Everest in peace
1st June, 2009
The mountaineers who come to conquer Everest mistake their achievement – in the quest to overcome nature’s ultimate natural obstacle, humans have already won
The wars of mountaineers are fought on three fronts: against the mountain, against the elements and against themselves. In the rarified air, thousands of metres above sea level, they come to test their skills as climbers and the limits of their endurance as human beings. Armed with crampons, pitons, ropes and picks, they come, to paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary, to ‘knock the bastards off’. As the highest point on Earth, to conquer Everest is, in the western imagination, to overcome the ultimate natural obstacle to man’s supremacy. No longer inconsequential, on Everest’s summit men and women are literally on top of the world, looking down on creation. Like God. Or Karen Carpenter.
Somewhere over 7,000m you get closer to both. This is the ‘death zone’, the altitude above which the amount of oxygen in the air cannot sustain life. Mental and physical functions are impaired. Vital systems start to shut down. Human beings begin to die. It’s hard to imagine that a mountain can too, but from our lowly positions, dwarfed by its 8,848m bulk, and through a collective effort in the true spirit of mountaineering – the climbers at the rock face, the support team in our cars, homes,...
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