Although I have been back to Nepal most years, either side of lockdowns, for either medical projects, coaching work or, last year, the Gurkha veterans’ duty trek, after an absence of eight years due to (far more important) family reasons, I will be returning to Himalayan mountaineering this Spring.
The mountain I will be attempting is 7161m Pumori, located near Mt Everest in the Khumbu and preceded by an ascent of 6119m Lobuche East as a warm-up climb. Pumori, which means ’the Mountain Daughter’ in Sherpa language (‘Pumo’ meaning young girl or daughter and ‘Ri’ meaning mountain) was named by George Mallory and has a chequered history, with an avalanche suspectable route on the South East ridge. However, although remaining a fair challenge, conditions have stabilised in recent years. We will be co-located with Everest climbers at Everest Base Camp, which is nearby.
The Himalayan mountaineering scene has, like most things in the World, changed greatly in the eight years I’ve been away and considerably so in the last two years. Many articles can be found online from mountaineering commentators on the business model now being used by Sherpa led companies of high levels of support, oxygen supplementation and the inexperience of clients now attempting the world’s biggest mountains and I won’t add anything more here.
As a coach who works and deals with human development, however, my main observations are a) the explosion in numbers attempting Mt Everest and the 14 x 8000 m peaks and b) the reasons being given for this.
For the latter, let’s be clear, none of us do these things primarily to ‘raise money for x’, ‘heighten awareness of y’ or to ‘show z’s they too can achieve their dreams.’ These may be a consequence or secondary reason but we do it mainly for ourselves, for our own significance, and always have done. What has changed dramatically in the past few years, however, is that from doing it for our own internal significance – the pursuit of excellence, a personal goal, self-worth, self-esteem or fulfilling a life, it has now become more about doing it for a subconscious social media driven external significance – the pursuit of likes, followers, recognition, a name and fame. And hence the former observation - the explosion in numbers.
And, as such, everything now seems to be a race – a race to be the first, fastest or youngest, in particular, to achieve a bewildering array of claimed ‘achievements’ to do with nationality, combinations of adventures, ever more ’causes’, re-inactions or gimmicks. We have had the first playing of a piano on the top of Everest, and I suspect it won’t be long before someone attempt climbing the mountain dragging a piano behind them.
Few will achieve anything more than a five-minutes of fame and the scene on Everest has become something of a circus – the seemingly obsession of people to get noticed at the top of the world merely the tip of the iceberg of the same obsession in all walks of life.
So, I return to the Himalayas with a mixture of expectations, but my objectives are clear – to return to the purity of the mountains, to achieve a personal goal and to get away from the social media mayhem of the world we live in…