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The other Everest

It’s Everest season again. Despite the fact it was climbed almost 60 years ago and most of the genuine mountaineering feats have been done, the goddess mother can still catch the media’s eye.

india Updated: May 20, 2010 22:18 IST

It’s Everest season again. Despite the fact it was climbed almost 60 years ago and most of the genuine mountaineering feats have been done, the goddess mother can still catch the media’s eye. In the last week we’ve had the youngest British female, 22-year-old media studies graduate Bonita Norris, reaching the summit and sustaining a back injury on the climb down.

As more and more people make their way up to the summit, much of the media coverage is less about Everest or mountains generally and more about the profile of the person doing the climbing. It was the same principle at work when Cheryl Cole slogged up Kilimanjaro.

But there’s another side to the Everest story that doesn’t get told. At least, not properly. The news that a team of Sherpas was bringing down the corpses of dead climbers this spring was widely reported, feeding into the common perception that not only is Everest awash with the living, it’s also covered in the dead.

Garbage left behind by careless mountaineers is also routinely offered as more evidence of a once glorious symbol tarnished by a consumerist frenzy. The truth is more positive.

Of course, the new Everest industry does cause environmental problems. While base camp is kept tidy, it’s a struggle to remove detritus from higher up the mountain. But that shouldn’t outweigh the positive impact the commercialisation of Everest has had. Before the peak was climbed, the people of Everest were among the poorest in the world, with many young men forced to migrate to look for work. Now the Sherpas of Everest have good schools and health posts, many of them founded by the Himalayan Trust, founded by Sir Edmund Hillary after the first ascent in 1953. Everest has been their springboard to
a more prosperous way of life.

Compared to the problems faced by ordinary Nepalis daily across the country, like malnutrition and bad water, removing garbage left by tourists is not a problem. Rich westerners burning jet fuel to get to Nepal to climb and trek may look self-indulgent, but those tourists secure a lot of jobs. Were tourism to disappear, many unemployed young Nepalis would be forced to migrate to the Gulf and beyond to look for work, as happened during Nepal’s bitter civil war.

The business of Everest may not be as romantic as its amateur past, but in one of the poorest countries in the world, the hope is that business stays good and that the mountains of Nepal stay as beautiful as ever.