Once it was Chomolungma,
Mother Goddess of the Earth,
A face whose veil rarely lifted,
Its whiteness the White Whale’s.
Now it’s like Elvis near the end,
A giant in a soiled jumpsuit,
Blank, useful for percentages,
A sheet from which the music’s fled.
- David Wilson1
Everest is breaking—and the tools seem to be greed, ignorance and human ego.2 On 22nd/ 23rd May, 2019 may be around 300 people reached the summit but what could they tell their folks back home? That on the final summit day, they stood in a queue for four hours, fighting for life as they ran out of oxygen, risking the life of their Sherpa; that climbers were abandoned, some dying, that at one moment there were 150 people trying to descend while 100 were trying to go up—all this around the bottleneck in the Death Zone? That the selfie disease was spreading like wildfire?
The death toll this season was 11. Not only because of crowding, but also various reasons that cause deaths every year. A record number of people had to be air lifted and go to hospital with altitude related problems and infections arising from unhygienic conditions.
Nirmal Purja’s photo of the queue of people waiting to summit went viral. My Darjeeling Sherpa friend called me—panic in his voice. “That’s a morphed photo ma’am—nothing like that happened. Please tell everyone. Less people were on Everest than in 2012!” He sent me photos of 2012 with queues in that photo too. Although the photo is not morphed, my friend’s emotions are understandable—for most Sherpas, Everest is bread and butter.
When one reads reports of the tragedies on this mountain what emerges as a glaring factor is undertrained climbers who make attempts that are truly ‘do or die’ after all the intense investment—financial, emotional and physical. Clients often declare, “I’m willing to assume that risk,” but then they must know that risk is not theirs alone. Among the Western climbing world, the analysts often lay major blame on Nepal’s government for issuing permits and pushing undertrained Sherpas and low-cost agencies—but don’t you think in a market situation, supply will match demand? We must educate climbers and tourists that being on Everest is no longer a machismo dream. To all those who want to go to Everest I say there are greater challenges; there are many Himalaya that beckon.
As we go to press, there is some hopeful news—the Nepal Government is considering issuing permits to those climbers that have ascended at least one 6500 m Nepalese peak, that they are certified physically fit and accompanied by a competent and trained guide. This is a good beginning if it is implemented and will probably save lives but the battle to save Mount Everest will be long and hard.
In the Indian Himalaya most expeditions, explorations, treks and travels reported in this Volume have a common strain—uncertain, unreliable, unexpected weather. Books, films, warnings by experts and the facts visible on the ground about climate change and the urgency to change the way we live still seems to be limited to an intellectual exercise. But we have no more than twenty years left to mend our ways. This planet is getting impatient.
A photo feature Canine Catastrophe also highlights an unusual problem—the dog menace in the high Himalaya, entirely the creation of humans and garbage. Other articles include a heroic rescue on Nanga Parbat, prevention of high altitude illnesses, reminiscences of Nanda Devi, a biographic sketch of geologist DN Wadia and the night skies of the Himalaya. The book reviews section is exhaustive, filled with reviews by young Indian readers. The range of subjects and themes in HJ 74 is pretty expansive—it would be wonderful if you write in and tell me what you think. Also, I have been working over the last few years without any editorial assistance, and this year it’s been pretty much a one-person show so your inputs are precious as otherwise the perspective narrows down to one.
This year the Himalayan Club undertook a massive project to scan and digitize loose documents, notes, reports, editors’ papers as well as Newsletters, other mountain journals and all volumes of the Himalayan Journal. There is a detailed note on the effort in this Volume.
2019 marks 90 years since Volume I in 1929. We continue to try and make it better, struggling to keep it financially independent with support from members who bring in advertisements. I am grateful for this support. I am thankful for Harish Kapadia as a guiding force, Aparna as a tireless designer and Satish who oversees the look and printing of the HJ but more importantly keeps it together with an annual margarita lunch.
Martin Moran was leading a group of seven climbers including guide Chetan Pandey, on an unclimbed and unnamed 6477 m peak in the Nanda Devi region in May—contact was lost around the 26th after an avalanche reportedly hit the area. The bodies were recovered after a long hard search. Martin was a friend and lent strong support to The Himalayan Journal—it will be hard for us to come to terms with this loss.
Aamir Ali passed. He was a legend—a diplomat by profession; a chronicler on HC’s history; author and staunch proponent of a Siachen Peace Park; and author of several books (he completed his last one at age 94, just before he died).
Finally all those who died on Everest in 2019 including Indians Anjali Kulkarni, Ravi, Nihal Bhagwan and Kalpana Das—it shouldn’t have been this way.