Transmissions from a Lone Star: Is it Time for a Ladder on Everest?

© PhotoDaniel Kalder
Daniel Kalder - Sputnik International
Once upon a time the world was full of wondrous mysteries and terrifying unknowns.

Once upon a time the world was full of wondrous mysteries and terrifying unknowns. Marco Polo could get away with claiming he had met dog-faced men on his travels because hardly anybody in Europe had ever been outside their home village. Now of course things are different; our planet is well mapped out, tourists are pretty much everywhere, and if you don’t have the money to visit exotic places you can always watch a travel show on TV.

© PhotoDaniel Kalder
Daniel Kalder - Sputnik International
Daniel Kalder

Take Mt. Everest for instance. For millennia it was considered unconquerable, and then 60 years ago two chaps conquered it. Since then it’s been a free-for-all atop that formerly formidable peak. No, really – apparently so many people are scuttling up Everest that there are now traffic jams. According to The Guardian, 520 people have already been to the top this year, while on the 19th May 150 people reached the last 3,000 feet at more or less the same time, causing lengthy delays. Climbers were lining up for the summit as if they were waiting to buy stamps at the Post Office.

Since it’s now so congested at the top, the government of Nepal has come up with a brilliant idea: install a ladder at the trickiest bit to hurry the tourists along.

Naturally this is a controversial idea as some of the tourists think that this is cheating. But of course the tourists are already cheating. It’s not as if they run up the mountain in an anorak and a pair of ordinary shoes; on the contrary they bring masses of kit. The commercial exploitation of Everest has never been a case of man vs. nature but rather one of man + expensive technical gear vs. nature. Why not add a ladder?

Indeed, if more ladders were added to mountains then mountaineering might become much more popular. Take me for instance. I grew up in a country with a lot of mountains, but I never bothered climbing up any of them. I just couldn’t see the point – it was difficult, tiring, and they were all too far away. Besides, in my part of Scotland the mountains were so old they had all been worn down to nubs and you could walk up them easily. That seemed better to me.

Indeed, the first time I went up a “proper” mountain was in Kazakhstan, and that was only because the Soviets had been thoughtful enough to install a series of chair lifts up Kok Tobe. As a result when I reached the top I wasn’t tired or sweaty and I could enjoy the view.

On the other hand, when I decided to go for a stroll I discovered it was very slippery, and since I was only wearing a pair of trainers I realized I’d probably fall and die. I remembered news stories of Australians regularly meeting their deaths on Scottish mountains after going for a climb in little more than a pair of shorts and a cork hat. I returned to the chair lift and descended to city level.

Thus while a ladder on Everest is a pretty good idea, I think a chair lift would be even better. Or maybe the Nepalese could burrow into the mountain, install an elevator and allow everybody to reach the top. They could even put up a nice viewing platform with a souvenir stand and a cafe. That would be nice.

Alas, I think that would meet even more resistance than the ladder. For although Everest is really just a luxury adventure holiday destination for cool people these days, the tourists who climb it crave authenticity and exclusivity. It’s a bit like space travel in that regard.

I remember the horror among purists when civilians started paying for trips to the International Space Station. The folks at NASA waffled on about the purity of science, but the real issue was that they didn’t want the rest of us to know how easy it is to sit in a tin can and watch gas burning in space all day. I mean, if a (then) 62 year old guy like Dennis Tito can do it, then so can the rest of us, more or less.

Of course, we’re all human; we all like to think we’re special, and the thought of a ladder on Everest makes all those wealthy adventure tourists feel less special and thus a little sad inside. But I think the most important voices to consider here are those of the Sherpas, the local villagers who go up the mountain all the time as guides for the rich folk. They keep dying, you see, and they only get paid $7,000 per climb – around 10 percent of what the tourists pay.

Is it worth dying for $7,000?


For the Sherpas climbing Everest is a job – and apparently they’re largely in favor of a ladder. So install one I say. And maybe add some traffic lights; or a zebra crossing; or maybe a nice lady with a big metal lollipop that says STOP on it- to control the flow of tourists as each one scrambles to stake his claim to uniqueness on the bustling mountaintop.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”

Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.

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