Storm Over Everest

Press Coverage of the 1996 Everest Disaster - Excerpts

For weeks, the tragedy drew international press attention and it remains the worst disaster in the mountain's history: Five climbers died on the Southeast Ridge and three others died on the Tibetan side of the mountain.

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  • Into Thin Air
    The Sept.1996 Outside magazine piece by journalist Jon Krakauer, who was climbing with one of the three teams on the Southeast Ridge when the storm struck. He later expanded this article into a bestselling book.

"Everest Takes Worst Toll, Refusing To Become Stylish."
John F. Burns. The New York Times. May 14, 1996.

"... The eight climbers who died in a fierce blizzard that blew up on Friday, shortly after they and at least a dozen others reached the mountain's summit, were doing something that has become almost routine in recent years. ...

"But mountains like Everest sometimes bite back at their challengers, in ways that make those who love mountaineering question the fashionable turn their sport has taken in recent years, when high technology, clothing and equipment have made it far easier to climb the highest mountains, but also easier to get into situations that can be suddenly fatal. ..."

"Himalayan Egos Diminish Everest's Majesty."
Tim McGirk. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). May 18, 1996.

"... It may still be the world's tallest mountain, at 8,848 metres, but Mount Everest has diminished over the past few years. It has been shrunk by familiarity; too many people -- usually rich men who can afford the $65,000 ... to participate in an ascent -- are using Everest as a test for their Himalayan-sized egos.

"Serious alpinists who scaled Mount Everest 10 years ago are now alarmed by the number of expeditions swarming up its slopes during the spring and autumn seasons. The least difficult ascent, along the South Col, is now derisively nicknamed the "yak route" because it is so thickly travelled. ..."

"The Decadence of Social Climbing."
Miranda Devine. The Daily Telegraph (Australia). May 16, 1996.

"The greedy modern obsession to conquer Mount Everest is captured beautifully in the one anecdote about the latest disastrous expedition that killed eight people at the weekend. Rescued climber Sandy Hill Pittman, described as a Manhattan socialite, had taken an espresso coffee machine with her up the mountain.

"It is just such western decadence and self-indulgence that has turned the pristine Himalayan landscape into a giant garbage dump of discarded oxygen bottles and soup tins and has lured increasing numbers of moneyed pseudoadventurers to an early grave.

"They imagine it is a romantic death, but it's just death. …"

"A Case of Altitude Chicness?"
David Gates and Susan Miller, with Rod Nordland in Katmandu. Newsweek. May 27, 1996.

"... Mountaineering has always appealed to the sort of hard-chargers who'd make good CEOs -- and to folks with money in their pockets and time on their hands. And lately, with standard routes like Everest's Southeast Ridge well established, dilettantes with a climbing wall at the health club and $65,000 or so to spend on fun (not including the round-trip air fare to Katmandu) are lining up for a crack at the world's highest peaks on paid expeditions. ... For the fitness-obsessed, it's a quantum leap beyond the New York Marathon; for corporate Napoleons in search of new worlds to conquer, the summit of Everest is the ultimate hostile takeover. …"

"Summit Fever in a $64,000 Obsession."
Ed Douglas. The Guardian (London). May 14, 1996.

"Some climbers have voiced concern about the lack of regulation covering such enterprises. Clients who wish to hire guides in Britain or the Alps for a climbing holiday have the confidence of knowing that it takes years of training and a comprehensive series of examinations before anyone can qualify at an internationally recognised standard. There are no such limits on Everest. ..."

"Mount Everest: Wait Your Turn, Please."
Editorial. The Herald Sun (Durham, N.C.). May 23, 1996.

"Back in 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, became the first men to stand atop Mount Everest, no one in his right mind would have said the world's tallest peak had the makings of a theme park. Fast forward to 1996, when you have to stand in line to get a few minutes on the top of the world. …

"Now, we suppose there is something grand and glorious about wowing them at a cocktail party with '... I just knew the rope was going to snap on the South Col!' Yet, it rankles to think that Mount Everest, the gold standard of mountains, the one to climb Because it is There, has been reduced to a mere tourist haven. Maybe the mountain gods don't like it either. For a theme park, Everest remains an efficient and unforgiving harvester of human life. …"

"Everest Stank of Death, Says Actor: Brian Blessed: 'Most Climbers Hadn't a Clue.'"
The Guardian (London). May 30, 1996.

"Brian Blessed, the actor, spoke yesterday of the pain he experienced at seeing Mount Everest reduced to a playground for 'joyride' climbers.

"The world's highest mountain was strewn with the bodies of inexperienced climbers who did not have a clue about mountaineering, said Blessed, aged 59, who returned from Everest last week after failing for the third time to conquer the summit.

"The mountain 'stank of death,' with climbers 'running around everywhere like headless chickens desperate to reach the summit first.' …"

"You, Too, Could Climb Mount Everest -- For a Price."
Charles Arthur. The Independent (London). May 31, 1996.

"… At one point last year there were almost 40 people standing on the 'roof of the world,' an area about the size of a large room. One, a Texan, twirled a lariat he had brought up as a memento from friends back home. He slipped and was only saved from falling thousands of feet to his death when his lariat caught on a rock at the edge.

"The true fault lies in our supermarket-adventure culture. Nowadays, people love -- even expect -- the 'safe risk,' bought off the shelf: bungee jumping, parachuting, white-water rafting, scuba-diving, abseiling [rappelling] are all activities that used to be extremely risky but better equipment has reduced the danger so much that they can be part of a funfair, a charity activity day or a management training course. The adventure has been wrung out of them. All that remains is the perception of risk, among those who never really appreciated the dangers involved. …"

"The Humdrum Life is Thrilling Enough."
Neil Steinberg. Chicago Sun-Times. May 19, 1996.

"... As reluctant as I am to detract from the grand, operatic techno-tragedy of dying climbers cell-phoning in their last words to their soon-to-be widowed spouses and half-orphaned children, somebody should point out, if only in a hushed whisper, that these people are idiots, throwing their lives away in pursuit of a transcendent thrill. ...

"In the beginning, there was the excuse of exploration and science. Now the climb is just a meaningless, cargo-cult imitation of those early expeditions, done for self-glorification. People climb Everest to prove something to themselves, as a personal accomplishment, as an adventure.

"... That climber with the wife who is seven months pregnant -- if he wanted a thrill, he could have gotten one by just hanging around the house for another two months. Perhaps even a bigger thrill than climbing Everest -- he'll never know now, will he? The tragedy isn't that he was killed; that was just bad luck. The tragedy is that he went. …"

"One Way Ticket to Mount Everest."
Richard Grenier. The Washington Times. May 17, 1996.

"... [T]here's still an awed, warm part of my heart for people who die for a highminded purpose, to save someone else's life, or to achieve something, who fight in noble wars or for some ideal. ...

"But as for that wave of fashionable amateurs who were wiped out when a surprise ice storm caught them near the top of Everest before they began their descent, I hope I will be forgiven, but their spot in my heart is less sacred.

"It was sad that they should die, of course. But what were they doing climbing Everest anyway? To boast about it at cocktail parties? Bravado? To show how brave they are in the face of death? But how about when Mr. Death turns his vicious face and snatches you into his kingdom? There's no return ticket on that $60,000 package tour. No money back. You paid for your frisson. You got it."

"Everest Is Mighty, We Are Fragile."
Peter Hillary. The New York Times. May 25, 1996.

"Over the past few years, I have watched the public perception of Mount Everest drift from awe of the greatest mountain on earth and respect for anyone who succeeds in scaling it to an assumption that now things have changed. ...

"For Everest climbers, there has been progress, too, but it lies only in the technology of our equipment and communications. The mountain remains the same: huge, steep, cold and impassive toward our human endeavor. …

"So for those who wonder, 'Why do they do it?' I can only say that through the haze of lament and loss that has swept across the world of mountaineers and those who dream of mountains, I can remember what I would have said before May 10: To climb the great mountains is to leave the comfort of familiar places and to challenge the very essence of oneself. Perhaps there is no greater quest. …"

"Why We Climb: If You Have to Ask, You Won't Understand."
John Meyer. Rocky Mountain News. May 26, 1996.

"May is the month when most expeditions on Mount Everest make their summit attempts. This is because of the monsoon that swirls out of the Indian Ocean as summer approaches, defining the climbing seasons on the world's tallest mountain.

"It is an unfortunate quirk of nature that May also is a sweeps month for American television.

"The recent tragedy on Everest in which eight climbers lost their lives in a single day -- the worst single loss of life ever on the world's highest mountain -- gave networks irresistible opportunities to show dramatic file footage of Everest coupled with sensational but ill-informed reporting from their New York studios. Not all of the supposed pictures of Everest actually were pictures of Everest, but only a mountaineer would notice.

"Mountaineers also couldn't help noticing the critical tone of the reports. The essence of the first report on the CBS Evening News could be summed up by two sentences: A bunch of people were killed on Mount Everest today. They were asking for it. …

"But Everest still summons the best qualities of the human spirit. Yes, it is a graveyard. It also is a monument to will, courage, discipline, self-reliance, individuality, responsibility, ambition and achievement, qualities too often belittled or attacked in other circles."

"Mountain, Get Out of My Way."
Jon Carroll. The San Francisco Chronicle. May 16, 1996.

"Last week's issue of the New York Observer, the cheeky pink weekly that brings a fresh breath of East Coast cruelty to our little provincial capital, ran a remarkable photograph.

"A group of women was gathered around what appeared to be a Coleman lantern. The caption said the women were chatting informally while squatting together in a tent somewhere in the mountains of Bhutan. One of the women was Martha Stewart; she was, naturally enough, delivering a warming beverage to the other women. They were all smiling like crazy.

"Another one of the women was Sandy Hill Pittman, who was, according to the story, recovering from the rigors of her messy divorce from MTV founder Robert Pittman by leading a media-funded assault team on the summit of Mount Everest. Details were available at the NBC Web site -- NBC was one of the sponsors of the glamour team. ..."

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posted may 13, 2008

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