So WHAT if It's There?

 I just watched the movie Everest with my husband - it's the movie version of Into Thin Air by John Krakauer, which I read when it came out and hit the shelves of the little bookstore where I was working. 

They're both about a disastrous Mount Everest expedition in which eight climbers died - Krakauer was a journalist that was there to write about Everest tourism. He was originally only supposed to be at base camp, but talked his editors and the climbing leader into letting him climb all the way to the top. The book was riveting, and I had sort of meant to watch the movie once I heard there was one, but had never gotten around to it. A friend mentioned it last week, so I asked my husband if he wanted to watch it tonight.

As it began, and familiar, likable actors were portraying people that I knew were not going to the make it out of the movie alive, I felt a bit weird. Why was I watching this when I already knew what happened? Was it just exploitative? A little further in, I realized that reading about climbing in horrible weather conditions doesn't really compare to seeing it on screen - the freight-train-speed wind, the ice, the chapped skin, the snow blindness - it was one thing to read about it, but I was convulsed on the couch in empathetic discomfort watching it. I'm still not sure about the ethics of it, which kind of couples with the dubious ethics of Everest tourism. I can just barely wrap my head around deciding you want to climb a giant-ass mountain, even though high altitude basically wants to kill you, and in all likelihood you will be trying to perform an arduous physical feat while feeling like you have a really bad flu - if you do it on your own. But strapped to some poor Sherpa, being shuttled up the mountain in a giant line of people like it's a ride at Disneyland? Does that not take some of the glory and shine off it? Not to mention the thousands of oxygen bottles, all the trash and the actual dead freaking bodies that the mountain is now littered with. 

I looked up whether this event led to a decline in people signing up with companies to climb Everest. It didn't. That was the deadliest year on Everest to date, but there have been worse years since. Both tour company leaders are portrayed as passionate and honourable in the movie, but there has been some speculation from people who were there that the rivalry between the two led to at least part of the disaster. 

It was interesting - in a non-detached, horrified way - to see the depiction of the way that people can convince themselves that if you just want something bad enough, you can overcome your physical limits. Maybe it's even true sometimes, in very specific situations, but clearly in many others it's just not. The people that survived have all kinds of reasons why they did, and I get that, but I think mostly it just comes down to dumb luck. 

What do you think about the lure of mountain climbing? Does it call to you at all? I turned to Matt at one point and said "I just realized I'm not even tough enough to star in the MOVIE of this event". I definitely don't have that need for adrenaline that makes people risk their lives, or push their bodily limits, or train for months, or not eat Cheetos every day. I love a good hike with some elevation, but it should last no more than two hours and should end at a pub where they serve good poutine. 


Swistle said…

And it does not call to me AT ALL. It feels like one of those "senseless pursuit of meaningless glory" situations.
I put this on FB but here is my comment:
Side note: this is Jake's favourite author! But my main comment is that I have friends who were in Nepal and went to Everest base camp, and it was so depressing - filled with people and garbage. It is probably very different now, with Covid, but they said it was just dreadful.

I get wanting to challenge yourself physically, but this kind of thing is a huge no for me. I do wonder though, with all the tourism dollars that poured into Nepal, what is going on now. I wonder that about all countries that depend a lot on tourism. I mean, it's awful in BANFF right now, and that's Banff. (I think the town had an 80% unemployment rate in May, it's gotten better with local tourists but honestly.)
StephLove said…

Noah had that book on a summer reading list at some point in high school. I think it was the same year he had to read a book about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The books were both good, but it was a grim pairing. Fire and ice.
Ernie said…
I read this book a few years ago. It had me on the edge of my seat but I am one of those 'I don't get it' people. Climbing a mountain in horrid and death-defying conditions does NOT appeal to me. I, too, saw the movie. Afterward I was like 'why did I watch that?' I knew the outcome and it was just so sad.
Lynn said…
This book is a favourite for me and my husband and one of the few books in the world I have read twice. It's such a heartbreaking read and really opens your eyes to how this mountain is and the sherpas are being exploited. I didn't realize there was a movie - we will have to seek it out.

Just last night my husband and I watched Free Solo, which is an award winning documentary about a guy who rock climbs cliffs with no support structure or safety equipment. It left me with a similar queasy feeling. They try - a bit - in the movie to explain WHY someone would want to risk their life like this but I still came away from it shaking my head and knowing I just don't have the mental stuff to be at all interested in something like that. Maybe the people who do it can't explain it themselves.
Suz said…
I didn't read the book or watch the movie; seems so sad knowing the outcome. I'm not one for adrenaline at all. Nor, do I want to challenge myself against someone else...ore even myself for that matter. NOT a competitive bone in my body.
Hearing about all the trash/waste makes me pretty sad too.

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