Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When stakes get higher than the mountain, it's time to lower Everest

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading books about terrible things happening to despicable people. And I’m not talking about the indigestion experienced by people in the Bush administration when the latest Bob Woodward book comes out or when the people who run the Pittsburgh Pirates have to read Bob Smizik in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Sure, those are people of pure evil, especially the men who run the Pirates, but nothing bad’s really happening to them. The criticism and ridicule may make them feel uncomfortable, but none of them is going to lose any fingers or toes to frostbite and their bowels won’t erupt in embarrassing situations,

That’s why I’d like ship the whole loathsome bunch of them to the Himalayas next spring in time to attempt to scale Mount Everest.

Then I could sit back and wait for the entertaining book about their horrific miseries.

I’m convinced there are no worse self-inflicted wounds in the world than those endured by egotistical amateurs who endeavor to summit the world’s tallest mountain.

And it’s only going to get worse. Mark my words, we’re approaching a day when soon dozens and dozens of people will die on Everest. Sure, most of the arrogant showoffs will have it coming, but because some innocents might expire in the process I have a solution.

It’s time to lower Everest. At more than 29,000 feet It’s way too high. What’s worse, as far climbing challenges go it’s just too damn easy. Expert climbers scoff at those who brag about climbing Everest because they equate it to an Alpine stroll, albeit one that takes place on the wing of a cruising 747 tooling along the jet stream.

I just finished reading a terrific book by Michael Kodas, “High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed.” It tells about how he, an amateur climber and a reporter with the Hartford Courant, became involved with a Connecticut team determined to summit the mountain. What started out as a chummy affair dissolved into bitter acrimony with everyone fearing for their lives.

In the process, he reveals how vastly different the mountain is since the days when gallant Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norkay of Nepal first gamely scaled it back in 1953. It’s nearly impossible to conceive what a phenomenal achievement it was back then.

Heck, back then even figuring out what the tallest mountain in the world was seems to me a phenomenal achievement. There was no GPS or pinpoint satellite imaging.

How’d they do it? Did somebody have a really, really long piece of string with them?

But it was something to be admired. They did it without oxygen tanks, cellphones, laptop weather reports, fixed ropes and ladders or any of the other sissy accouterments that makes climbing Everest such a cheap stunt these days. For God’s sake, they’ve even landed a helicopter on the summit.

Everest today is a lawless land overrun with scandal. There are drugs, prostitution, theft and even accusations of outright homicide. It’s like downtown Detroit only with lots more hypoxic vomiting.

Worst of all are the affluent dreamers who think climbing Everest will make them whole or earn them lucrative speaking fees on the lecture circuits.

“High Crimes” reveals in painstaking detail how as many as 40 of these sorts of amateurs climbed over a stricken climber named David Sharpe and responded to his pleading, outreached hands, if they acknowledged him at all, with attaboy high fives.

It was appalling.

His body, frozen stiffer than petrified log, is still there today, several hundred feet from the summit.

If you lowered Everest, the mountain wouldn’t be the sort of talisman that attracts these type of people. The really difficult mountains would be intimidating enough to scare off the amateurs.

Everyone who summits should be encouraged to bring down backpacks full of souvenir rocks. In a few short years, the world’s greatest mountain would be diminished to more manageable heights.

If that doesn’t seem practical, how about tunneling into the base to build a thrill-ride elevator to the top of the world? This would have the added benefit of making it handicap accessible for those who are concerned, as am I, about those PC sorts of things.

Put up a casino and people from all over the world will flock to Everest to lay down some bucks at the world’s tallest mountain.

Don’t think people will go to Everest to gamble?

Hell, they’ve been doing that for years.

No comments: