Adventure photographer Pat Morrow, a B.C. native, doesn’t like what he sees happening on Mount Everest lately — referring to the crowds snaking their way to the top as “a conga line.”
Morrow, who has spent his life in the mountains, was the second Canadian to summit Mount Everest in 1982 and later became the first person to climb the highest mountain on each continent.
Writing in his latest book, Everest: High Expectations, he says, “Nobody can honestly claim to “climb” Everest these days — at least not those who follow the wildly popular South Col route. At best, one can say they survived the hazards of the ‘conga line’ that forms at the beginning of every spring season.”
Recalling a time when solitude and technical challenges drew climbers to the mountain, he is now concerned that adventure-tourists with little or no high-altitude experience are buying their way to the upper slopes for up to $100,000.
“The ‘fellowship of the rope’ helped put us in touch with each other and ourselves. Clearly those days have ended, and the change has not been for the better.”
Free preview of Everest: High Expectations is available here.
On May 23, 2010, a record 169 “climbers” reached the summit in one day — more than the number who reached it in the 30 years after Edmund Hillary’s first ascent in 1953.
Last spring, nine Everest adventurers died of altitude complications, fatigue and exposure in bad weather, including Nepalese-Canadian Shriya Shah-Klorfine who was on the upper slopes with 150 other climbers the weekend she died. News reports said she had mortgaged her house to pay for her adventure.
Pressure to summit — and to get their money’s worth — puts lives at risk says Morrow. “The scariest thing about having the fixed ropes all the way to the summit is that guides have taken to pushing their ultra-slow-moving clients onto the ropes at night, rather than waiting for visibility and warmer temperatures during the day.”
The modern schedule may see those clients pulling themselves along the ropes through the night until 7 a.m. When Morrow made his ascent of the final 1,000 vertical metres in 1982, he left at dawn and was on the summit by 11:30 a.m. – and safely drinking far down the mountain a few hours later. There was no dangerous conga line to slow his progress in either direction.
The 2013 spring summit rush starts soon. So far, there has been one death — a Sherpa “ice fall doctor” who was fixing ropes through the treacherous ice field just above Base Camp.