Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Quick Thought on K2


As many of you will have heard the summit of K2 was reached several days ago after a 3 year wait, the last successful attempt being way back in 2008 - that's a long time for one of the tallest and most infamous mountains in the world! This long wait has been in part due to the extreme difficulty K2 presents climbers with its variable weather and technical difficulty, the death rate is much higher than that of Everest.

My thought is that perhaps it's a good thing if 8,000m peaks aren't being climbed by a truck load of tourists every year; Everest, among others (such as Cho Oyu), are climbed by hundreds of people a year now, wouldn't it be great if permits were just not made available for one year out of every five or out of every ten? Give the mountain a break and make it more exclusive to the more competent and dedicated climber, rather than some rich person with more money than sense attempting the, often under estimated, climb of Everest. It's a shame to see the greatest mountains on earth exploited and over used, 3 years without a climb gave K2 even more allure (and that's only 3 years!) and it would be great if the same could be said for the rest of the 14 8,000m peaks. What do you think?

7 comments:

  1. This is great news!

    I can agree that perhaps some peaks are becoming too accessible; I agree that some of the mountains are becoming a little too accessible to amateur climbers. I saw many people on Everest who clearly didn't have a clue how to climb, how to use their equipment and also things like being unaware of standard mountain etiquette.

    However, I would disagree about the stereotypical over-rich people on Everest. Admittedly, there is a lot of highly professional people, but they are not all inexperienced climbers. Yet there are also many people who have worked very hard to scrape enough money together either by saving or from sponsorship.

    These stereotypes are occasionally apparent, but generally it is a minority and it's a shame that all Everest climbers are getting this reputation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for commenting Becky!

    Perhaps it was a bit unfair of me to generalise but it is true that Everest, and those who climb it, have had their reputation dented in recent years; it is a shame.

    I'd expect most attempting to climb Everest to have climbed extensively in the Alps (or equivelant) as well as a whole collection of Himalayan (or equivelant) peaks but it's certainly not the case and I think that's often why people fail, are injured or sadly killed.

    Tom

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tom/Becky,

    This is a real can of worms and something that really grates with me. Where do you draw the line? Supplementary oxygen? Fixed ropes? Porters? At which point do you stop bringing the mountain down to your level. Compare an ascent now of Everest to the attempts of Mallory or even Hillary. The adventure is incomparable.

    Are trips with fixed ropes, oxygen, sherpas etc getting in the way of the mountain etiquette of those with going without?

    Quoted death rates are not as straightforward as you may think as they are calculated as a proportion of people who summit (not attempts). I suspect if you were able to compare number of deaths versus attempts you would see a very the vast majority survive. It is not the 27% you see quoted in the press. There's a very much greater chance of summiting Everest, thus the figure is skewed.

    There were probably less people overall on K2 this year than in previous years after 2008. Those that summitted were not there just out of the allure of the K2 tick. Their story is much deeper.

    High altitude mountaineering, especially on some peaks has become a bit of a circus. You pay the money, you get the trip. Regardless of how you got the money; slogging for sponsorship packing bags in Tesco or running a multinational. Everest is seen as the tick. Why not go and do a first ascent on a 7000m peak?

    Everest may have to be an unfortunate sacrificial lamb as far as "mountains to take the tick" are concerned. I know this view is expressed by some high profile climber, we should not translate that to everywhere else. Climbing is not all about bringing the mountain down to your level, it's about taking it on as a challenge.

    Limiting permits for every 5 years or something does not solve the competency issue, it then just becomes an even greater supply and demand issue. At the end of the day it is seen as a tourist industry after all. That's who you'll deal with, the ministry of tourism. You just isolate the competent. That's already happened to an extent in the climbing world, the truly competent are generally off somewhere else doing something wild that nobody barely hears of. Just as an example... http://www.thebmc.co.uk/News.aspx?id=4367

    I agree that it probably needs a bit more regulation of some sort, but the climbing world always fights against regulation, that's why we're climbers after all. There are climbers from all around the world on 8000m peaks, I'd say the majority of people I'd met on the Baltoro this year had never climbed in the alps, mainly greater ranges, gaining most of their experience there. Remember in general, most of the big peaks are technically very easy. By an large all the independent expeditions in the Karakoram this year had very experienced climbers. It was the commercial trips whose climbers were often in-experienced. I witnessed a death on an expedition due to exactly this. This pay and go facility needs to be evaluated. Does lining the route with fixed lines, which usually left up (even if they say they're not). The commercial organisers need to assess their clients, and the ethics. The best do, I'm sure many don't.

    An adventurer does not just follow in others' footsteps. Make your own - I'm sure you agree.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Tom/Becky,

    This is a real can of worms and something that really grates with me. Where do you draw the line? Supplementary oxygen? Fixed ropes? Porters? At which point do you stop bringing the mountain down to your level. Compare an ascent now of Everest to the attempts of Mallory or even Hillary. The adventure is incomparable.

    Are trips with fixed ropes, oxygen, sherpas etc getting in the way of the mountain etiquette of those with going without?

    Quoted death rates are not as straightforward as you may think as they are calculated as a proportion of people who summit (not attempts). I suspect if you were able to compare number of deaths versus attempts you would see a very the vast majority survive. It is not the 27% you see quoted in the press. There's a very much greater chance of summiting Everest, thus the figure is skewed.

    There were probably less people overall on K2 this year than in previous years after 2008. Those that summitted were not there just out of the allure of the K2 tick. Their story is much deeper.

    High altitude mountaineering, especially on some peaks has become a bit of a circus. You pay the money, you get the trip. Regardless of how you got the money; slogging for sponsorship packing bags in Tesco or running a multinational. Everest is seen as the tick. Why not go and do a first ascent on a 7000m peak?

    Everest may have to be an unfortunate sacrificial lamb as far as "mountains to take the tick" are concerned. I know this view is expressed by some high profile climber, we should not translate that to everywhere else. Climbing is not all about bringing the mountain down to your level, it's about taking it on as a challenge.

    Limiting permits for every 5 years or something does not solve the competency issue, it then just becomes an even greater supply and demand issue. At the end of the day it is seen as a tourist industry after all. That's who you'll deal with, the ministry of tourism. You just isolate the competent. That's already happened to an extent in the climbing world, the truly competent are generally off somewhere else doing something wild that nobody barely hears of. Just as an example... http://www.thebmc.co.uk/News.aspx?id=4367

    I agree that it probably needs a bit more regulation of some sort, but the climbing world always fights against regulation, that's why we're climbers after all. There are climbers from all around the world on 8000m peaks, I'd say the majority of people I'd met on the Baltoro this year had never climbed in the alps, mainly greater ranges, gaining most of their experience there. Remember in general, most of the big peaks are technically very easy. By an large all the independent expeditions in the Karakoram this year had very experienced climbers. It was the commercial trips whose climbers were often in-experienced. I witnessed a death on an expedition due to exactly this. This pay and go facility needs to be evaluated. Does lining the route with fixed lines, which usually left up (even if they say they're not). The commercial organisers need to assess their clients, and the ethics. The best do, I'm sure many don't.

    An adventurer does not just follow in others' footsteps. Make your own - I'm sure you agree?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for commenting John,

    Firstly let me say I hate blogger - I just spent 20 minutes replying and it disappeared. Very annoying. I can't remember everything I wrote but here goes.

    It's nice to here the opinion of someone whos' been on an 8,000m peak recently, I obviously haven't yet and can only comment from the side lines.

    Climbing is constantly being brought down to our level, we've modernised greatly over the years. If you wanted to be pure you might ignore ropes, oxygen and porters but you'd have to dig out your hobnail boots and tweed jackets too - the kit has changed enormously since Mallory and Irvine, the oxygen and porters have changed very little - the porters are much more skilled and the oxygen more advanced but the basis is the same.

    Making your own steps is definitely something the most adventurous of us aspire to but as it becomes more difficult in today's advanced world there are many, myself included, who would still kill to stand on the top of Everest - I don't care if thousands climb it, to me it's still the pinnacle, mostly due to its incredible history - I want to challenge myself on the highest of them all, but I'd only go near it with a huge wealth of experience and ability (obviously even the most experienced can fail but it undoubtedly gives you a better chance).

    Today companies are beginning to set guidelines for those joining expeditions but I often think companies such as Jagged Globe or also out to get a bit more money - they strongly recommend having been on a number of courses, climbed 7,000m & 8,000m peaks such as Cho Oyu before signing up for Everest - guess what, they offer those expeditions and training courses too... you'll pay 10,000+ before they'd even let you pay the 50,000 to climb Everest. If you have slaved away for decades trying to climb Everest you might have to slave a little harder to meet the requirements. They bring safety to everyone on the mountain but they also make the companies even more money!

    At the end of the day people can do what they want, if they want to climb Everest then they should go and do it. It's when people put others lives at danger that it becomes selfish and completely out of order. Until they do put lives in jeopardy I guess we should all quit moaning.

    I've probably missed things, If I have I'll comment again. Just my thoughts - very jumbled but see what you think!

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's not constantly brought down to our level, because those at the cutting edge, use the developments and technology to push the boundary further in all genres of the sport. You'll find the high altitude climbers at that edge neglecting the oxygen and the sherpas (or avoiding the circus altogether) I think it's Andy Kirkpatrick that says he doesn't go on an expedition if he know he'll be successful, if so, it's not hard enough. You'd surely make it in the full service Jagged Globe style. Is that enough for you?

    I can see a need for O2, that is a choice, but you wouldn't get an olympic 100m medal with an oxygen mask on, you've got to always bear in mind that it brings Everest down to a 6400m peak. You'll find, certainly on easier 8km peaks that you often don't need fixed ropes and you'll frequently find yourself soloing. There is a very obvious line between clothing/equipment technology and breathing improved air, or paying someone to carry your stuff for you.

    The public eye rarely cares about style. Standing on the top of Everest, is standing on the top of Everest. It's not hard to find the adventures in this context. Take away the ladders, take away the O2, and the sherpas, the guide!?! and you'll have as strong as an adventure as anyone. You'd be the 1st Brit to do the N ridge in that style.

    I'd love to see you on the top in that style. I'll buy you the first pint back if you do, the huge wealth of experience will allow you to do this. If it's just for the tick and the publicity then in reality it means very little. Why is it really the pinnacle? Many certainly have not slaved away for decades. All I'm saying is, think about the style you go in. Regardless, it will be a magical place to stand, and hopefully I'll be there soon, in good style, safely.

    Does this sort of thing mean we've gone too far?

    http://nickbullock-climber.co.uk/2011/06/02/i-want-it-and-i-want-it-now-i-want-it-and-i-want-it-now-i-want-it-and-i-wa/

    Thousands climbing Everest does put lives in jeopardy. One can be enough to put lives in jeopardy. Like I said, there are good companies and bad companies. Jagged Globe, may well be one of the better. I know people that run trips there who vet, recommend, train etc. But the fact is not all do. I've seen lives put at risk, with the worst results, in exactly the way you describe. Do you believe that that does not happen year on year, on Everest or many other 8000m peaks!?

    I'll maintain though, you'll always have a much better experience going independently, in the best style possible, you'll learn a lot more, have more satisfaction and it'll probably cost you half (even on Everest!)

    Finally, I really don't want to shatter your dreams, I hope that it makes you reach even further.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was talking about Everest, not the adventure world in general, but yes that's definitely true in that case, the boundaries are constantly being pushed.

    Everest is merely something I want to do but for me it pales in insignificance to other adventures/expeditions I'd hope to take part in, Everest is just a long term goal. I figure in adventure (in very general terms) you can go the climbing route or the alternative route of bikes, skis etc etc etc. I don't like the climbing world enough to dedicate a life to climbing but can fully understand why people do!

    ReplyDelete

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