Rob Hall started arranging commercial expeditions on Everest in the early '90s. This skilled and responsible climber was, in our opinion, also an impressive organizer.
The birth of commercial expeditions was a major breakthrough for climbers and adventurers from around the world.
Commercial organizers made the Himalayas far more accessible. Now, you didn't have to care about the politics usually involved in national expedition climbing, or know all kinds of uninteresting officialdom to climb in the Himalayas.
What more, people like Rob proved to dreamers that climbing Everest or other Himalayan giants did not have to remain just a dream - these veteran climbers made the mountains accessible to everyone.
Well, almost everyone. Apart from climbing skills, it required a great deal of finance on the climber's part. Not necessarily to make the expedition leader rich, just as a fact that Himalayan expedition climbing is a huge project that is costly.
There has been a lot of debate about Himalayan climbers and leaders being millionaires. We too have (flattering enough) been called that, although camping in BC in a ripped, cheap camping tent with plastic panorama windows, alone with 2 guitars, 3 sherpas and every last cent of our hard earned cash gone into the adventure.
While there are some millionaires on Everest, most climbers are just like us. Not-so-well funded dreamers, skipping the fancy apartment, car and restaurants, even a normal family life, and instead putting it all into our climbing dreams. Most often, our financial situation is quite hairy and we divide life before and after Everest...
Luckily enough though, we have done better ourselves financially since our initial climbs, actually indirectly thanks to Everest! Everest sharpens one's focus and opens doors, in business as in professional life.
When you make your own budget, you will find that the tales of expedition leaders making millions are a product of looking at the revenues and forgetting the costs.
To organize an expedition is like running a not so small business. There are around 10 climbers to care for and a staff of about 25 sherpas to manage. The budget is around half a million US. If you are a commercial leader, you need to market yourself, sell the spaces, organize and lead some 40 people including staff in Kathmandu and at home.
The expedition leadership must be performed under serious conditions. You have to motivate everyone, deal with differences within the group, be responsible for all the gear at all the camps for all those people, deal with frustrations and failures - all that while climbing the mountain yourself! Because if you don't, you can't really know what is awaiting those that you make decisions for...
You take upon you a serious responsibility for people's lives. And if in the end you are lucky enough to make - let's say a 20% profit from it all - it's really a question if you couldn't make the money much easily somewhere else. It is a hard, sad and scary fact that from the 5 commercial expedition leaders that we knew in 1996 when we first climbed Everest, only one is still alive today...
As there are considerable advantages in joining a commercial expedition, you might be tempted to do just that. You will then need to take some serious precautions in order not to fall prey to a bad leader's lousy judgments and even upcoming life threatening situations.
Because to every good thing there is a downside. Right behind the responsible, good expedition leaders in the early nineties - came the gold diggers. Those guys watched the fees paid by clients and figured that this was an easy way to profits.
Soon enough, they found the big bucks somehow disappearing from them. Yet the fame, honor and free lifestyle of being an expedition leader still lured them to return.
Such expedition leaders come and go. And they are not at all unusual. Even worse; they are hard to detect. Usually excellent smooth talkers, they seem very nice, skilled and have many friends. They are promoted by climbing websites in exchange for exclusive news and other favors. They will promote their own services as the only ones of value, anything to force you into their bag of commerce. And you, perhaps new to the mountain, will not know what to think. Confused, you might succumb.
For the victims or witnesses of their bad leadership will remain silent, often afraid of consequences if they need to return to the Himalayas. Or being blamed themselves for the accidents, or accused of whining, or just not being believed altogether.
So, what you need to do is to take the advantage of the organization, while being self-sufficient enough to care for yourself if worst comes to worst.
If you consider joining a commercial expedition - please read the following information carefully!
Ignorance of the following facts has taken innocent climbers' lives.
You will find commercial expeditions advertised in various climbing magazines. When you approach them, you will usually be advised to climb another mountain with them (Cho Oyo, Amadablam, Aconcaqua and the like) if you are a novice to climbing. Those preparation climbs are usually scheduled for autumn. Already the following spring you will be considered ready for Everest.
By then, you will know a little about gear and altitude, yet not much about anything else. You will have to put your life in somebody else's hands.
You will be promised guides. The reality is often that guides sometimes are not so experienced themselves, too often just regular climbers joining the expedition on a lower fee in exchange for "looking after" the others.
The guides are also not always made clear on the responsibility expected of them by the leader. The leaders are simply vague on that due to competition over guides from other organizers. Therefore, the guides sometimes end up primarily interested in summiting themselves, since they actually pay for it just like you do.
You will be promised sherpas. The sherpas will be led by the leader and not by you. The consequence is that if the leaders organizational and leadership skills are not so great, the sherpa services will be likewise. This means that you might very easily end up deprived of fuel, food and/or very important gear in crucial situations. We have watched many desperate climbers of commercial expeditions ending up without food, fuel, sleeping bags, axes, oxygen ' even tents on their climbs.
Finally, in really life threatening situations - everyone will mostly see to their own safety first. It is not very common that expedition leaders die with their clients like Rob Hall did. It is far more common that sherpas, guides and leaders just head down as fast they can, leaving you behind...
It is important that you don't make yourself any illusions on these facts. Just like on any street corner in your city - the heroes saving lives are easily counted, especially in situations dangerous to everyone.
There is a terrible danger in the safety of numbers. You have no idea how quickly a space can empty out and how desperately lonely you might get in bad situations.
The answer is knowledge and control, acquired by experience. Know your oxygen gear, the oxygen rates, check that your gear is really going up and with what sherpa. Bring some extra food and the most important drugs.
Be very firm that your oxygen bottles are marked with your name, have your own oxygen gear with you and test it before the climb. Use your own sence and be organized. Don't fight with your leader openly if possible, but don't be afraid to take him aside and be firm on aspects concerning your safety.
Try to pay for a summit sherpa specially assigned to you. If you are assigned a guide, discuss the climb with him/her beforehand. Refuse to climb dangerous parts if not properly secured by fresh rope - require that it be taken care of. In technically difficult Himalayan expeditions, skilled climbers always take the time to secure dangerous parts with good rope. You are not being a whimp - you are sensible in a dangerous environment. Don't let daredevils, lazybones or leaders saving a buck tell you anything else! Climbing Everest doesn't mean being reckless.
Check the weather reports, know the figures and think for yourself. You still might be forced into situations because sherpas and other climbers are led into actions opposite your belief.
The only way to escape that however is to climb independently. Once you join a commercial expedition you will have to face certain facts. Yet with some precautions made, the climb might end up very well after all.
Finally, don't compete in speed with the others. As the tortoise knew and the hare learned, speed is nothing, getting there is everything. Many climbers wear themselves out on the initial climbs in order to impress the others. They rush, carry huge loads and even pick on you if you are slower. Don't listen to that. In the end, they could very well end up weakened by wearing themselves down, while you steadily pass them to the summit.
We were often considered slow. Yet in the end we summited Everest already at 9.18 in the morning, with enough power to spend an additional hour on the summit working the technical stuff and finally had a nice climb back to C4, shooting film and pictures on the way. And that just weeks after an earlier climb to the Balcony (8600-m/28000 ft; the altitude of K2) with Babu. Don't allow anybody to rush you. Be cool.
The exception is obviously if you are slow due to illness or general exhaustion. In that case, take a rest and delay the attempt for a stronger day.
Most important when joining a commercial expedition is to be as clear as possible before the expedition on what you will require from it - preferably in writing. Leaders can have a nasty habit of getting quite rabid, dominant and manipulative once you are on the mountain and dependent on them. Don't let them scare you. Be fair but firm.
Things turns ugly, you complain, but - in their desperation ' the other clients jump you instead, in that gaining favor from the leader.
The leader fuels their behavior, in order to keep his power and get rid of the criticism.
Sometimes, the psychological situation in the expedition can turn similar to the one in the novel "Lord of the Flies".
If that happens to you, you will again have to take control of your situation. Focus on your own gear, bring own stuff everywhere and use your own head.
If you are not joining a commercial expedition, and instead organizing your own, be prepared to get somewhat back talked by many of the commercial expedition leaders. You are a threat to their business. If everybody starts to do what you do - they are out. Please also keep us posted on whats up on the mountain in terms of foul politics. Together we are strong and can free Everest from much trouble today.
We really must stress the importance of the above information, due to that we have seen lives being wasted or almost wasted by the most incredible actions of human lack of responsibility on Everest. We thus promised ourselves to put this site together, in order to do something about it.
Hopefully, this web site will call for more independent expeditions, as well as clients of commercial expeditions being more self-sufficient.
That should provide for the best of both worlds and change everybody's situation on Everest for the better.