Just when you thought the autumn climbing season was over and there was nothing new to report, a controversy on Ama Dablam last week has left many scratching their heads. It seems that a team of Kuwait climbers has unfurled a massive flag from the summit of the mountain, drawing the ire of Nepali officials and fellow alpinists alike. What’s the big deal you ask? Doesn’t everyone carry a flag with them to the summit? In this case, the flag is likely amongst the largest ever created, stretching out for 100 meters (328 ft) in length and 30 meters (98 ft) in width, while weighing more than 150 kg (330 pounds). To make matters worse, it doesn’t appear that the group had any kind of permit or permission to install the flag on the mountain.
The “flag” actually consists of six long rolls of material that are red, green, and black in color. The Kuwaiti flag actually consists of those three colors, as well as white, but in this case the snow on the summit of Ama Dablam provided that stripe. It was hauled to the top by the new expedition team created by Nims Purja as he embarks on his first guided expedition in the Himalaya. So far, he hasn’t commented on the stunt, which has been condemned by climbers onsite and from afar, including Alan Arnette who covered the story a few days back.
The disappointment and anger stems from the feeling that the team behind this stunt has defaced the mountain and ignored the principles of Leave No Trace. Reportedly, the flag could be seen as far away as Khumjung, a distance of 12 km (7.4 miles), leaving those who weren’t aware of the situation scratching there heads as to what was going on. The installation of the flag was perhaps most disturbing for the other climbers on Ama Dablam, who witnessed the efforts on the summit as they were also making their way up.
It should be noted that the flag was only in place for about an hour before it was removed and presumably carried back down to Base Camp. It was visible long enough for some photos to be taken and shared on social media, so while I’m not a huge fan of this kind of stunt, I’m not sure that it bothers me all that much either. Had the team just left the flag there on the mountain, I would likely be far more outraged. But since this was a temporary thing, and they cleaned up behind themselves when they left the summit, I see it as a mostly dumb, but otherwise harmless, prank. Were I on the summit the day this happened however, I might have other feelings.
The Nepali government certainly has other feelings. According to the Nepali Times, the stunt is being investigated for any wrong doing. It seems that the Kuwait team behind this didn’t try to hide what they were up to in any way, but they may also not have obtained permission ahead of time. Officials from the Tourism Department in Nepal say they will examine the incident and take the appropriate action to reprimand those involved.
What do you think? Was this a major mountaineering faux pas or is the outrage overdone? Does it bother you or is it par for the course in modern mountaineering, where stunts like this seem to have become more common? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.