As if the 2014 climbing season on Everest couldn’t get any stranger, it took another odd turn yesterday when Chinese mountaineer Jing Wang was given a special award by the Nepali government for her successful summit of the mountain this past spring. You may recall, Wang defied the shutdown of the South Side of Everest following the death of 16 Sherpas in an avalanche this past April.
She even went so far as to use a helicopter to shuttle herself, her hired guides, and their gear up to Camp 2, avoiding the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, and a significant portion of the climb, in the process. Those moves have been viewed as highly controversial in the mountaineering community, particularly since they were done solely for the purpose of keeping Wang’s hopes alive of completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam (7 summits, both poles) in the shortest time possible.
The award was presented to Wang by Bhim Acharya, who is fittingly enough, the Minister of Tourism and Aviation. The engraved copper plaque was handed out in a ceremony held yesterday at the Hotel de l’Annapurna in Kathmandu, and was given to the Chinese alpinist for “her successful ascent in a time of crisis and uncertainty.”
Considering that many in the mountaineering community don’t feel that Wang deserves a summit certificate – let alone a special award – for her climb, it seems odd that she would be honored in this way.
Then again, she is a wealthy woman, and has been spending money liberally in Nepal since she first arrived there this past spring. Her being given a summit certificate would probably have been controversial enough, but this award is simply the frosting on the cake.
This story probably isn’t going to help the reputation of the Ministry of Tourism, which many see as already being corrupt and greedy. The outward appearance for this is that Wang disobeyed the shutdown of the mountain, hired a helicopter to fly her to Camp 2 without permission, and then made a shortened climb up the tallest mountain on the planet.
And after all of that, instead of getting banned from climbing in the Himalaya, she gets an award. This is definitely a strange turn of events, and not what I anticipated could have happened when she made her bold move to continue her expedition.
In the wake of this strange season on Everest, the hope was that things would change, and that we might actually see some progress being made by the Ministry. That progress may yet come, but stories like this one make it seem unlikely.
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