Thursday, May 25, 2006

Everest and Ethics

For the last few years, I have been an "armchair adventurer" and done a lot of reading about Mount Everest.

My interest began with Jon Krakauer's classic INTO THIN AIR and continued as I read books such as David Breshears' HIGH EXPOSURE and saw the 1998 IMAX film, which is available on DVD. Websites such as Mountain Zone and NOVA allowed me to follow expeditions almost in real time and even listen to a live Internet broadcast from the summit.

When reading about Mount Everest, one learns about much more than mountain climbing; geography, science, medicine, history, culture, and religion all intersect at Mount Everest.

All this said, I think those who choose to climb Mount Everest are just short of crazy (grin); perhaps part of the fascination is that people are willing to push themselves to the limits to achieve the summit, knowing there is a very real possibility they won't make it back down the mountain.

An interesting debate on climbing and ethics has ensued this week as Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1953 was the first to summit Everest, along with Tenzing Norgay, has criticized climbers who chose to walk past a dying man in order to make the summit.

According to ABC and other sources, the climbers believed the man was past saving; the climbers chose to continue on to the summit rather than comfort the dying man. It should be noted that stopping for too long in one place at that altitude carries its own dangers. It's hard for me personally to imagine wanting to continue on to the summit under those circumstances, but I suspect, on top of the single-minded desire to achieve their goal, many of the climbers in that situation aren't necessarily thinking rationally by that point, given the physical and mental effects of the altitude and freezing weather.

As an aside, this incident stands in stark contrast to the heartwarming, miraculous rescue of Dr. Beck Weathers by his fellow climbers -- and a very brave helicopter pilot -- a decade ago.

A sad story, which is unfortunately one of many tragedies to have taken place on Everest. I'll be interested to follow the debate as it continues and see if it impacts the actions of future climbers.

Friday Update: Mount Everest Net has the story of an attempt to rescue an Australian, Lincoln Hall, who was believed dead after spending a night in the open. The rescue was spurred by an American, Alexander Abramov, who found Hall still alive.

The London Times: "'Alex Abramov immediately dispatched a team of 12 sherpas to re-ascend with fresh oxygen and stretcher,' said Duncan Chessell, another Australian mountaineer. 'If he’s alive he’s high up and in serious danger. It's going to be a miracle if he can get out of it.'"


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