the summit". Nobody did that,Sharp was not a member of any party, Sir Edmund seems to be operating under a false impression.

What many of you people fail to consider is that an already very complicated situation up there due to the hardships imposed upon the human body and mind by the extreme altitude has been compounded a hundred times by the addition of a multitude of guided parties to the equation.

Guiding at altitude is an incredibly complicated and controversial matter. Complex, delicate and morally unclear situation such as this are bound to arise more and more often due to the emergence of this practice. The storm of 96 was a good example, what has happened with Sharp another one. Is it possible for the guides to take clear headed decisions up there? Is it morally acceptable? Doesn't it create uncontrollable dangers for anyone in the mountain? Is it possible to guide at altitude at all? Not even the guides themselves are able to reach an agreement on that.

Should it be allowed at all?. I am not at all in favor of limiting personal freedom in the mountains. Ideally I think there shouldn't be any guided parties at altitude. As it is, up there it is a mess. If you chose to attempt the mountain at all you are well advised to take note of the situation and its implications, after all, it is your choice.

To finish, notice how many interrogations signs are dotted among my words. In a situation as complex as the one that exist in the slopes of Everest today there are too many questions and very few certainties.

11:26 PM, May 28, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...

Chinditan Chair,

I agree that it would be unfortunate to limit personal freedom in climbing expeditions - solo or guided. My limited reading on this subject suggests that climbing has become overcrowded at popular sites and that some guides are poorly prepared for their responsibilities. It seems to me that, as a result, governments will eventually increase restrictions on these expeditions. Are climbers or climbing organizations making efforts to address this issue? That has to be difficult given the number of jurisdictions and countries involved.

12:05 AM, May 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No actually it is the other way around local governments love commercial guided expeditions. They are willing and able to put up with all the red tape and pay the hefty fees the governments demand in the guise of "climbing permits"

In fact they do try to discourage independent climbers as much as posible in peaks above 8000 meters. As an example check out the fee schedule for Everest as set by the Nepalese government:

1 Climber US$ 25,000.00
2 Climbers US$ 40,000.00
3 Climbers US$ 48,000.00
4 Climbers US$ 56,000.00
5 Climbers US$ 60,000.00
6 Climbers US$ 66,000.00
7 Climbers US$ 70,000.00

Any aditional climbers over seven add US$ 10,000.

Plus, and I will forget something: Waste deposit US$4000 per team, Kumbu icefall fee $2,375 per team,Radio Permit $400, Satellite phone permit (if you have one) $2,300, liason officer insurance and fees $3,000 per team.

I am not sure about the situation in the Tibet side. I am under the impression that Chinese fees are lower but apparaently the Chinese often come up with some underhanded way to extract more money than was expected from the expeditions.

This are just fees, the "real" costs of an expedition come next and they also involve some very significant economies of scale for larger expeditions.

As you can understand it is almost imposible for an independent group of 2, 3 or even 4 climbers to attempt the mountain. Those that do it usually "share" a permit with a commercial expedition or among themselves a practice frowned upon but allowed by the Nepalese authorities.

This is basically the reason why there is very little high level climbing being done today at peaks above 8000 meters. The elite has retreated to the lesser but more technicaly difficult lower peaks where soloists and teams of two or three can still do challenging climbs in good style. The 8000 meter peaks have been basically abandoned to the commercial masses, the ticket punchers and the collectors of mediocrities. There are of course exceptions as House and Anderson with their absolutely magnificent alpine style ascent of the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat but they are few and far between and their scarcity remind us that the golden age of Himalayan climbing is past and that there are no signs of a renaissance any time soon.

4:20 AM, May 29, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...


I agree that Sir Edmund is a respected explorer and his opinions should be seriously considered but climbing Everest today is vastly different than when he was climbing. It seems to me that more efforts should be made by the governments to provide for safety in climbing. In essence, this has become a big-business / tourist attraction for these governments and there needs to be some sort of EMS available.

3:19 PM, May 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I note the use of the phrase "dozens of climbers". If there are that many people who can help, the easiest thing to do, is leave the problem to the dozens of other people who can help.

The logic is identical to walking past litter in the street because "someone else can pick it up". All that is different is the scale of the effort required, and the scale of the consequences.

The usual solution these days is "the Goverment should do something". Then none of us has to.

4:39 PM, May 29, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...

Anonymous @ 4:39:

Touche'. I'm not normally a (big "G") government person but there are some functions better performed by government than by individuals: building roads, securing the border (as if), and providing for public safety by providing police and emergency workers. It's clear that the number of people making this type of climb has grown. Add to that the significant revenues governments make off climbing ventures. It makes sense to require that those governments do more to address safety issues during climbing expeditions, not only for the benefit of tourists but also for the protection of locals who work as guides and support personnel.

5:19 PM, May 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a ridiculous and obtuse analogy. An equally ridiculous parallel could be drawn between the climbers ruthless quest for Everest's summit and free market capitalism's every-man-for-himself approach to the pursuit of profit

5:55 PM, May 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for the dead climber, anonymous' and chindtain chair's comments are correct. I cannot add much more to their statements and to their cautions about judging those who did not attempt to "do something." I climbed at altitude for several years before my children arrived. My highest climb was 23,400 ft. Even at that height, you may be at peril yourself if you try to rescue someone, depending on the route, conditions, and weather. Your margin of error is slim to none. Signal a rescue team? You are the rescue team! There is no "rescue team" waiting at the South Col for a call to rescue someone!

I cannot say what I would have done in those conditions. All I can do is to encourage some of you who have made comments shaming those who did not try to rescue is to read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. Then come back and comment.

One last thing. If Sharp was climbing alone, he was good enough and experienced enough to know the potential consequences. If he was climbing and had a wife and children, shame on him.

6:30 PM, May 29, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...

Prof and Chinditan Chair,

You appear to have expertise in the subject of climbing. I don't but I have read a little on the subject. (A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but you seem willing to share your knowledge and I'm interested in learning more.) In Krakauer's book, "Into Thin Air", he attributes the disastrous 1996 season to many factors but specifically notes the failure to follow procedures:

"Certainly time had as much to do with the tragedy as the weather, and ignoring the clock can't be passed off as an act of God. Delays at the fixed lines were foreseeable and eminently preventable. Predetermined turn-around times were egregiously ignored." Pages 354-355 (First Edition [paperback], May 1998).

I take it from my reading of this book that there are procedures that can be locally enforced that might make climbing safer. I agree that high altitude climbing is an unsafe endeavor and people should think hard about the risks involved. I also believe that it's a double-edged sword: The more one tries to increase safety, the more people might be willing to take unreasonable risks. Clearly, however, climbing isn't just for the Sir Edmund Hilary's of the world anymore, and I'm not sure that it's smart to treat it as if the only people who partake are explorers and adventurers.

6:59 PM, May 29, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...

GS is right. Thank you Moe for a great link.

12:30 PM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Thanks to Moe for the link. What I find troubling is that if these mountaineers think their behavior is so acceptable, why all the secrecy except for the blogger who brought up David's death? Is it because they are afraid that at cocktail parties discussing their heroic efforts at climbing Mount Everest, instead of being impressed, people will just say something like "Oh, how many dead guys did you walk over?"

12:39 PM, May 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What secrecy? Secrecy implies an effort to suppress the truth. Where do we see this?

1:43 PM, May 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know about "silence". I do know that you have to be extremely careful when breaking news of accidents or deaths at altitude. There is an tacit protocol to follow about these things and people that have broken the protocol have gotten in trouble in the past. Ideally nobody should have said anything about Sharp's death or its circumstances until his expedition leader had notified the family and the chinese ministry had publicly declared him dead.

Until then yes silence is called for. It seems that in this case neither the expedition leader, since apparently there really wasn't one, nor the Chinese authorities,that allegedly are amateurish and are making a very poor job of policing their side compared with the more experienced Nepalese, did a very good job on the matter. Just another sign of the mess the "cheap side" has turned into.

Helen you ask about "these mountaineers", what you fail to realice is that you cannot expect everybody climbing Everest today to be a mountaineer, in fact there are very few left.It is a commercial circus up there now that is the problem.

And regarding the number of dead guys you pass by. You do pass by quite a few, no problem. Dying up guys is a different matter...

2:11 PM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Chinditan chair,

I appreciate your comments.

3:14 PM, May 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Well said. However, when Starbucks has a branch atop Everest, those looking for a challenge will be watching from K2.

9:26 PM, May 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thos looking for a challenge left Everest years, even decades ago...

5:20 PM, June 02, 2006  
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