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Climbing All The Way To The Bank

A recent incident has brutally illustrated the fact that even when it concerns Mount Everest the profit motive counts above everything.

Towards the end of April three European climbers – Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and Jon Griffith, all-well hardened on the slopes – were at Everest Camp Two, at about 21,000 feet, working to find a new route to the summit. They were not using ropes or oxygen – they regard climbing with these aids ‘like walking.’ However, on the same slope there was a party of Sherpas laying out fixed lines – permanent ropes for the ‘commercial climbers’ who are not planning to ‘walk’ up Everest. It is usual to leave Sherpas free to do this work, but on this occasion the three European climbers crossed the Sherpa lines. They said they did this in order to reach their tent but Griffith despised the restriction as against the ‘freedom of the hills.’ The Sherpas objected and there was a fight in which rocks, a knife and an ice axe were used, and later some 100 Sherpas came to attack the three men at their tent. The dispute was settled at least for the present, when the Europeans fled back to the Base Camp.

Since then the Nepalese government have intervened, mindful of the financial importance of the Everest climbing trade. Along the trail to the Base Camp, tourists have spent tens of millions of dollars. The accommodation at the Camp can be luxurious with hot tubs and bedding and food flown in from the rest of the world to order; there is also a helicopter champagne breakfast for those with the right appetite and money. This is no longer sacred ground, protected from the rest: now the tourism authority collects a £6,450 fee for every climber and the normal basic cost of a climb is £22,500, but for the right person this can reach as high as £65,000, even for those who, according to Tenzing Norgay's son, need instruction to put on crampons. The average annual wage in Nepal is around £128, which is known to be a cause of some resentment among the locals who work to keep those snugly wealthy people happy. All this in the interests of keeping the mountain earning the profits. Which raises the question, unlikely to be asked let alone answered among the celebrations this year: Who Owns Everest?