Steve Goodwin: It was already busy when I went up Everest. Now it's like rush hour

Everest has become a circus of corporate greed trading on the egos of individuals

Related Topics

As we ascended the steep ridge to the South Summit the queuing was more reminiscent of a supermarket check-out than a supposedly wild mountainside."

The quote is from my report in The Independent of 23 May 1998. Fourteen years on, today's Everesters might paraphrase Crocodile Dundee and retort: "Call that a queue?"

There were perhaps a dozen of us halted that bright mid-morning on the South Summit. At 8,760m, we were less than 100 metres below Everest's main summi,t but owing to a cock-up by another team, nobody was going any higher that day. Beyond lay a narrow crest and the awkward rocky barrier of the Hillary Step – and there was no rope left.

This weekend, some 200 climbers hope to pass the point where we were forced to retreat, and go on to the top of the world. I wish them luck. Anyone who has endured the lung-searing grind for perhaps eight hours up from the camp on the South Col deserves their summit.

But 200 people? Even supposing the weather stays benign, that is a frightening number jostling on an icy aerial gangway, brains and bodies dulled by oxygen starvation and exhaustion. Plodding up, you're on autopilot, scarcely noticing the dawn light spreading across Tibet, which in your right mind should be stupendous, but when you're forced to stop it is suddenly scary.

The wind starts whipping the snow in plumes, you worry over the oxygen supply and you are dehydrated through not wanting to stop to drink and maybe lose your place in the ascending column. It's going to be a long way down. Perhaps it wasn't quite like this for those who have perished on Everest this season, but it is no surprise they died on the descent.

Is this really mountaineering? To Joe Public, since Everest is world's the highest mountain it must be the ultimate goal of every true mountaineer. Far from it.

Given the chance of an Everest trip for free, most climbers would probably jump at it. But, handed £30,000 (the typical cost of a "climb Everest" package) and told to spend it climbing, the majority would go exploring, perhaps among the hundreds of 6,000m plus peaks in the Himalaya, Tibet and China that remain unclimbed.

Everest in the 21st century has become a mirror of the world that most of us go to the mountains to escape: a circus of corporate greed trading on the egos of individuals wanting an eye-rolling piece of dinner party one-upmanship or a marketable line on a CV; media stunts to be the youngest, oldest, first blindfold on a tricycle, etc; and a PC World of relentless communications.

Leanna Shuttleworth, the 19-year old British woman who reached the summit this week, spoke of passing on her way up "quite a few bodies . . . and even a couple who were still alive"; while the decision of one Israeli climber to abandon his attempt to rescue a fellow climber is considered so extraordinary as to make headlines. Meanwhile, three Sherpas died earlier in the season, preparing the route the client-climbers take through the Khumbu Icefall.

Perhaps while they are queuing at the Hillary Step, this weekend's Everest climbers might find time to examine their consciences.

Stephen Goodwin is editor of the "Alpine Journal"

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own