Everest at 60: A Race to the Bottom?

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Sixty years since Mount Everest's first successful ascent, little remains of that noble enterprise of courage and personal challenge, concludes a new study.

Ego, hubris and greed have replaced the early climbers’ gentlemanly conduct, leaving civil behavior almost entirely to the Sherpas, says the research into more than 6,300 expeditions.

David A. Savage and Benno Torgler, two researchers from the Queensland Behavioral Economics (QuBE) Group in Australia, analyzed over 60 years of Himalayan climbing data, and divided them in two distinct periods, pre-commercialization (1950-1987) and post-commercialization (1988-2009).

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They investigated 285 peaks and more than 47,000 expedition members in an attempt to understand how humans react to stressful conditions at high altitude.

“There is limited scientific knowledge available on how humans actually behave in extreme situations, but would we really be willing to let a man die for personal glory?” Savage said.

Before the introduction of commercial climbing ventures in the 1980s, rivalry was neither cut-throat nor anti-social. Mount Everest was populated by a community of climbers who were for the most part well known to each other and tied together by the “brotherhood of the rope,” a deep sense of solidarity.

That sense of community suffered after the introduction of lucrative commercial expeditions, the study suggests. Clients paid exorbitant climbing fees, up to $65,000, to get to the summit, thus focusing on a single attempt.

“The people just want to get to the top," said Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent on May 29, 1953. "It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say good morning and pass on by."

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