Guided climbs on Mt Everest no longer 'mountaineering'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 June, 2010, 12:00am

I read about Mount Everest ('Peak paradox', June 8) with interest. I spend a lot of time in the mountains, the Himalayas in particular. While I have never attempted Everest (the idea scares me), I have enormous respect for those who do.

The risks of high altitude will always be great, yet with hundreds of people climbing the mountain each year, the two regular and well-trodden routes - attempted at great expense with teams of guides and porters - can no longer be termed 'mountaineering' in its true sense. The top has been claimed by a blind American, a 75-year-old man, a New Zealander who had lost both legs to frostbite, and more recently a 13-year-old American boy.

None of these exceptional people could have achieved their goal without a huge amount of assistance. Nor could they successfully confront the technical difficulties and hazards thrown up constantly by a non-guided climb on a less well-climbed peak - the sort of challenges that are the mainstay of mountaineers. On guided climbs, the route is well known, camps are set up for clients and Sherpas set up fixed ropes to ensure safety.

To paraphrase Doug Scott, one of the finest climbers of his generation, the challenge of mountaineering is all about route planning, minute-to-minute decision-making, stretching your technical skills to the limit, risking everything and stepping daily into the unknown. These factors are non-existent for client climbers who follow their guides - people highly experienced in everything from paramedical treatment and the effects of altitude to group dynamics, climbing on difficult terrain and survival techniques.

Certainly, Everest at high altitude is a risky business, hard work and a test of human will. But it should not to be confused with the tough, technical mountaineering that's the passion of a hard core of men and women the world over.

Peter Sherwood, Discovery Bay