Marathon Swimmers Forum
English Channel vs. Mt. Everest
edited September 2013
This discussion was created from comments split from:
110 miles, 53 hours: Questions for Diana Nyad
A debate is currently going on in the climbing world that is not dissimilar to the one going on in the Nyad thread. It is a similar type of community in that most climbs are not done as part of any official race or event. It's an individual sport with no real official governing body. There are various alpine and climbing clubs that have more or less gravitas in certain areas. For the Himalayan peaks, the 'authority' is an elderly woman called Elizabeth Hawley. She keeps all the records of attempts on 8000m peaks. If She doubts your claim, it gets listed with an * as disputed. Her records distinguish between oxygen assisted climbs and no oxygen climbs.
Oxygen vs no oxygen is not, however, the best analogy here. Climbing with oxygen is like swimming with a wetsuit. The distinction is very very clear. The real debate in climbing circles is about what other kinds of outside assistance climbers get in making their ascents. Commercial, siege style expeditions with multiple camps and with large numbers of sherpas to fix ropes, stock the high camps and guide (or even virtually carry) climbers to the summit are totally different from alpine style, self-supported climbs even if both are done without oxygen. The general public doesn't distinguish though - they read about someone climbing x peak. It's lucky if they differentiate between an oxygen assisted climb vs no oxygen. The general public though, does not take any notice beyond that. But in climbing circles, those siege style fully supported climbs where the climber can clip into ropes fixed by the sherpas almost the whole way from the Khumbu icefall to the summit are much easier. It's still hard. Climbing Everest is still hard, no matter which way you do it. But climbing it alpine style is much harder.
There is now a growing discontent about commercial siege style expeditions on the large peaks; the ethics of it, the media interest in it, the effect it has on permit prices and access to peaks, and the effect it has on climbing, the climbing community and its reputation. A lot of that tension was exposed in an ugly way during the spring climbing season this year when there was a fight on Everest. Read some of Reinhold Messner's public comments on the commercial Everest scene; it makes the Diana Nyad thread look like a chat with your grandma over a cup of tea.
No-one denies that the Hillary/Norgay first ascent was something worth celebrating but no-one pretends it wasn't fully assisted and with oxygen. Messner's 1978 with Peter Haebler without o2 (which people previously said couldn't be done) redefined the standard.