The Dirty Business of Mt. Everest

If you ask the typical American the name of the first person to climb Mt. Everest, he will tell you that it was a British climber named Edmund Hillary in 1953. A well-informed American will add a footnote. In reality. Sir Edmund Hillary was the first European to reach the summit of the tallest mountain in the world. Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide, probably made it first.

These days, the summit of Mount Everest is open to anybody who can afford a tour by someone like Russell Brice, the New Zealander who owns Himalayan Experience Ltd. For $100,000, you get experienced mountaineers to guide you up the southern, Nepalese, side of the mountain, flat screen TVs at base camp, and a team of Sherpas to haul your gear and serve you tea and hot towels in your tent. If you think this sounds like the recipe for class conflict, you would be correct.

Sherpa, a 2015 film by Jennifer Peedom, documents the disastrous 2014 season, when sixteen Sherpas were killed in an avalanche 18,000 feet above sea level at the Khumbu Icefall. A group of Sherpas, each of whom gets about $5000 dollars for the season, then staged what might easily be called “Occupy Everest,” not only refusing to haul gear for Bryce’s western clientele, but promising to stop anybody who did, by physical force if necessary. If you want the record for the “highest labor stoppage in history” this would be it.

Astonishingly, many of Bryce client’s insisted that they still be allowed to go to the top of Everest. I’ve rarely seen a better example of rich, clueless, white people indifferent to the lives of a group of non-western service workers. One man calls the Sherpa’s “terrorists.” It’s exactly like 9/11, he says. Bryce himself comes across almost like a cartoon villain, a Don Blankenship of the mountains. “I understand that the Sherpas are upset that people died,” he says, “but, we have to get on with it. How are they going to feed their families if we cancel the season?”

It’s hard to imagine Bryce or his clients with such a cavalier attitude about a similar disaster in Switzerland. “Yes, I understand that Pierre is upset that he just lost his whole family in an avalanche, but for heaven’s sake we really have to get on with the skiing season.” If ever there were a group of people who needed to “check their privilege,” it’s Russell Brice and his $100,000 a head gang of entitled, racist, assholes.

7 thoughts on “The Dirty Business of Mt. Everest”

  1. Stan, can we ever finish with “entitled tourism”? The Brits were the first, really, with their mountain adventures during the Indian “hot season”, running trains to Simla near the Himalayas, being sure that tea was at the ready and pool tables transported halfway round the world. Language problems were solved by talking louder. Now people want to “swim with the dolphins” or “see a 1000 places before you die.” Sip a glass of wine in Paris? There is no calculation of the amount of jet fuel that is puffed away, day after day, for meaningless trivial “tourism”. And still it grows, Stan, like a cancer that just can’t help itself.

    1. I guess the question is why the Nepalese government is allowing foreigners like Russell Brice to exploit cheap Sherpa labor. Why not give the Everest guide concession to the Sherpas themselves? The foreigners could pay fly to Kathmandu, hook up with a Sherpa guide company, and pay them. That way you let the locals profit from your “natural resources.”

  2. Stan, I want to see these Cannes winners, Canadian Xavier Dolan and his “Just the last day of the world” and “I, Daniel Blake” by (forgotten name).

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