On May 1, 1963 Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit Mt. Everest. His successful expedition was a result of months of preparation and weeks of hard work in the Himalaya that culminated with him reaching the highest point on the planet. Back then, Everest was a very different place than it is today, something that Whittaker reflects upon in an Op-Ed piece that he wrote for The Seattle Times that was published over the weekend.
In the article Whittaker talks about the massive changes that have come to the mountain since he made his historic climb five decades ago. He mentions that when he climbed Everest his team had to hire 32 Sherpas and 909 porters just to help get all of their gear and supplies to Base Camp, which was a 100-mile (160 km) trek back in those days. Today, a short flight puts you into the Khumbu Valley, making the walk in a mere 40 miles (64 km).
That isn’t the only change however. Whittaker laments the fact that the crowds on Everest have grown so large, with some climbers lacking the proper skills, training and experience to take on such a massive peak. Whittaker’s son Leif made his second ascent of Everest last year and we’re told he had to wait at 28,700 feet (8747 meters) for more than an hour thanks to the traffic jams going up and down the mountain. The elder Whittaker feels that those crowds could be a disaster waiting to happen should extremely bad weather move in unexpectedly.
As we get closer to the start of new season on Everest I expect we’ll see more pieces like this one. The 50th anniversary commemoration will no doubt also bring other media attention to the current climate for climbing on the world’s tallest peak. But I doubt any of them will be written by anyone who has the same unique perspectives of Whittaker who really has seen the mountain evolve and change since he stood on top. This is definitely an interesting read from a man who knows what he is talking about.
Thanks to Bill Snyder for passing this my way. Much appreciated my friend!
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