The decline of Everest |

The decline of Everest

I first visited the Everest base camp in the fall of 1967. We had trekked from Kathmandu for nearly three weeks. It was a difficult trek because as you went from west to east, you had several rivers to cross and when you finally headed north along the Dudh Kosi river, there was a steady gain of altitude. The Sherpa capital Namche Bazaar is at over 11,000 feet and the Everest base camp is at 17,500 feet.

What we found there did not surprise me. There was no one — no climbers — no one. The reason this did not surprise me was due to Woodrow Wilson Sayre. In 1962, he and three friends decided to make an unauthorized climb of Everest from Tibet. They were caught and the Chinese made such a fuss that all high climbing was banned for several years in Nepal. When it was resumed, a strict regime was imposed with varying fees which for Everest is now $11,000 per person.

There are some lowly peaks such as the 18,000-foot Kala Patthar, which we climbed, that are open to trekkers. The view of Everest and its satellites is breathtaking — literally.

The next and last time I visited the Everest base camp was the fall of 1983. It was a different universe. We had flown from Kathmandu to the air field a days walk from Namche. We had taken a different route to get to the base camp and arriving there we found hundreds of people — climbers, trekkers, Sherpas, people selling things, garbage strewn everywhere. This is what the unfortunate South African filmmaker Ryan Sean Davy found when he arrived at base camp after having trekked Jiri near Kathmandu and paying the $55 fee required to enter the Everest region. He had trained in the Jean-Roberts gym in Aspen, but he did not have the equipment, such as oxygen, he would have needed to actually climb the mountain. He simply decided to keep on going up and went through the Khumbu ice fall, which is often considered the most dangerous part of the climb, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the view. Coming back down he was caught and now faces either jail time or a $22,000 fine. One can sympathize with the Nepalese, but Davy’s sin is a mote compared to what the Nepalese have allowed to happen to what was once one of the most beautiful and pristine areas on the face of the Earth.

Jeremy Bernstein


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