I'm For Bikes!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How Far Would YOU Go?

I've been watching a series on Planet Green called "Everest: Beyond The Limit". I'd seen it before on Discovery Channel and recently rediscovered it. As someone who has long been fascinated with Mt. Everest, I am absolutely enthralled with this show.

I knew what Mt. Everest was, but it wasn't until I read an article in Outside magazine about the fateful, tragic day in May of 1996 when 8 climbers were killed that I started doing some serious research into this incredible mountain. Wow. This is some crazy stuff.

I also read Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air" about the above mentioned tragedy. I wasn't aware until after I had read it that the book created a lot of controversy and brought up questions about climbing ethics and whatnot amongst the climbing community. Well, to be fair, the questions were already there but this event triggered a lot more discussions about such things. Also, some of the family members of the people who were on the various expeditions that day disagreed with the author's perspective about what happened and it was interesting to read the different points of view.

A lot of people are angry and disappointed at how commercialized Everest has become. I don't really blame them. Every year, hundreds of people pay thousands of dollars to go there and try their hand at climbing to the roof of the world. Based on everything I've read, most of the people who go there to summit shouldn't be there to begin with. Apparently climbing Everest is a big business these days in spite of the danger, and it's no longer "pure" in the eyes of a lot of climbers. Putting inexperienced people up there in the death zone is a recipe for disaster. There have been many books written on the subject.

Do I want to go to Mt. Everest? Absolutely. Not to climb her, though. I'm no fool, and I know there's not much chance I would make it past base camp. My dream is to photograph a few weeks or months of life on Everest. Can you imagine? What an incredible experience that would be. If I could get to Everest and Antarctica before I die, I would die a happy woman indeed.

Watching the show on TV and seeing the breathtaking scenery is incredible. I'm envious of the people who get to be there to film it and live it. It's not all beauty and glory, though. There are a lot of bad things that can and do happen during a summit expedition, and one of tonight's episodes illustrated that.

One of the climbing teams had just reached camp 4 (26,300 ft) and came across a dead body - one that had apparently only been there for a few days. It was partially buried in the snow and the face couldn't be seen, but it really brought home to the climbers (and me) how brutal Everest can be. It's not just the fact that the person died there, it's also the fact that the person will likely stay there forever unless the family chooses to pay for body removal and return home, if that's even deemed possible. There are many stories about climbers getting into trouble high on the mountain and being left for dead. It is said there are at least 120 bodies on Mt. Everest, and I'm not sure this figure includes the bodies of those who have fallen over the edge or into a crevasse and have not been found.

Wow. Wrap your mind around that one. You go to climb this legendary mountain, you end up dying, and you will most likely become part of the scenery.

One thing I learned about rescues on Everest (and other high mountains) is that they are just as dangerous for the rescuers and sometimes that means there IS no rescue. At some point, a climbing team may also have to make a tough decision - help with a rescue and risk losing their lives or their own chance to summit, or leave the injured/incapacitated person to fend for themselves, even knowing they will most likely die.

Check this out - it's part of a contract for an Everest Expedition company I found online:

Body Disposal/Repatriation Form

Climbing big mountains is inherently dangerous, and one of the potential situations best addressed before an expedition is what you would like done with your body, should you die in the mountains. If you die on a mountain on our trips we will do everything possible to assist in returning your body to the US. However there will be additional costs in doing this if it is possible. In many cases it may not be possible.

The US embassy or other foreign embassies will only assist in transporting your body back to the United States or other country once the body is back to the city where the embassy is located.

If you die on the mountain above 7800 meters ( 25,800 feet) your body will be left at that location.

If you die on the mountain above 5300 meters (17,500 feet) your body may be put in a crevasse and possibly marked with a rock cairn in a respectful manner by your expedition team members.

If you die lower on the mountain it might be possible to get your body down where it could be cremated by the locals. This will cost several thousand dollars including the cost of recovery labor, transport and body preparation, wood and appropriate donations to the local monastery. This cost is usually between $5,000.00 and $10,000.00. It will not be possible to bring your ashes home because of the cremation process.

If you die down lower on the mountain or on the trek to basecamp, it might be possible to get your body down for repatriation to your home country. If you elect repatriation of your body it would be via helicopter and would be quite complicated and expensive, in excess of $15,000 plus the cost of staff and might take several weeks.

No matter what altitude, if I die on the Mountain, I prefer to be:
Left on the Mountain: ___________________
Cremated by the locals: _________________
Repatriated: ___________________________

If I elect cremation or repatriation the following will pay for the costs for any election I have chosen. I also understand and agree that any costs shall be a lien against my estate and I authorize the trustee of any trust or the executor of my estate to pay for any such costs. If I elect cremation or repatriation the following will pay all costs incurred:

Life Insurance Policy:
Policy Number:
Additional comments:

Participant’s Signature: ______________________________________ Date:
Spouse’s Signature: _________________________________________ Date:

Wow. That's some heavy stuff right there. Talk about harsh reality.

I've been thinking about the subject of risk a lot lately, mainly due to things I've read about runners being attacked, cyclists being hit and injured or killed by careless drivers, etc. We have all read and posted stories about things like this, and yet that doesn't stop us from going out and doing what we love to do. It might alter the way we do things, but it doesn't stop us. It seems like most people whose blogs I read have incredible spouses/partners/families and friends who totally support what they do, which is awesome. Sometimes I wonder, though, if there's a limit to what we can ask our spouses/partners/families and friends to endure for the sake of us doing what we want to do or dream of doing.

We recently had a local cyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver while on an early morning weekday ride. It was (is) a horrifying reality check to the local cycling and running community that these things can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time, and it caused a LOT of comment and controversy among cyclists and non-cyclists here. A friend of mine asked me a few days later if I was still cycling, and when I said yes he asked me how I could possibly continue cycling along our busy roads after what happened. I replied that, although I do my best to be as safe as I can and try to choose roads that have plenty of shoulder space, I don't go out being afraid I'm going to get hit. Of course I do everything I can to prevent it, but I can't stress about it or I'll spend all my time indoors on my spinner. Sorry, but that is NOT my idea of a great time.

He did get me thinking, though. How would my loved ones react if I were hurt or (knock on wood) killed while out riding my bike? Would they be angry with me for putting myself at risk, or would they understand that I was doing what I love to do and not hold it against me? I hope it would be the latter, but do I really have the right to put my loved ones through that? I have jokingly asked various people in my life what they would do if I told them I was going to Mt. Everest, and I've had responses varying from "That would be so cool!" to "Are you crazy? No way!" to "Well, I think you're insane but if that's what you want to do..."

There are two different schools of thought among climbers, I've learned. There are many climbers who would - and have - continue on their summit bids in spite of being faced with someone in need of help. At a glance, this seems terribly inhumane, doesn't it? These climbers, however, are of the mind that if a person is going to attempt something so dangerous, they are clearly aware of the risks and must assume responsibility for them - even if it means dying. When you stop to consider that helping someone else could put the rescuer's life in jeopardy as well, does it make leaving someone to die any easier to swallow?

Other climbers feel it goes against everything they believe in to leave someone behind or refuse to help someone who is clearly in trouble, and will stop to help them regardless of the danger to themselves and regardless of whether it means their own summit attempt will end.

Using Mt. Everest is a bit of an extreme example, but can you see my point? It's an interesting dilemma. Where does the ultimate responsibility rest for the decisions we make regarding situations we may put ourselves into - with ourselves or with how our loved ones may feel about it? How much do we expect our loved ones to put up with?

How far would YOU go to do something you've always wanted to do, regardless of the danger?


Cynthia O'H said...

I'd love to climb Everest - and to go to the Antarctic. This seems strange because I despise the cold.
Yet, logistically, neither one is in my immediate future. Two young children and the cost of such adventures keeps them out of my league. But, it would be amazing...

Patrick Mahoney said...

I used to be pretty deep into Alpine climbing, years ago. It's funny, I did my share of dangerous stuff, some of it reckless, but at the time I didn't care. Then one day I was climbing, got freaked out and turned back.

Not sure I'll ever do it again, though you are right swimming in the open water or cycling/running on a busy street is potentially just as dangerous. I'm as careful as I can be in trying to safe, but it's not always up to me...

I don't consider the "body stress" dangers though, I'll take the odds against sudden death by activity against sudden death by by being unhealthy any day.

Caratunk Girl said...

Hey have you read Touching the Void?? You will love that one if you haven't, it is a MUST read story of survival in the mountains. Google it, you will see what I am saying.

I do not want to hike Everest, but I would love to go to base camp. The things I do for fun are risky in some people's eyes. I mean, I am not going to become a permanent part of the scenery or anything, but you know, there is risk. So it is hard for me to answer your question, because if I want something, I go for it. Not at any expense, but I do take risks to get there.

KJ said...

@Cynthia: It WOULD be amazing to go to either place!

@Patrick: Good point. I agree about the healthy lifestyle vs. unhealthy. I'd rather go being healthy than sitting on a couch letting my body rot away!

@Mandy: I have read Touching the Void - WOW. I know what you mean about going for it - I think most of us do, and in general without thinking about risk as a factor. It was just something I was thinking about...