Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mountaineering as a big game trophy hunt.

Still from K2-The Killer Summit:BBC

Money doesn't talk...it swears!
Bob Dylan
A few weeks ago I watched the Reel Rock Tour movie. Amongst the features included was a short film about the infamous angry Sherpas incident which involved mountaineering superstar Uli Steck. For those who missed it in the media, basically Steck, Jon Griffith and Italian mountaineer, Simone Moro caused mayhem when they attempted to push on past a team of Sherpas who were fixing ropes for their commercial employers. A situation inflamed by Moro using what in Sherpa culture was highly insulting and derogatory language. (Full details here in Ed Douglas' Guardian coverage of the incident). 

Last week on the UK’s arts and culture channel, BBC 4, another infamous recent mountaineering event was replayed in all its ghoulish, graphic detail. ‘K2-The Killer Summit’ re encountered the terrible events on K2 in 2008. Described in the programme notes as an incident where...

In August 2008, 25 climbers from several international expeditions converged on high camp of K2, the final stop before the summit of the most dangerous mountain on earth. 48 hours later, 11 had been killed or simply vanished, making it the deadliest day in mountaineering history.

What both events brought home for me was just how far we have travelled from the spirit of adventure which at one time under pinned almost all expeditions in the greater ranges. The huge commercial razzmatazz surrounding, in particular Everest expeditions, is horrible to behold. Sherpas laying down a staircase of ropes to enable their well heeled clients to tick off one of the items on their ‘bucket list’. Setting off from salubrious canvas 'hotels' at base camp where indigenous employees rustle up five course meals for their Western clients that they themselves could only ever dream of back in their humble abodes.

Even on so called serious non commercial expeditions, climbers are festooned with advertising logos in the manner of a Formula One driver. Woe betide the mountaineer that goes before the cameras not wearing his North Face cap or Patagonia duvet jacket emblazoned with motifs for Coca-Cola, Mastercard and Vodaphone!

At least there are still plenty of mountaineers who cling on to the spirit of adventure by eschewing siege tactics and who are undertaking low impact Alpine ascents. Yes, they often have commercial sponsors and as such have to play their paymasters game to a certain extent, but at least the actual activity revolves around their own logistical and technical skill. The Everest and K2 circuses on the other hand, increasingly appear to be driven by ego and money, and underpinned by an almost imperialistic idea of native servitude to Western masters.

Although this attitude has prevailed ever since Westerners started exploring the greater ranges, the main difference today is that the client is more likely to be a banker, a venture capitalist or an IT manager. It might make for interesting conversation 12 months hence in a New York loft apartment but to my mind, it’s not that far removed from an African wildlife trophy hunt.Instead of bagging lions and elephants with their wallets, they’re bagging peaks. 'It’s mountaineering Jim...but not as we know it!'.

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