Monday, May 4, 2015

The Shaky Top

We all like to peek at one another’s lives, don’t we? Facebook is definitely the place for this pastime, which unfortunately can turn very black. Once upon a time I taught individual singing lessons to a group of people who sang in a choir outside of the town where I lived. Every fortnight I’d set up a schedule and then arrive at a church or community center to teach.  When the community center was no longer the basis of the choir, I’d rotate around people’s houses. I got to know that particular group of people reasonably well. All very nice, warm hearted Dutch people who had some affiliation with a church, the choir being sacred music orientated. Some years later, having ceased being their teacher, one of them, or perhaps it was I, found ourselves on Facebook and thus the abstract communication link was created.  To my astonishment I discovered, via a blog post, sometime around 2012 that one of my former singing pupils had gone up to Mount Everest, and nearly reached the top. Well, this person in particular is extremely fit, highly intelligent and adventurous so why should I be surprised? Mostly I was taken aback because I myself would never consider such an undertaking. I have never understood the desire to climb mountains. While I can admire a picture of an alpine flower, I dislike snow, heights, hiking, hiking boots, sleeping outside, tents, backpacks, trudging, camping and people who claim to be in seventh heaven in the wild open air while I am utterly miserable sitting on a rock, my feet in the mud, praying that the ordeal will be over as soon as possible.

Therefore, I asked myself, what should I make of this information? Not knowing very much about climbing, or climbing in Nepal, I congratulated the friend heartily, a bit in the spirit of “Well done then, you’ve challenged yourself and tried your best to achieve your goal.”

Online checking my mail one afternoon a few weeks ago, I saw the news of a major earthquake in Nepal flash by the screen. “Hold on,” I thought to myself, “Didn’t I see recently a blog post about returning this spring to Mount Everest this spring on my home scroll?”

I looked at his FB page. Yes, he was obviously in Nepal. His last blog, posted three days previously, talked about having reached Base Camp and planning to start ascending. Considering the danger of avalanches, by all accounts he was probably dead. I didn’t post any message on his FB page, thinking that tact would be best as it was only half an hour into the news reports.  However, a slightly panicky comment from a concerned friend did appear on his wall within the hour.  There was no news until the next day when an update was posted on his blog. He’d reached his family via satphone and was well. It was unbelievable. Immediately afterwards, the aftershocks started and the fresh avalanches cascaded down the mountains. No news. Then a report: he’d escaped that too.  Other climbers who survived were calling for helicopters to come and carry them to safety.  Reports about climbers running out of spare oxygen were released. I prayed he wouldn’t die on the mountain waiting for a rescue. It turns out, in the end, he walked his way down the mountain with his Sherpa.

Bothersome news reports, which tickled my irritation, came to my attention during coverage of the disaster. Climbers calling for helicopters? Whole villages were flattened and there was no way to get access into the area except by helicopter. Hold on, how many people were on Mount Everest? Hundreds? Yes, hundreds. So many people apply to climb Mount Everest these days, a limited amount of permits are issued and the costs attached are phenomenal. Basically, a bunch of rich people are climbing the mountain. I read his old blog from 2012 in which he describes the experience of attempting the top in stormy conditions.  He’d been prepared to routinely see dead bodies of long dead climbers, but he had not been prepared to see people staggering around the top of the mountain who were obviously not going to get down, and were in fact, dying before his eyes.

Intrigued by this whole new side of the world opening up to me I googled articles.  I saw pictures of rows of climbers in the cue to get up the mountain, I read about people starting to climb at 2 am to beat the traffic at the top. I ask myself: Is driving from Utrecht to Amsterdam in rush hour now considered top sport? Oh, the car thing which reminds me: have you heard of a Sherpa?

We think of Mount Everest, excuse me Chomolungma, as a remote nature reserve. “It’s a trash can.” Journalists report.  In 2010 and 2011 Sherpas went up to remove tons of trash left by the mountaineering tourists. They removed bodies as well, having received permission by the families to cremate the remains.  Here I begin to imagine orange vested prisoners being sent to Nepal to retrieve trash, make them grateful for the air they breathe.

The climbers, their intentions having been interrupted by a major earthquake, did not want to leave the mountain. After all, they paid to be there and earthquake or no earthquake the mountain was still standing. Some tour operators cancelled the season out of respect for those that died and the suffering below, as it seemed to be “the thing to do.” Obviously, the thing to do is to turn Chomolungma into a well-run theme squeaky clean park so people with a lot of money can continue to be exclusive. Who else wants to be there? “Egos,” my friends said firmly without mercy, “It’s about the egos of these people.”


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