Reinhold Messner, first to climb all 14 eight-thousanders (no 02), hosted the roundtable.
Image by Alberto Peruffo courtesy Alberto Peruffo
Editorial: Dedicated tourist routes to save the future of mountaineering?

Posted: May 15, 2012 01:42 pm EDT
(Tina Sjogren) A debate is raging at ExplorersWeb about commercial expedition leader Russell Brice, made famous worldwide in a reality show aired by the Discovery Channel. Most are siding with the TV-star, who decided to pull all his clients from Everest because he felt the icefall was more dangerous this year.

Meanwhile last week another picture unfolded in Bolzano: a vanishing tribe of independent mountaineers claiming that the mountains have always been a place for risk, and the attempt to achieve the impossible.

The peaks are there to reflect on oneself and one's own limits, the roundtable insisted, and should be kept wild.

Democratizing risk

Desnivel.com described how the host, Reinhold Messner, actually wanted to focus away from gear and style, or the selfish spirit of today's elitist mountaineers seeking to protect their space. What is climbing, Messner asked, and who decides who's good at it? The main question instead, how can we protect the mountains, and who is responsible?

The roundtable of Hervé Barmasse, Denis Urubko and other skilled mountaineers agreed that the advancing infrastructure in the mountains should be stopped.

The race to develop mountains for tourism and to make them accessible and safe for everyone has brought on pollution and destruction of nature, Messner said. Pointing to Everest as an example, the damage to the alpine areas on high mountain will soon be irreversible, he warned.

Media responsible for good values

Desnivel wrote that Messner expressed an interesting opinion about mountaineering. There is no bad or good climbing, he said, but a question of values. Alpine and mountaineering clubs should be creators of new ideas.

In this context, media play an important role in the transmission of real values and journalists must also accept some responsibility, Messner said.

As for who is a good mountaineer, Messner proposed to let nature decide: provided it's kept untamed. Fear is important for the very future of climbing Messner said, and so is the strive for the impossible, added Hervé Barmasse, "to make men feel alive."

Who should get what (little) is left?

As media, but also as independent climbers with friends among the commercial outfits; we can feel Messner's pain.

All wilderness - not only the mountains - is shrinking, demolished by commerce or severely restricted by environmentalists. True accomplishment is lost to survivor shows, gullible journalists and media bought by advertisers.

But what exactly is it that Messner wants? All peaks closed to everyone except for those willing and rich enough to spend the majority of their lives climbing them?

After all, there is value to commerce on the mountains: it gives climbers (local and foreign) a chance to make a living from their skill, and regular folks a taste of big adventure which can be empowering.

The middle way

Accommodating both sides, here's an idea: dedicated tourist routes, one on each 8000er and two on Mount Everest (for both sides).

Fixed with ropes, supplied with artificial oxygen, splitting the job and the money. The damage confined, and the grade of accomplishment left without doubt.

All other routes: no guides, no porters, no O2.

Perhaps it would change nothing at all. At least it would give both sides a chance to co-exist and help right the skewed media picture of what's real and what's entertainment.
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