Book Review – High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed

highcrimescoverThis book managed to squash any latent desire I had to take up high altitude mountaineering. In High Crimes,  Michael Kodas tells us about his disastrous expedition on the north side of Everest, approaching from Tibet/China. He also intertwines his story with that of Gustavo Lisi and his disastrous climb up the south side of Everest, approaching from Nepal.

If you take a peak at my photos from my climb of Mout Rainier, you can see that I had the mountaineering bug for a while. In a complicated life, it’s great to have a simple mission on the mountain: go as high up the mountain as you can and get back safely. Having kids suppressed that mountaineering bug. An early lesson I learned was that the summit is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is getting back home safely. The mountain will be there tomorrow for another try at the summit.

After reading this book, it sounds like many of the Everest climbers fail to realize their goal.

High Crimes acts as a continuation of Into Thin Air. Jon Krakauer told us how big money was making it easier to get you to the top. Climbers no longer had to go through a long apprenticeship climbing higher and higher peaks before tacking the highest mountain. Commercial operators were increasingly happy to help you to the top as long as you had the cash. Experience was not necessary. The commercial guides would supply it.

High Crimes paints a deteriorating picture of Everest where some guides do not even supply the necessary experience. In the Kodas expedition the group is under-prepared and fractious. In the Lisi expedition, he gets left for dead on the top of the mountain.

Kodas tell us of climbers shopping for the least expensive guides, guides inflating their experience, expeditions being under-supplied, theft and violence. Kodas tells of several expedition returning to their high camps, exhausted from their climbing, only to find their tents emptied of supplies by thieves from other expeditions.

Kodas tells us of under-trained climbers and guides that imperil not only themselves, but other expeditions on the mountain. Climbers take so long on the few technical aspects of the climb that dangerous bottlenecks form.

Kodas also paints a grim picture of base camp on the North Side of Everest. China has built around that reaches all the way to base camp. As a result there is wild west town that sprouts up during climbing season. His description reminds me of Deadwood, except with nylon tents.

It seems Everest has fallen to the greedy. It sounds like it is no longer a great climb.