chapter  1
25 Pages

Ethical values

As we enter the twenty-first century, even the highest and least hospitable spot in the world, the top of Mount Everest, has become something of a tourist destination. Interested parties can pay up to US$65,000 to one of several competing commercial companies in an attempt to get their name in the roll call of those who have reached its summit. In the spring of 1996 no fewer than thirty expeditions jostled for position at the base of the mountain, and on one day alone some forty climbers actually managed to reach the top. Yet as Joe Simpson argues in Dark Shadows Falling, this commercialization of the ultimate mountaineering experience has not removed its dangers and not come without a cost. By 1997 150 had died in the attempt, including fifty sherpas. The upper slopes of Everest have become littered with frozen bodies, old oxygen tanks and the unsightly clutter of numerous expeditions. There are even accounts of how, in their desperation to reach the summit, climbers have simply walked past still-dying members of previous expeditions, making no attempt to help them down or even just to stay with them in their last moments. One such climber was quoted as saying, ‘above eight thousand metres is not a place where people can afford morality’ (Shigekawa in Simpson, 1997: 48). Simpson disagrees:

I find it unforgivable that climbers can treat their fellow mountaineers with such callous disregard. It has nothing to do with whether or not rescue appears to be possible but everything to do with being humane, caring individuals who can see the passing of a life for what it is, and not simply an inconvenient obstacle to realising egoistic ambitions. . . . If climbers ‘cannot afford morality’, and ethical behaviour becomes too expensive, then has the sport become prostituted?