Alas, Tanya Gold of The Guardian has descended to clickbait headlines to keep up interest in her articles; her latest on the Everest avalanche that killed thirteen Sherpas is particularly painful:
As commercial climbing has exploded, Everest has shifted from an explicit wasteland to a moral and internal one which also serves as a perfect metaphor for the contempt in which we hold the planet.The fall of a serac in the Khumbu icefall was tragic, but by no means a bolt from the blue. Jon Krakauer's account of the 1996 Everest disaster that killed eight climbers (which Tanya references) describes how perilous the icefall can be - falls of huge, building-sized chunks of ice can happen without any more warning than a "look out!" from your companions, and even an injury such as a broken leg can prove fatal in the perilously hazardous conditions of 18000+ feet altitude where simply being there can provoke debilitating or fatal altitude sickness.
It is not simply the ordinary exploitation of the Sherpas, which is soothed away with the knowledge that in Nepal, where the average annual wage is $700, a Sherpa can make $5,000 in a two-month season – although it is impossible to imagine this kind of death rate being tolerated if the dead were rich and white.
The Everest climber fatality rate between 1922 and 2006 is about 2% overall, and about 1.4% if you exclude porters (Sherpas and others). Certainly, being a Sherpa is more dangerous than being a paying climber, but as a Sherpa you're still about the fatality rate of an astronaut and your relative compensation is better - if a Sherpa makes 7x the average annual wage, look at a top-end salary for an astronaut based in Houston, TX which is about $141K, or about 2.5x the mean US wage. This is not comparing apples to apples, but at least gives you a ballpark picture of how well Sherpas are compensated. Sure, they have a dangerous job, but no-one is forcing them into it and they probably have a better understanding of the dangers than most of the climbers. So when Tanya says:
...although it is impossible to imagine this kind of death rate being tolerated if the dead were rich and white.it turns out we actually tolerate this death rate already, even though the dead are moderately well paid and mostly white. Perhaps Tanya doesn't have a great imagination.
Looking at Tanya, I think it's safe to say that she's in no danger of attempting to summit Everest (or indeed any peak more challenging than Brown Willy) any time soon. Perhaps then she cannot appreciate what drives people to push themselves to their physical and mental limits to overcome the imposing challenge of high altitude mountaineering, and we should not blame her for that. We should, however, nail her to the wall for comments claiming that money trumps humanity for climbers:
But more tourists claim "tunnel vision" and "summit fever". They do not pause; they are slaked on their own fantasies; they paid too much. Madness indeed.At Everest summit altitudes, even a very fit climber has to draw on all their reserves of strength to survive the Death Zone. Even a small amount of additional exertion in aiding a fellow climber can cause them to collapse and double the number of people that need help. When you're on a climb to the summit of Everest, your survival is your own responsibility; it's unlikely that anyone will be able to help you; trying to help someone else can make you pay much, much more than just your climbing fees. All climbers who have reached the final base camp will know and understand this, much more than someone like Tanya can even strain to appreciate.