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Juan Oiarzabal on Everest commerce: "We are receding instead of evolving!"
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May 18, 2005 18: 42 EST
Previously published May 5, 2005 11: 55 EST

Kari Kobler's suggestion to fix “Via Ferrata Style” 150mm long “step bolts” onto the second and first step to speed up the climbing for everyone on Everest North side is a new level to the commercialization of Everest.

Although perhaps more of a joke than a serious plan, the idea is telling of the increasing commerce on the mountain. Any Joe can set himself up as an expedition leader, make his clients ascend ropes and ladders fixed by others and collect the money.
Innovative ideas like that are not limited to Himalaya. LiftPort Inc. is gearing up to build an elevator to space. The elevator would take satellites and people to a top-floor altitude of 62,000 miles.

What about us

As the logistics on Everest become better and more organized, the mountain becomes less of a challenge – at least technically. This kind of future doesn't sit well with everyone. At ExplorersWeb, we've received mails from young and worried future Everest climbers; "what about us who had planned to climb the mountain?"

The extremes and the puritans

In mountaineering, there are basically three schools. The purists won't bring anything with them short of an ice axe. The liberals will accept fixed ropes and ladders, as long as they are brought back down after the climb. The extreme will build a ski lift up the mountain to increase tourism and ticket sales.

So we checked with one liberal, but outspoken veteran climber - Juanito Oiarzabal – for his opinion on the commercialization of Everest and Himalaya. Should we make the mountains more accessible, and safer, to newbies – or should we draw a line?

Juanito on the idea of a stairway to heaven

Basque ace Juan Oiarzabal (21 8000+ summits) in not in the best of moods. He’s still grounded due to complications from the frostbite he experienced on K2 last year, and he hates that!

As a result, Juan is not exactly diplomatic when he talks about the further commercialization of Everest. The idea of setting a fixed stairway - via ferrata style - at the Second Step on Everest’s North Side infuriates him.

“It’s an atrocity! Something like that goes against all ethic and aesthetic sense,” he vents. “This is the consequence of a few big companies with no other purpose than making money of Everest. And, let me tell you, there is something more than money on Everest. Or at least there should be.”

Repeating what others have already done

"However sad, it is not surprising. What is happening on Everest is just a reflex of the events taking place in the entire Himalaya. Climbers are not interested in doing new things. Apparently all they want is the summit, whatever the costs, repeating and repeating what others have already done. For Godsake, we are receding instead of evolving!"

Remember the times when we were looking for excellence

"Just remember the times of the British and French, the Polish during the eighties, even the Spaniards! Those were creative climbs, always trying to set a higher level, looking for excellence. Now, except for some cases, all the things done are easier than before."

I don’t want to know, anymore

“There is yet a lot to do in the Himalaya. It is just that nobody seems interested. I feel I was lucky to live in other times, with other attitudes and other ways of climbing. Now I am, let’s say, retiring. Therefore, I don’t need to be part of the Everest circus. I don’t want to know what’s happening there anymore. Shame on those who forgot the personal ethic and let themselves go only for the money! It is not Everest that they are selling, it is something else.”

Juan Oiarzabal was born in Alava (Basque Country) 48 years ago. In 2000, his Annapurna climb made him the sixth climber in the world to bag the 14 eight-thousanders on Earth. Two years later he climbed Everest without O2. In later years, he has continued climbing 8000+ peaks, either as a mountain guide or as a stunt in Spanish TV documentaries. This gave him the world record of summiting 21, 8000+ peaks. His recent summit on K2 almost took his life, and he suffered severe frostbite.

Image of Juan courtesy of Juanitooiarzabal.com

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