Janet Street-Porter: Leave Everest - and all its dead -in peace

Click to follow
The Independent Online

About 40 men and women passed David Sharp as he lay dying, 1,000 feet below the summit of Everest. Final proof that climbing the world's highest mountain is not a noble achievement but a disgusting, egotistical exercise which not only pollutes the environment but strips those involved of rational emotions. In our determination to push back the boundaries to achieve the unthinkable, it seems as if we are quite prepared to dump any acceptable standards of behaviour.

I do not want to denigrate the efforts of Mark Inglis, who has just become the first double amputee to climb the mountain, but where will this seeking out of world records end? Soon we'll be hearing about the first wheelchair user to make the trip, the first pair of conjoined twins, the first person to do it in pink knickers.

Everest has become a circus, a place where hundreds of people pay through the nose every week to try to struggle to the top. If you have the cash - about £20,000 - it will be a lot easier. If, like David Sharp, you have only £3,300 to get to base camp, and a limited amount of oxygen and second-rate equipment, then your chances of success are lower. That's when machismo kicks in and you're slogging it out with a mixture of adrenalin and sheer ego. David Sharp had reached the summit, but didn't have enough oxygen to get down from the "dead zone" of more than 26,000ft, the place where the body starts to shut down and you face a slow death unless you descend rapidly.

After seeking advice from his team leader, Mark Inglis and his sherpas gave Mr Sharp some oxygen, then left him. He became the 11th person this year to lose his life on the mountain. Everest is littered with more than 200 bodies of men and women whose lives ended in horrible circumstances. Those are someone's sons and daughters, husbands and wives that no one has bothered to bring down and bury. It makes my flesh creep.

Stephen Venables, the first Brit to climb Everest without oxygen, has described the experience as an "egotistical thing to do", and observed that "Everest is goal-orientated, rather than experience-orientated". He alludes to the moral laziness that prevails in extreme circumstances, calling it "a different world with different rules".

Touching the Void, the successful film, went some way to revealing the thought processes a climber confronts when facing death at altitude, and there's no doubt that we are captivated by these revelations. But the fact that 40 mountaineers passed David Sharp as he lay dying reminds us that this kind of climbing is all about oneself in a most repellent way. Where's the respect for nature, for a beautiful mountain? It's just another notch in your belt.

I've hiked at altitude three times, and at over 16,000 feet just putting one foot in front of the other is an immense physical challenge. The first time, ascending a pass out of a remote valley near the border of Tibet, I camped on a ridge for two days to try to overcome it - no joy. The second time, climbing Kilimanjaro in 1999, I thought I would die. Finally, I climbed a volcano on the border of Chile and Bolivia. On the way down, at 17,000 feet, I slipped and lay semi-conscious on the ice. Luckily, my guide got me back down to oxygen.

I'm cured of a desire to repeat those experiences, and I wish that Everest could be closed down. Leave the mountain and the bodies in peace.

Oprah's a winner in my book

Oprah Winfrey has signed what is believed to be the biggest-ever deal for a non-fiction book - the amount has not been disclosed but it's more than the £6.4m Bill Clinton received for his memoirs.

Book sales have plummeted in America: sales figures reveal that more new books were sold in Britain last year than the United States, in spite of the efforts of Oprah's book club, which is part of her highly successful, nationally syndicated television show.

So, a whole industry is pinning its hopes on the story of one black billionairess, left, and her battle against the bulge.

In terms of pounds-for-pounds lost, she's a total winner. I trust that snooty Brit literary critics will not be referring to this as another example of "chav lit".

* Stuart Rose has every reason to be pleased with himself this morning, having announced a 35 per cent rise in profits for Marks and Spencer this week.

Now M&S plan to spend around £600m modernising stores, expanding into new areas like electrical goods, and opening more food-only outlets on motorways and at stations. The fear and loathing that greets news of yet more branches of Tesco seems to escape Marks and Spencer.

The inhabitants of Northallerton, a market town in North Yorkshire, are thrilled that M&S plan to open a store there. It reinforces the solid, middle-class respectability of the town, and signals that M&S believe there are enough people with cash in the area to make the store a success. Tesco just doesn't have this cachet.

I hope that when Marks and Spencer expand, they do not endanger local traders. They offer expensive designer food, some stylish but safe fashion and reliable underwear. In spite of what Mr Rose says, places like Dorothy Perkins offer cheaper and equally fashionable clothing- and Twiggy in a cardigan is not going to get me reaching for my M&S card, I'm afraid.

Comments