You would think that after the ill-fated 1996 summit attempt on Mt. Everest – the world’s tallest peak at 29,035 feet (or 8,850 meters) recounted in John Krakauer’s extraordinary retelling “Into Thin Air” that the mountain’s popularity would begin to wane. Quite the opposite, in the ten years since Everest Guide Scott Fischer and 6 others lost their lives, Mt. Everest is more popular (and more expensive) than ever before.
A quick fact for you in case you’re thinking of being the first on your block to scale Everest: one in 10 mountain climbers die while trying to scale Mount Everest.
So what could possibly be the attraction? There are dozens of company’s that offer “summit attempts’ on Everest. Notice I said, “attempt”, because no reputable company can guarantee that you’ll make it to the top of Mt. Everest. There are too many unknown variables: freakish weather, avalanches, slipping, frostbite, cerebral edema. And people PAY for this? You better believe it. Where else can you pay over $50,000.00 for a chance to stare your own mortality right in the face?
In 2005, there were 192 official attempts on the mountain’s south side (the “easier” side), there were 183 summit attempts on the north side (the more difficult side). The forecast to date in 2006 is over 200 attempts, but 12 climbers also lost their lives.
In 1980, it cost roughly $2700.00 dollars to get your papers in order; pay for some Sherpa guides and off you went. A few years – when the Nepalese government realized they had a viable tourist attraction on their hands – the price to summit Everest jumped to $10,000.00 dollars, shortly later the price was hiked to $20,000.00.
The average price in 2006? Between $55,000.00 and $65,000.00 dollars. That does not include airfare to Nepal and other incidentals. By the time you sign on the dotted line, it’s no exaggeration that this climb of a lifetime may have cost you nearly $100,000.00. And you STILL are not guaranteed to make it to the top. Obviously, your experienced guide and his support team will do everything to ensure you can. But hey, they’re only human.
Without naming names, let’s take a look at what a variety of trekking companies promise you for that kind of money:
– All accommodations in Kathmandu before your expedition
– Tents provided during the trek and climb.
– All food during the trek and climb.
– All transportation in Nepal, including round-trip flights from Kathmandu to Lukla/Syangboche.
– All group equipment needed to reach base camp and climb the mountain: cooking gear, fuel, stoves, ropes, all forms of rock and ice protection, radio communications, oxygen, medical supplies, etc.
– Sherpa, porters, liaison officer, camp staff and guides.
– All administration fees owed to Nepal, including climbing permit.
The price of admission does not include your own personal gear, a required comprehensive medical insurance policy, and trip cancellation insurance. And by the way, did I mention that most companies require a non-refundable deposit of usually in the neighborhood of $20,000.00?
As you can see – summiting the highest mountain in the world is no picnic.
Fortunately, the requirements for summiting are a little more stringent than they were 10 years ago. Obviously money talks. Summiting Mt. Everest may be a dream come true for YOU, but for the company offering you a chance it’s a business. And their business demands that you have a decent shot of making it to the top because you are healthy.
According to a recently published report on climbing Mt. Everest, Dr. Andrew Sutherland says the main reasons for failing to summit, or even worse, failing to get down off the mountain, have a lot to do with altitude sickness. Sutherland stressed that the main reasons for deaths on Everest are injuries and exhaustion. But, a significant proportion of climbers die from altitude-related illness, specifically from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Both conditions are deadly if not treated by getting to a lower altitude (British Medical Journal, August 26, 2006).
Remarked Sutherland, “Ã¢Â?Â¦Many climbers who suffer severe altitude sickness are in denial and keep pushing to the top of Everest. But, they move slower and slower as they go. And once reaching the summit, their determination dwindles and they fall prey to altitude illness and die on the way downÃ¢Â?Â¦”
The 2006 climbing season on Mt. Everest turned out to be the worst one in terms of fatalities since 1996.
Certainly climbing the mountain isn’t getting any easier and that may be exactly why so many climbers and climber-wanna-be’s want to attempt the summit.