Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#79: High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed by Michael Kodas

New York: Hyperion, 2008. 357 pages

I have always had this strange fascination with Mt. Everest. I don't want to climb the damn thing and really do not want to go there. I'm perfectly happy to live vicariously through the people who attempt to get up to the high point. Michael Kodas is a writer for the Hartford Courant who went on an expedition to the mountain with a team funded by his newspaper and the state of Connecticut. The story that Kodas unfolds during his 2004 expedition is terrifying.

In 2004 seven people died on Everest; at least one of them was left on his own by a man he paid more than $10,000 to guide him to the top. One was a 63 year old Japanese woman who slipped 1000 feet below the summit and dangled off a rope, dying before her colleagues could save her. What emerges from this text is a place where no one is safe. It's a place that if you go alone (like David Sharpe in 2006) you will be left to die by other climbers. It is such a money maker that theft seems endemic in the high altitudes, with food, head lamps and even fucking crampons stolen from other climbers.

More importantly, it seems to be "a source of bragging rights" according to one climber (187). It is a source of bragging rights for many wealthy westerners; some guide companies ask for more than $30,000 for a trip that may or may not be successful. It is wonderful when a blind man climbs Everest, or when a double amputee does. This book does not come out and question whether or not they should have been there in the first place. In both those instances, they were experienced mountaineers who knew what they were in for. In that case, they absolutely should be there. The real question becomes should all of these fucking people be there? The answer to that is a resounding "NO"

Kodas's expedition fell apart in a blaze of recriminations, fistfights and anger. In Kodas' text, it is not the environment that is in the most danger (even though it is in a perilous position) but in some cases the humanity of those that undertake the climb. This is what makes the book so scary; imagine falling into a tent you cached food at at the 7200 meter level only to find it looted. Night is coming on, but your sleeping bag has also been stolen. What do you do? Some poor bastards have had to ask this true life and death question. Read this book to find out their answers. I could not recommend this book enough.

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