The Apollo Chorus performed Joby Talbot's Everest a few weeks ago, and to prepare for the opera I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. (The opera is based on the events described in that book.) I concluded that climbing Mt Everest is insane.
That didn't stop about 100 climbers from attempting to summit on May 23rd of this year, contributing to one of the deadliest days in the mountain's history:
[T]wo decades on, the Everest experience often seems to have devolved even further into a circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion. In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal; this year three Indian climbers returned home to celebratory crowds after they supposedly summited on May 26, only to be accused of fraud after other mountaineers claimed that they never made it past 23,500 feet.
And then there are the growing crowds. For this year's climbing season, Nepal handed out 381 permits to scale Everest, the most ever. The Chinese government distributed more than 100 permits for the northern side. According to the Himalayan Database, the number of people summiting Everest has just about doubled in the past decade. And in that time the mountain has become accessible even to relative novices, thanks to a proliferation of cut-rate agencies that require little proof of technical skill, experience, or physical fitness. “Some of these companies don't ask any questions,” says Rolfe Oostra, an Australian mountaineer and a founder of France-based 360 Expeditions, which sent four clients to the summit this year. “They are willing to take anybody on, and that compounds the problems for everyone.”
On May 22—the day before Grubhofer reached the top—a long line near the summit had already begun to form. One of those pinned in the throng was a Nepali climber named Nirmal Purja. That morning, Purja snapped a photo of the chaos. The picture showed a near unprecedented traffic jam on the popular southern side: a column of hundreds of climbers snaking along the knifelike summit ridge toward the Hillary Step, the last obstacle before the top, packed jacket-to-jacket as if they were queued up for a ski lift in Vail. The image rocketed around the world and, as the events on the mountain were still developing, raised an urgent question: What the hell is going on atop Mount Everest?
I still think these people are crazy. If I ever see Mt Everest, it will be from the pressurized cabin of a transport-class airplane. I'm fine with that.
I will, however, see the opera again when it comes to the Barbican on June 20th.