It was a slow news week over the Christmas period, and this is perhaps why the mainstream media fell for the Everest silly announcement hoax for the umpteenth time.
This particular stunt happens roughly once a year, and the sequence of events is as follows:
- The Government of Nepal appoints a new Minister for Tourism.
- The Minister decides to stamp his mark by making a silly announcement about Everest, with no intention of following through with it. Often it’s the same announcement that was made by one of his predecessors (this is Nepal, so it’s invariably a he and not a she).
- The mainstream media parrot the announcement more or less verbatim, writing about it in a way that makes it look like it’s actually going to happen. Often it’s the same story they published a couple of years ago. They don’t bother to check if they’ve written about it before, or whether it actually happened.
- A year passes and nothing happens.
- There is a Government reshuffle and a new Minister for Tourism is appointed. Return to step 1 above, and repeat ad nauseum.
Here’s a little flowchart to make things clearer. Please feel free to share it with your editors.
(Note my use of the word ‘silly’. There is no doubt that commercial mountaineering on Everest is long overdue some sensible, enforceable regulation. What it doesn’t need is another silly announcement that hasn’t been properly thought through.)
Here’s an example. On 28 September 2015, the Guardian published an item with the title Mount Everest to be declared off-limits to inexperienced climbers, says Nepal, written by Jason Burke (who, I’m sorry to say, appears to have lived up to his name). The article claimed that disabled and visually impaired climbers would be banned from climbing Everest. They weren’t. Nor were the inexperienced climbers of the title.
Fast forward two years. On 30 December 2017, the Guardian published more or less exactly the same story again. This time it had the title Nepal bans blind people and double amputees from climbing Everest and was written by Michael Safi (whose name, coincidentally, is an anagram of ‘His Fecal Aim’). To compound the Guardian’s folly they even quoted a blog post by Alan Arnette outlining a history of silly announcements about Everest that were never enforced. The irony appears to have been lost on them.
Just to spell out the silliness and the fantasy a little more clearly, there are two salient points here:
- Hardly any blind people or double amputees have ever tried to climb Everest (as this post by Stefan Nestler clearly explains), so were this announcement ever to be enforced, it would create approximately the same ripple as a turd floating down the Bagmati River.
- Past history tells us that this new ‘rule’ won’t be enforced either.
Another silly announcement which did the rounds over the Christmas period was one about Nepal banning solo climbers on Everest. This announcement is equally meaningless. For one thing, as Stefan’s post points out, only six people have ever tried to climb Everest solo. But even were the rule to be enforced (which it almost certainly won’t be), a prospective solo climber could easily circumvent it by joining a team with more Sherpas than foreigners and then climbing alone. None of this stopped the media reporting the announcement as major news.
It’s not major news. A better term would be fake news. This endless cycle of farcical announcements and shoddy journalism is harmful, because it makes climbing Everest seem like a frivolous activity – something that any fool can do – rather than the serious, life-affirming, challenge that it is. This has the effect of drawing people, both climbers and operators, who don’t take it seriously enough. It’s the archetypal self-fulfilling prophecy, something I have written about in a previous post.
Since this message doesn’t seem to be hitting home, and time after time the media keeps repeating this rubbish, I have reproduced an extract from my book Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest, about my ten-year journey from hill walker to Everest climber. The book was published in November 2015, and the extract below is word-for-word what I wrote back then. I could have written it last week. You will see that it’s absolutely still relevant today.
If you’re interested in all this Everest stuff and you’d like to know more about these issues, then please consider buying the book. I promise you will learn a lot and hopefully have a good chuckle too.
Extract from Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest
I have addressed much of the misinformation elsewhere in this book. It appears to be endless, and is exacerbated by a seemingly infinite supply of meaningless announcements by the Nepalese government which are gold dust to the headline writers. Stationing police and army at base camp to keep the peace; barring helicopters from flying to base camp; placing ladders on the Hillary Step; compelling climbers to carry trash down from the higher camps, or sign in and sign out when making trips into the Khumbu Icefall – these are just some examples of announcements that have been made by the Nepalese government and reported widely as fact. None of them have ever been implemented.
At the time of writing the latest of these was a statement by the government that certain disabled people will be barred from climbing Everest in future. As happened in all the previous examples, the officials were quoted verbatim in the media, and mountaineers were interviewed to provide quotes and lend credence to the announcement. But they might just as well have discussed whether Pope Francis would be making an attempt to get up Everest on a Harley-Davidson for all the likelihood it had of actually happening. It’s not only past history that tells us this. As the media furore raged a disabled Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki made two valiant attempts to reach Everest’s summit by the South-East Ridge but was turned back by deep snow. He was the only climber who had been granted a permit by the Nepalese government for the 2015 autumn season, and they had announced it to great fanfare. He had lost nine fingers to frostbite during an attempt on the West Ridge a few years earlier – a disability some might consider a drawback to safe mountaineering. But it was also his fifth attempt to climb Everest, a quality far more important than the number of his fingers.
As with all the earlier announcements, it is (thankfully) doubtful a ban on disabled climbers will ever happen. A more worthwhile proposal for climbers to have ascended another big peak before attempting Everest was announced at the same time, but you can be certain this was also fantasy. Nepal suffers from a moving conveyor belt of politicians who are not in office long enough to have an interest in the long-term development of mountain tourism.
One day a journalist who cares about his or her profession will become tired of being asked by their editor to parrot the words of government officials without examining if there is any substance to them – the media equivalent of arriving at base camp having not worn crampons before. Instead of blaming inexperienced climbers – who will come to Everest as long as there is no regulation and they think it’s easy – they will ask why none of these announcements by the Nepalese government have been implemented, or why the millions they receive in permit fees every year have not been invested in the Everest infrastructure. Until that happens the announcements and the media hype will continue, more people will arrive on Everest believing it to be easy, and the story will continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I hope that having read this far you have a better understanding of what it takes to climb Everest with a commercial expedition, and can judge the media hyperbole for yourself.
You can get a copy of Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest here.
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