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Never thought my reading on the Himalayas and business will collide but given the recent Everest traffic jam image going viral, I'm going to do a thread explaining the evolution of the market for climbing Everest and some of the unintended consequences (e.g. traffic jams)
The race for climbing Everest coincided with the end of WW1 and the first expedition to recon Everest began in 1921, followed by a first attempt in 1922 and a second attempt in 1924.
The second attempt in 1924 is embedded in Everest folklore because Mallory and Irvine were last seen at the base of the final pyramid near summit and never returned.

Both of them were hailed as national heroes back in Britain.
There was plenty speculation on whether they summited.

Solving this mystery was the mission of a 1999 expedition. People *needed* closure even 75 years later.

They found Mallory's body (NSFW warning: if you google this) above 8100m after they ventured off track.
I'm giving a bit of a history lesson here because this is necessary.

Stories and myths of lost heroes attract people more than anything else. This is important.

Everest is shrouded in mystery and intrigue because of the numerous legends associated with the mountain.
This is all downstream of the fact that it's the tallest mountain.

Power law domain (attention) means that it attracts a disproportionate amount of resources.

Trivia: only after 1852 did people realise that Everest was the tallest. Kanchenjunga held the top spot earlier.
Back to the history lesson.

Many unsuccessful expeditions went by including a hiatus on climbing Everest until 1950.

The first successful ascent was by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary.

It coincided with Queen Elizabeth's (II) coronation. Awards galore for everyone.
There's this weird phenomenon that happens with such accomplishments.

It follows the quote: first slowly and then all at once.

Happened with the sub-10 100m, the sub-3 hour marathon and even Everest. A psychological barrier was broken.

1956,57,60 all saw successful ascents.
Now that you know why Everest is so revered and mythologized, perhaps you'll have more empathy for those that try to climb.

I'm an amateur trekker and an armchair mountaineer (hopefully this changes someday) and even I'm fixated.

There are others with far more devotion.
I see some people conflating mimicry or status seeking with mimetic desire.

This is *not* mimetic desire. Mimetic desire is meditated, it is triangular in nature and is often zero sum (competitive in nature).

Everest is status seeking, meaning making, even politics for some.
Let's talk business now.

Here's the number of ascents by year on Everest.

As climbing permit costs anywhere between $11k to $30k per person.

More than 800 summits were recorded in 2018 over a span of 11 clear summit days (this is key and we'll talk about it more)
The early days of Everest saw only one route from the south side i.e. Nepal and the traffic was mostly foreigners from North America and Europe.

Only those that could afford $50k-$100k had the option of going for it.

Growing popularity meant more business avenues.
China soon entered the foray, opening up the north side route via Tibet.

They built a freaking highway on the Tibetan plateau that led straight to North side base camp.

They're also more selective with issuing permits making them more expensive.
China being the economic superpower it is doesn't need to rely on revenues from Everest permits. (11k per capita GDP)

Nepal otoh is relatively poor (1k per capita GDP) and collects upwards of $4M in revenues from permits alone.

Read more here: nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adve…
Climbing and guiding on Everest is a flourishing industry.

Given the increasing demand it's easy to understand why there's a whole spectrum of services available.

Many low price competitors (locally owned by Sherpas) have sprung in the region with total costs as low as $30k.
I'm not claiming low prices indicate lax practices but there's speculation that perhaps that is true.

Lowering of costs may make admissions more inclusive but it also lends itself to people who may not be as professional in their training for the mountain.

Training is intense
We've seen why Everest is popular and why there's more people at Everest each year.

Let's look at some unintended consequences of this on the mountain.

We can evaluate risk using number of people summiting and number of clear days for summit.
Summit days are taxing, any amateur will tell you that.

Everest summiting is a different beast: 14-18 hours of total time starting midnight/dawn, ascent from 8000m to 8848m in what is called the death some (low oxygen, thin air) followed by descent.
High altitude climbing is no monkey business.

This is the death zone where available oxygen is 30% of sea-level.

Basic cognitive functions detoriate unless you're on supplemental oxygen or have trained rigorously.

Cerebral and pulmonary edema are real risks up high.
This means that we're in a treacherous situation where people aren't making the most rational choices *and* you have limited summit days available.

A clear summit day is the most precious resource on the mountain. Everyone has to plan their entire trip around this.
Weather forecasts have become quite reliable and therefore fewer summit days mean more crowding on the mountain.

2018 had 562 summits from the Nepal side and 240 from Tibet.

On average this means 50+ and 20+ summits per day respectively (actual distribution much more skewed)
It is natural that this is not sustainable. Limited space and favorable weather can only accommodate so many people with reasonable safety.

However, cash seems to have won here as well. There's an ever increasing demand for climbing permits, guiding licences and equipment.
Many influential figures in mountaineering have spoken against the increasingly lax safety standards on Everest but people still want to go.
If you're even remotely interested in this topic, you should read the popular books on Everest.

- Touching My Father's Soul
- Into Thin Air
- The Climb
- Left for Dead
- High Exposure
- High Adventure
- No shortcuts to the top
- Everest: Mountain without mercy
If you're an armchair mountaineer, Alan Arnette's website is a goldmine.

He's been reporting on Everest for 17 years now and has written on every topic you could conceivably have questions on.

Disrespecting the people who try to attempt the mountain is in poor taste.

Each person has their own reasons and risk assessment for why they want to climb the mountain.
Is this ideal? No

Should we aspire to have higher standards of safety? Yes

Can this remain a safe, sustainable source of meaning and local investment? Yes

Is this any more irrational than the 100s of things people do for themselves?Not if you try to empathize

*End thread*
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