GAURISHANKAR is one of the last unclimbed 7,000 m. moun¬tains in the world. Situated in the Rolwaling Himal on the border between Nepal and the Tibetan province of the People's Republic of China, it is a terrific giant with razor-sharp edges, loose vertical rock faces and avalanche-swept gullies.
Among mountaineers, Gaurishankar is sometimes considered as one of the 'last unsolved problems' of high altitude climbing, and more than forty expeditions have applied for permission to climb it. A number of illegal attempts have also been made; the latest one, of Japanese origin, was stopped by Nepalese authorities in the Rolwaling Valley in the autumn of 1973.
This attempt was well in line with other ventures by more famous people who have climbed mountains illegally or to the dislike of national authorities or local people.
The attitude underlying such attempts has been dominant among Himalayan and other expedition climbers for a long time and could properly be called 'the imperialist attitude'. Terms like 'discover', 'explore' and 'conquer', are to be found on every second page of Himalayan expedition writing. Driven by a desire for fame, and backed by sports equipment factories and biscuit companies, courageous climbers supported by armies of porters have penetrated jungles and 'discovered' valleys where people have lived for hundreds of years. They have climbed the most sacred mountains and left all sorts of litter and junk to the ravens and the local inhabitants, not to forget ail the human corpses well preserved in high places.
In 1972, this development came to a head with the Italian Army invasion of Khumbu Himal. Supported by helicopters and 1200 porters, they managed to place a Madonna statue on Cho- molongma herself, in the midst of Buddhist, Hindu and Communist territory.
The climbers of the big expeditions have been the proud forerunners of the major invasion. Now, the not quite so brave and not quite so strong trekkers are lining up by the hundreds and thousands. Every spring and summer they fly out of the dirty and overcrowded cities of Europe, America and Japan, to swarm into the Himalayan valleys and through the high passes.
The locals leave their families and fields and gombas to join the rich for money and new status symbols : happiness is a bright red duvet. In these areas of increasing population and growing unemployment, the lucky few are enabled to earn a living, while rising food prices and living costs make it ever more difficult for the poor to buy their daily rice. Somewhere in this process traditional values are turned upside down and the worst of western manners adopted.
On his return home, the expedition climber may pick the sweet fruits of fame, prestige and money through lectures, articles and books, It is even possible to make a living this way, sharing your adventures with other people who have not had the chance to participate in such exertions. In climbing writing, one often finds a curious mixture of aesthetics and technocracy: some writers just have to show their routes meticulously on every picture—everywhere those broken lines. The old Alps are now virtually dripping with broken lines, and lots of 'work' has been done in the Himalaya, on Mt. Kenya and on the Troll Wall, while there are still major unsolved 'problems' in Patagonia. Now, we are waiting for the line up the South-West Face of Everest to be completed.1
We all know that this can be done : the South-West Face of Everest, Gaurishankar, any mountain in the world can be climbed by almost any conceivable route. The problems are financial and practical : if you have enough money and enough equipment, it is usually not difficult to assemble a sufficient number of climbers willing to take the risks. As far as Gaurishankar is concerned, the main problem at the moment is that of obtaining a few important signatures from Kathmandu or Peking. Sufficiently influential people may be able to achieve this in the near future.
Then why not let the pack loose ? Why not climb Gaurishankar ? Why should we deny ourselves or anyone else this privilege ? There are a number of reasons.
In the first place, a lot of people living around the mountain would not like it. In Lamaistic Buddhism, as well as in Hinduism, the Tserigma or Gaurishankar is a very sacred place. Up to the present time, considerations such as these have largely been ignored by climbing expeditions; at the very most, the upper few feet of mountains have been left untrodden. When it comes to an extraordinarily sacred place like Gaurishankar, the upper 3000 ft. at least should be left 'clean'. In any event, if the mountain is to be climbed it should for once be left to the Nepalese or Chinese to do it themselves—if they want to.
But in my opinion it would be preferable if one mountain in the world were left unclimbed, untouched by our species. Man has by now explored and partly destroyed the jungles, conquered the oceans and the arctic, and decimated and close to extinguished several animal species. Gaurishankar should be left untouched, to be worshipped for religious, philosophical, ecological or other reasons.
Alternative ways of looking at mountaineering
In Norway, a country rich in traditions of arctic exploration, mountain exploration has strangely enough always been some¬what more muted : less aggressive (though sometimes ambitious), with more weight on pleasure and safety than on the 'conquest’ attitude.
The relationship with the media has always been low-keyed and left largely to foreign visitors who, for several reasons, need it or want it. The media therefore concentrate on the Troll Wall 'circus' and the artists operating there, while the native climbers enjoy their sport there or elsewhere without making too much fuss about it. Nor is there overmuch preoccupation with climbing writing. Why write enthusiastic articles about little-known valleys and mountains that you have discovered? Next year there might not be so much solitude there, and in a few years commercial tourism might enter. If there is something we really don't want, it is tourism—Swiss type. Which is why we have developed a 'Shhh' (Shut-up!) mentality: "Think twice before you publish that mountaineering article".2 Only a few guide¬books have been published, and they are now well out of date. As a result, lots of people, particularly foreign visitors, have for years been doing the same 'first ascents' and 'new routes'. Modern guides are being written to cover certain areas; other areas will be left undescribed so that future mountain lovers may discover them all by themselves.
The mountains are the basic resource of climbers we should take good care of them and keep them clean.
Sometimes we must protect them from large-scale commercial tourism, sometimes abstain from writing about them (leaving them as a gift to future generations), and sometimes not touch them at all (in respect of local desires and, in the case of Gauri- shankar, as a sign that even the industrialized imperialist nations can show modesty).
To call a mountain a 'problem' is becoming an anachronism. The problem these days is what man has done to his natural environment, and not that some part of nature has not been manipulated in accordance with prevalent climbing attitudes. The overwhelming problem today is to limit pressures on natural resources, of which mountains are one. Do we really want to see mass exploitation of this resource everywhere on our planet— with resulting ecological and economic disturbances of the local societies ? (What is going on in the Alps and parts of Nepal are bad examples.)
But don't take any of this to mean that you should not come to Norway and climb our mountains. As long as you share some of these attitudes, you will find local climbers very friendly, if not very talkative. Like many other visitors, you will find an immense number of beautiful mountains, valleys and fjords and, when the cold rain stops pouring down, you can make new ascents that have been made before.
A discussion on the validity of some contemporary attitudes to climbing, with particular reference to the future of the unclimbed Gaurishankar in Nepal. This essay is fairly typical of a growing school of thought, initiated in Norway, that calls for a less com¬petitive attitude to climbing, and a more environmentally sensi¬tive approach to the mountains. See also The Conquest of Mountains by Arne Naess, in Mountain 11.
The successful 1975 British Expedition to the S.W. face of Everest showed that big expeditions can still be great adventure. However it is still a fact that the cost of these massive assaults is tremendous in money as well as in human lives. It is also reasonable to think that these invasions are more disturbing to local communities than a corresponding number of smaller expeditions would be, that could more easily adapt to local circumstances, (or would have to do so.)
It is to be desired that the techniques, equipment and lessons learned from these costly affairs would benefit the smaller expeditions and make them safer and even more enjoyable. I think if someone could collect historical and recent information on the accomplishments, the problems and dangers of the small expedition as such and write an essay or a book on the subject, this would be most useful to the climbing community. Especially since the smaller expeditions get less publicity, and less is generally known about them, particularly among younger climbers who tend to be more impressed by the glamorous shows put on by the sponsors of the big ones.
As a matter of fact, I think almost all climbers would eventual¬ly welcome a development towards more small and less big expeditions :
"Today there is a strong trend in favour of lightweight expeditions, one which all the members of our team would most certainly support, for there is, without doubt, a greater feeling of adventure and a closer empathy with the mountains when there are only a few people around. But the only way to climb the S.W. Face of Everest is with a big expedition. . ." Chris Bonington, "Everest South West Face", 1973.
The "shut-up" ethic that has been at work among Norwegian mountaineers for some years now does not seem to have had many positive effects from a climber's point of view. It has weakened communication among climbers and as such weakened the national climbing community and its position against the authorities, the development of techniques, ethics etc.
Commercial large-scale foreign tourism has not developed in this country for obvious economic and climatic reasons and will not do so in the foreseeable future. If more climbing publicity would keep the Norwegians themselves at home climbing their own mountains instead of going to the Mediterranean Sea to drink wine and get sunburnt, this would be beneficial to their own health and the national economy.
The idea to try to keep certain areas free of route descriptions, marking of trails, building of huts etc. might be the more posi¬tive and more lasting effect of the "shut-up" ethic that could be of advantage to present and future climbing generations, domestic and foreign.