Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to Climb Mt. Everest

Yesterday was a bust, reading-wise, until I picked up HIGH CRIMES: THE FATE OF EVEREST IN AN AGE OF GREED by Michael Kodas. This book combines many of my favorite elements: chilly temperatures, peril, hypoxia, hypothermia, and bad human behavior. How could the book about the time-traveling rock star compete? Or the slow-moving one about Appalachian murders one hundred years apart?

You wouldn't think there'd be room at the publishers for another book about people behaving badly on Mt. Everest, and Kodas frankly acknowledges how his book continues and complements Krakauer's INTO THIN AIR. But there is, in fact, plenty more to say. And much of the more is directly due to the popularity of INTO THIN AIR. Apparently, when the Chinese government got word that Nepalese climbing outfits were charging $65,000 a head to make a summit attempt, they decided this was a business opportunity worth investigating. Result: more Chinese tromping on Tibet, so they could pave the way (literally) to a cheaper, Chinese (or Tibetan, depending on how you feel about it) climbing alternative.

Anyhow, if you are considering your own assault on Everest, here are some things to consider:

1. Permits on the Chinese side are cut-rate, and they have a PAVED ROAD all the way to Base Camp! (On the other hand, the Nepalese side now has a HOTEL just an hour's walk from their base camp.)

2. You may want to take your savings on permits and invest in ARMED SECURITY GUARDS because people have been known to steal each other's oxygen tanks, tents, supplies, medkits, stylish Marmot down suits--anything that isn't staked down.

3. Speaking of down suits, when you go try them on at REI or wherever, first don oven mitts and fogged-over goggles and then take each one on a test drive to the bathroom. You may look ridiculous, but people have died on Everest over lesser things.

3. People who climb without being properly equipped, imagining they will just "borrow" and depend on the kindness of strangers, are known as "dirtbags." Another downside of being a dirtbag, besides the unflattering name, is that the properly-equipped are wising up, stumbling past you along the ropes as your oxygen tank dries up and frostbite claims another toe.

4. On the Nepalese side, if you're not off The Balcony and slogging into Camp Four by day's end, you're pretty much toast. Get out your special satellite phone and make that last call a good one.

5. And finally, for those of you who insist, there's now another option altogether: helicopter rides to the summit! Imagine--no puffy red suit, no midnight start, no fumbling to switch out oxygen tanks, no moral dilemma about whether to save yourself or the ill-prepared dirtbag lying there. Just slap on the goofy headphones, and off you go to the Top of the World.

Happy climbing!

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