/ Extreme Everest opinion in The Times
Close Everest. Close all the damn mountains
Published at 12:01AM, April 26 2014
On one hand, you have 16 Sherpas killed; on the other, a bunch of macho idiots whose holidays have been ruined
The Sherpas of Everest are on strike. A long queue of very rich white men with extremely tiny penises is furious because it wanted to go and play on the mountain. Tensions are running high. The whole Himalayan climbing season may even be cancelled. And I, from my sunlounger by the hotel pool in Charleston, South Carolina, am feeling sick about it. Sick to my coconut-oiled and increasingly nut-brown stomach.
First of all, I’ll give you the background: steepling mountain peaks like the fangs of an angry god, snow, blue sky, dazzling sun, bearded blond men in expensive outerwear and tosspot sunglasses . . . ha ha ha, no, not that kind of background. I meant the news background.
Last week, 16 Nepalese Sherpa guides were killed in an avalanche on Everest’s “popcorn field” while fixing routes and carrying equipment above Base Camp for the 330-odd foreign climbers currently waiting to haul their fat, pampered arses up the once-revered peak for the sake of a stupid selfie and a handful of dull stories with which to bore the ears off their children and grandchildren until they are shut up in a retirement home for old bores with no toes.
There was an avalanche. While the 330 foreign “climbers” drank ten-dollar beers and complained about the rubbish hotel wifi that was rendering YouPorn barely watchable, ice chunks the size of houses were falling like meteors on their helpers, killing them instantly. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
Sixteen of them.
The families of the men, who would typically have been earning about £3,500 a year and of whom several die every season because it’s part of the job, were offered £250 compensation for their dead warriors. They thought it derisory. They were right. The Nepalese government trousers millions every year from the fees of roughly £30,000 paid by each bumbling white dork who joins the queue for the meritless upwards shlep, and then it offers families who have lost their paterfamilias in the name of the country’s single notable industry roughly what the witless western wazzocks pay for their socks.
That insult, plus a desire to honour the lives of the 16 men who died, led the Sherpas to cry off work, and to talk of a longer strike in the name of better pay and conditions. But the orange-jacketed dingbats waiting in line to join the nose-to-tail trog up the cold hill, with the special little beards they’ve grown to mark their stupid climbing holiday (they stopped shaving probably on the Tuesday or Wednesday of their last week in the office at Accenture or Citibank) are outraged because they look like missing out on their fun.
It’s 800 idiots in total this year, including snowboarders and a moron called Joby Ogwyn who, in a stunt sponsored and filmed by NBC’s Discovery Channel, planned to jump off the summit in a Batman-style “wingsuit” and fly down. Because obviously that is the best way to show mankind’s respect for what Tibetans call Chomolungma or “The Holy Mother”.
It was reported that Ogwyn initially wanted his “flight” to go ahead, despite the deaths of two of his own actual Sherpas in the tragedy, who were killed carrying his own actual kit. But after a change of heart NBC pulled the plug this week. The right move, no question. But too late, surely, to prevent Ogwyn being known for all time as the Batwanker.
Not that many others on the mountain have behaved better. Thursday’s Times reported that, “Western climbers were furious that their trips had been effectively blocked by the strike after some had paid up to $50,000 to make the ascent”. Isaiah Janzen, an American, said he would consider going ahead without Sherpa support if necessary: “I saved money for three years to afford this, it is the most expensive thing I have ever bought.”
The most expensive thing he ever bought. Oh, well then. How very moving. Alongside an unrefundable airline ticket what are the lives of 16 little oriental brownskins? Jesus Christ, it makes me want to fly out to Nepal and kill the scumbag myself with an ice pick to save him the trouble of freezing to death.
Like sunburnt sangria-swillers on the Costa del Sol, angry with their tour rep about the snacks on offer at happy hour, these horrific bastards, wing-suited or not, simply cannot see the scale of the human pain at their holiday destination, in a way which makes their planned “conquest” of a mountain entirely meaningless. If you are without human empathy then your physical actions are as worthless as a machine’s. Make it about the money and you make it about nothing at all.
It is about the money. That is what climbing Everest has become, along with rowing across the Atlantic, trekking through some jungle, horse-riding across some desert, all that stupid exploration and adventure that is glorified on the television and indulged in by celebrities on a thousand shows and sponsored stupid bloody swims up the effing Amazon. It’s just tourism. It’s just leisure activity. It is no more thrilling or immanent with spiritual significance than a trip to Bluewater for a cheap pair of trainers and a cheeseburger.
Once, there were places to explore. Now there are places to go on holiday. Exploration is over and these idiot imitators should be shut up for ever. Close the damn mountain. Close all the mountains. The human exploratory instinct, even when it was pure, was disastrous. It killed the world. The ludicrous man-against-nature mentality of the “adventurer” is as murderous as that of the big game hunter, which did for the rhino and the elephant and the tiger and the leopard.
It is the mentality that killed everything in the continent whose Eastern seaboard I have spent the last two months descending, from Quebec City and St John’s, Newfoundland, via Toronto, Philadelphia and Rhode Island, to the Carolinas. Everywhere I have travelled, the story has been one of loss and extinction at the hands of exploring man: the cod, the whale, the buffalo, the passenger pigeon,
the Indians . . .
Every man who ever pulled on a pair of walking boots or skis, packed a rucksack or picked up a paddle was — regardless of his apparent conscious motivations — going out to kill something. Puny man imposing his will on dumb nature. It’s pathetic and evil and it always has been.
So just close the damn mountain and send those idiots home.
I'm afraid I sort of agree, sadly :-(
What are you offended by, the fact that he is pretty much right?
Agreed, much of it needed to be said. It's what's known as a polemic, so of course it's expressed in very strong terms.
It's offensive because it makes sweeping assumptions about every climber on Everest, and their supposed callous disregard for the dead Sherpas, and then extends this to every climber everywhere and, at the end, even hillwalkers. It seems to regard all outdoor activity as a dangerous pathology, and ascribes the worst motives to all who participate in it.
You really think everyone who goes climbing, skiing, or walking is "pathetic and evil"? Or could it be that the whole thing is a bit more nuanced, even on the south side of Everest? And do you think that every mountain everywhere should be closed? Is that a world in which you'd like to live?
Its Coren, you need to add a little tongue in cheek and not take it all so literally.
Sure there may be some great folk looking to climb Everest, but I'll bet you two flapjacks (homemade) that the majority are not far off this vision of rich white folk on holiday pissing contests.
The sherpas lives are more important than Tim from Citi Banks holiday or 'batwanker' doing a look at me stunt.
Interesting piece, and regarding people who pay to be guided (dragged) up Everest, amusingly accurate.
Of course, the only exposure to the world of climbing the mainstream media gets - along with most of the population - is when something goes wrong, so there's always going to be a skewed and 'ambulance chasing' mentality to any news coverage or opinion.
However, I think the opinions of a food critic on the general state of world mountaineering, are about as relevant and informed, as Iggy Pops opinions on the scientific progress being made regarding the Higgs Boson particle at CERN.
great writing - thought provoking with a strong vein of truth
This is what I quite like about Coren, he knows he knows sod all on a range of events but if his employer asks him to write about it then he will but in a way that shows of his ignorance.
This is not the best example of this but some of his pieces have a great sense of only being written because an editor has decided it is important whilst Coren couldn't care less.
Also a lot better written than that Graundid article someone posted the other day.
Plus there's this:
Giles Coren always writes in a deliberately hyperbolic style. One counter would be to point out that, were they really to close all the mountains, then the Sherpas would be vastly poorer. They take such work because it pays ten times the rate of the alternatives.
Yet this is heatfelt satire on the Everest circus from an outsider and in contrast the UK guide from Kendal BnB is moaning about sherpa activisists after such a tragedy. Who has the better balance?
Let's try this:
Dude in TNF downie "I climbed Everest, woo go me"
Everyone "Did you use oxygen and fixed ropes?"
I have to admit I do agree.
It has become a tourist attraction that has become accessible to anyone with plenty of dosh! The poor sherpas and their families earning next to nothing for risking their lives for people who are only in it for the glory.(I know that is not the case for all of them)
He goes a bit off the rails in the last two paragraphs, otherwise he's spot on.
It's Giles Coren, that piece is pretty tame for him.
I equally find this writing, even with a glimmer of truth, to be disturbing. I've never heard of Giles Coren so "his style" or not, articles like this only go further to discredit the mountaineering community. Especially if the way it has been written is mis-interpreted, as I clearly have.
On the back of plenty of recent adverse media coverage about mountaineering in general, I think we (the community/responsible figures) should be countering these aggressive arguments, satirical or not, to avoid a swelling opinion from the uneducated.
of course the article completely ignores the efforts of guides i.e. responsible professionals in the industry (kenton cool as an example) to better the conditions and arrangements that sherpas work under.
Well that's not really true. In Nepalese terms the pay rates are very high, which is why many of the Sherpas do it.
I agree I think it is around 6 times the average wage but compared to what there government make from the expeditions and what the expedition companies make it is not alot.
Who cares what others think?
It is hardly a front page editorial calling for the actual closing of mountains.
Give it a week and they'll all be writing about something else. Same sort of stuff in '96 and again in '12, some will write/speak out for the attention and money (who was that mp in '12?), others will do so to fill inches and screen time. The former will be forgotten and the latter move on.
Bigger more important fights out there than worrying about the opinions of passers by.
People get paid very large wages in India to dive in the sewers with a life expectancy barely more than a year. Thats their choice too based of course on poverty leaving them having little real choice at all.
of course any article about the (probable) minority of people up there behaving with total integrity over the last week would make much less interesting reading for Joe Public....
You haven't really thought about this have you?
6 times the UK average salary would be £159,000. Dangerous work for a few months yes, well paid, probably yes as well?
Ps. I don't know if it is possible to make a comparison, but I'm not sure that saying they are poorly paid relative to their countrymen is accurate.
He and his sister are a prime example of famous for being famous, or rather famous for who their father was (or, increasingly famous for coming from a long line of "famous" descendents). Rather like the late Peaches Geldof, who, tragic though the early death of a young mother may have been, had no achievements or efforts of her own that distinguished her from any other early death and certainly did not merit days of headline coverage or fake "empathy".
Tanya Gold is another very annoying and ignorant member of the hereditary commentariat who has also written utterly undistinguished pieces for the Times, also I believe the Daily Mail, quite apart from her Guardian incarnation. These hereditary clans in the media are almost as annoying as those in the political parties that are sweeping the offspring of Neil Kinnock, Jack Straw, Tony Benn and Tony Blair into safe seats, though much less harmful. As these precocious princes and princesses have no great talent but owe their position to nepotism, all they can do is become a sort of "shock jock", being deliberately provocative and offensive to attract attention, or more accurately clicks for their websites.
I believe the relevant phrase is "will this do?"
One expects whining, ignorant, one-sided hysteria from the Guardian, I expect the Times to do rather better than fail to jump the very low bar set by the Guardian. That is why it has a pay-wall, because it is supposed to be worth paying for.
It might be nice if broadsheets could commission articles from someone who knows what they are talking about, e.g. a prominent mountaineer talking about Everest (and there are plenty of Himalayan climbers who have considerable, but informed, reservations about the Everest circus), or, to quote another recent article from the Times, Jenni Russell of the BBC whittering about "Big Pharma". What is wrong with having, say, a professor of Pharmacology writing an article about drugs policy in a serious broadsheet?
I seriously doubt Giles Coran has ever written anything 'heartfelt' outside of an organic blueberry polenta!
Maybe if he'd kept his middle class trendy Crouch End opinions (I wonder if he's as concerned about the working conditions and salaries of the people who produce the Tofu for his local Sushi Restaurant?) purely to the Everest circus, it would have been an even better piece of satire.
Who the f*ck is Giles Coren and what's he done on grit?
> from the expeditions and what the expedition companies make it is not alot.
You are right that the Nepalese government gets the biggest chunk, but they're a relatively poor economy and one can understand them seeing this as an income stream to benefit the Nepalese people as a whole.
I would expect that the Westerners working for the expedition companies are getting around average pay for their nation and cost of living, rather than 6 times it.
Friend of Clarkson, son of Alan and brother of a good (wealthy) poker player.
Some time drinker and food critic.
Its amazing how many people who have no experience of extreme altitude often claim how easy it is. Coren just goes to proves that anyone pontificating about something that they have no experience of and know nothing about usually ends up talking exaggerated rubbish.
Presumably one should just expect the Times' whining, ignorant, one-sided hysteria to come from a different shade of the political spectrum
The Guardian tends to use Ed Douglas for its serious pieces. He seems to do a good job. Don't know who does the same for the Times
I know your faith in the market knows no bounds, but you probably need to look at the Nepali model.
Now, now it is unfair to expect Simon to sully his rants with anything approaching reality.
I don't think they've got anyone v good on mteering at the Times. (Perhaps Stephen Venables writes for them occasionally?) I think Stephen Goodwin writes for the Observer, doesn't he?
Have you read the article? You appear to have read something completely different.
>... (Perhaps Stephen Venables writes for them occasionally?) ...
Used to, not sure he still does.
I agree entirely. An excellent article.
For as long as the grotesque and embarrassing parody of mountaineering which is the Everest circus continues, inevitably, to be the publicly visible face of mountaineering, we can hardly complain when laymen such as Coren form such generalised views. The problem is not Coren; it is the Everest circus.
Can you explain what you're getting at and why it is a relevant response to what I wrote?
Well, there is something wrong when climbers who couldn't make it up Snowdon under their own steam are summiting Everest.
Of course, the last we heard of any real climbers on Everest was when the Sherpas chased them off threatening to kill them.
These commentators should be careful what they wish for. Tourism has made the Khumbu valley relatively prosperous. True, most visitors are trekkers rather than mountaineers, but mountaineering kick-started the whole thing. Would trekking to Everest Base Camp have the same glamour if the climbers were not there?
The elite climbing sherpas are very highly paid (by local standards, but that's what counts). The sherpa on my own expedition (not Everest) owned teahouses, strings of yaks, properties in Katmandhu, and sent his children there to be educated. His earnings from mountaineering had enabled him to become a wealthy businessman. In relative terms, he is probably considerably more prosperous than the average European mountain guide, who probably makes an adequate living but is unlikely to be wealthy.
Of course, earnings drop off considerably for those lower down the ranks and undoubtedly conditions could be improved. However removing their livlihood, which is the consequence of what Coren, and Tanya Gold in the Guardian, seem to want seems a strange way to go about it.
High-altitude mountaineering is of course high-risk work, and whilst the sherpas have a 'choice' the alternative is poverty so there is indeed a moral question to be asked. But people in the west make similar choices to enter into high-risk occupations. Overall, mountain tourism has brought huge economic benefit to the area from which almost everyone benefits in some way. The polemecists appear to be unaware of or uninterested in this aspect.
It is also easy to dismiss anyone who attempts Everest as "rich westerners" and wealthy wannabees. No doubt some are. However those I know who have climbed or attempted Everest are ordinary people, experienced and passionate mountaineers, who have made sacrifices and remortgaged their homes to pursue a personal goal. I suspect most of those on the mountain are not rich, and probably earn considerably less than Coren and Gold. Neither are they all western or white.
So lazy, easy journalism. The concerns about the commercialisation of Everest are not new and have been well-explored. This is a terrible tragedy, and the response of some climbers appears inappropriate, although the actions of some sherpas might also be seen to be opportunistic. It's difficult to know without being there but I suspect it is far from being black and white.
Also writer of this rather entertaining email to sub-editors:
And these not-entirely-kosher tweets:
I'm a bit surprised how tolerant some people are of this article. Yes, Coren often goes off one when he knows very little about the subject, and is paid handsomely to do so. But as a response within days of the worst disaster in the history of Everest, and one of the worst in mountaineering ever, it is crude, cruel and ill-judged, while ascribing nothing less than racism to the western climbers at base camp.
The Tanya Gold article was, in my view, equally bad. Both take the view that anyone with white skin visiting a country where the predominant tone is brown must be exploitative and callous. (This of course rather ignores the record of the many Asian non-professional climbers.) It then extends this principle to a general, almost demented attack on those who like to spend their leisure time in wild places.
Here's the thing. A lot of people will take this seriously, just as they took the attacks on Alison Hargreaves by female hacks seriously after her death. The idea that anyone who wants to climb in the greater ranges is, to use Coren's word, a "bastard", will gain some traction.
Ugly. Not at all funny.
I disagree. Some bits were very funny. particularly his comments on TV celebrity 'adventures'- a derivative of the bucket list consumer mentality.
I agree that the picture he paints is ugly, but the show goes on.
On Tripadvisor, Everest is still ranked No1 of 3 attractions in the Sagarmatha National Park.
Coren's article appears to be going for some sort of bastardised Swiftian angle - the whole 'let's be absolutely disgusting about the affair to expose other people's callousness' idea.
I have a question about this Everest business, however, which is possibly a little stupid, and so I'll post it here rather than starting a new thread. I'd be very interested if someone could clear this up, for my own curiosity.
Obviously the deaths of the Sherpas is a tragedy, and personally I feel that it's quite right for them to pack up and leave the mountain, considering what is currently happening and what's been happening for decades (although this is neither here nor there in terms of my question); this has, of course, led to the 'end of the Everest season' phrase being thrown around, but what does that actually mean? Clearly Coren's 'rich white men with extremely tiny penises' won't be climbing on Everest this year, but will all climbing be banned? Which is to say, will people who are able to tackle the mountain without the assistance of Sherpas still be able to do so? In my heart, I like to think of Everest as a place which is open to all who are good enough, just as with anywhere else, but I'm vaguely aware of the business of permits and so on, and am curious how this will affect what we, as enthusiasts, might term 'real' (ie non-guided) mountaineering on Everest.
In short, then, does this purported 'end of the Everest season' apply to everyone, or just to those that were paying to be taken up?
Didn't you used to write for the Times on mountaineering? Or was it for the Observer? Or do I have my Davids totally confused?
Your bizarre belief in some sort of trickle down benefit for Nepal as a whole from the governments receipt of Everest peak fees.
God knows, I feel that way about subs sometimes.
Of course not, I just suck it up ;)
I had an incredibly similar experience with an editor recently who wanted to change some sentences I'd written, but had completely missed the point of why I had done it in the way I had. Their grasp of it was very elementary and one-dimensional - they were they sort of person who thinks that Strunk and White is the be-all and end-all of writing style, and who has never written anything creative themselves in their lives. The questions of rhythm and timing, and overall effect and tone – and contrasting tones – are the kinds of things they've never given a moment's thought to.
As someone who sometimes writes but increasingly subedits for a living, I'm in absolutely no doubt as to which of the Gold/Guardian and Coren/Times efforts is the better and more stimulating piece of writing. It would have been a treat to have had some kind of involvement with the Coren piece - although, being well aware, as most subs probably are, of his famous (and wonderfully entertaining) to-a-sub rant, I'd be extremely nervous about working on his copy should the chance ever arise.
I have written for the Guardian, Observer and Mail on Sunday on mountaineering. I am co-author of Regions of the Heart, a book about Alison Hargreaves. Many years ago I also wrote the news pages for Climber magazine.
Yes - I think my copy of Regions... is signed by you and Ed (or maybe you or Ed...), anyway - I won it here on UKC many many moons ago. But apologies for accusing you of writing for the Times. ;-)
Yes, the paper edition this morning and all of Tim Mosedale’s blog yesterday, which gave an intelligent view of the situation as opposed to Coren’s uninformed, ignorant rant which included in just first third:
- a bunch of macho idiots
- very rich white men with extremely tiny penises
- to haul their fat, pampered arses
- foreign “climbers” drank ten-dollar beers and complained about the rubbish hotel wifi
- each bumbling white dork.
First, what the heck does this have to do with your idiotic (and false) remark about "your faith in the market knows no bounds"? Do you know what a market it? Peak fees in Nepal are about the furthest you can get from a "market".
Second, Nepal is a democracy of sorts these days (though an imperfect one) and the income from peak fees is significant in a relatively poor country. What is "bizarre" about the suggestion that some of the Nepalese government's spending might benefit Nepal as a whole?
Getting sniffy about non mountaineering columnists following a major tragedy is unhelpful and possibly even counter-productive. The climbing community has allowed the circus to build without proper critique and sherpas as ever often bear the brunt of the risk. Public satire is a natural result and while satire often contains elements of unfairness, it's defensive climbers or those annoyed with the sherpa action that come out of this looking foolish in my view. I've talked to Brice at Kendal and could maybe accept his style of commercial approach if all companies forced their clients to meet his standards, but they don't, and bad behaviour, incompetance and queues puts even the independant proper climbers in danger at times. When climbers are operating above 8000m even the experienced and highly skilled sometimes make mistakes; allowing huge numbers up there, including far too many who are incapable of looking after themselves, means future tragedies are inevitable.
Mosedales position appeared to be sympathy for the lives lost but bitter that he couldn't climb and that it was costing westerners money. He was particularly cross with regard militant sherpas refusing to climb this year
prefered Coren myself
You don't like what Coren has written, obviously, but you certainly haven't disproved it, indeed understood it. Sure there is some hyperbole, but it is a provocative opinion piece.
Any knowledge whatsoever about Nepal.
Is that a question or a statement?
Would those be the guides that are asking the rest of us to make charitable donations to right the problems that they have created?
I struggle to see how that is "professional"!
I fully understood that Coren might have started with a valid but exaggerated article simply to get attention but he then trashed it with a load of infantile statements. And why would I need to disprove these anyhow since they are self evidently nonsense.
Look, children, Giles Coren has neither the wit of his father nor the poker playing acuity of his sister. He attempts to amuse the non-mountaineering readers of the Times. To be offended by his drivel is to take him seriously.
Uncomfortable reading but sadly I agree with the author. All of us to a greater or lesser extent have been seduced by personal self aggrandisement at the expense of the collective human cost of climbing Everest. Please focus your thoughts on the dead Sherpas' families.
Be a grown up and work through things, even the self declared nonsense!
Exactly. Their operations and their clients have presided over the icefall deaths of Sherpa for years. Both guides and clients have been defended, if not lauded, right here on UKC.*
On a related note re: the current charity outreaching, how is any one of the families of the 16 more deserving than the family of some single Sherpa who died in a similar, but smaller, avalanche in, say, 2009? Does the magnitude change the principle?
*And yes, I'm well aware that a number of guides, and climbers and trekkers and others, have over the years given privately to Sherpas and others they have worked with. They've put their kids through schools, helped them get US/EU visas, helped them set up businesses and other things. All good, but doesn't change the basic principle of the operation.
Being "pathetic and evil" is not all bad.
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