With the Everest climbing season looming large on the horizon, we’re bound to see plenty of stories covering the world’s highest peak in the coming weeks. But over the past few days there have been a rash of stories from a number of different outlets, mostly stemming from this article from the BBC, regarding the impact of climate change on the mountain. While that article does shine a glaring light on how global warming is reshaping Everest, it does so in the all the wrong ways, choosing instead to focus on a salacious topic guaranteed to get clicks –– death.
For those who haven’t read the story, or seen it reported in dozens of other outlets, the gist of it is this. Climate change is melting the snow and ice on Everest and as it retreats the dead bodies of climbers from past expeditions are being revealed for the first time in years. The sense amongst operators on both side of the mountain is that this could be upsetting to the current teams of climbers, who will have to walk past the bodies as they make their way up the mountain this year.
While I won’t attempt to diminish the impact of seeing the remains of another human being while climbing Everest, this story smacks of a mainstream outlet once again looking to get attention from a topic that always generates a lot of attention from the public. Based on the coverage of Everest from the mainstream press, the average person likely believes that the mountain is an incredibly dangerous place where people die all the time. The reality is, yes there are usually a handful of deaths on Everest each season. But when you factor in the number of climbers who are actually there, the number of deaths is actually quite small. When compared to the number of summits to deaths that occur on Annapurna or K2 for instance, Everest is downright safe.
It is also important to point out that more than 300 people have died attempting to climb Everest over the years, with about 200 of those bodies still on the mountain. This is a known quantity, and most of the climbers heading to either the North or Shout Side understand this. Some of the bodies that have been left behind have been in place, and visible, for years. The retreating snow and ice may be revealing more of them, but spotting the remains of another mountaineer has been a fact of life on Everest for a very long time.
What the BBC article did do a good job of sharing is that efforts are underway to clean up the mountain, both from the Nepali and Tibetan sides. Both countries are looking to not only remove excess trash left behind by decades of expeditions, but they are working on bringing the bodies down too. There are a number of logistical challenges to doing that however, not the least of which is the high altitude and challenging conditions that exist on Everest. Government bureaucracy is a tough hurdle to overcome too, as it the question of who pays for such an operation, which can get very expensive depending on the location of the remains.
The purpose of this blog post isn’t to downplay the possibilities of more bodies being revealed on Everest, quite the contrary in fact. Climate change has been causing the glaciers, snow, and ice to retreat there for a number of years now, so this isn’t a new issue. But for those of us who follow the Everest climbing season closely, these types of stories from the mainstream press can be a bit annoying. Judging from the amount of attention this story has gotten over the past few days, it was mission accomplished for the BBC. But from my point of view there was very little of value in that article in terms of actually reporting news. Not much new anyway.
At the end of the day, stories about death on Everest get clicks and eyeballs, which is all that counts in some newsrooms. Meanwhile, those of us who follow Himalayan climbing more closely know that this is just business as usual with major news outlets.
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