While temperatures dipped to this season’s low in 18 states last week, Alan and I decided to watch Everest, the brutally painful account of the May 10, 1996 final ascent of Mt. Everest by teams from Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness. The movie, which came out in 2015 in a spectacular Imax 3-D format, is based loosely on journalist Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, and sadly, most of the facts portrayed in the movie are accurate. The 1996 tragedy was the worst in history until April 18, 2014, when an avalanche occurred while a team from the movie was filming nearby. In that tragedy, 16 sherpas were killed (none working on the Everest movie, tho).
13 were recovered but 3 are still buried under 300± ft. of ice and snow. Just months before the movie released on April 25, 2015, the 7.8 magnitude Gorkha earthquake in Nepal caused avalanches on the south side of Mt. Everest that killed over 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000. 21 people were killed on Mt. Everest that day— the deadliest climbing day in the mountain’s history.More than 150+ bodies remain frozen on Mt. Everest, almost all of them in the “death zone,” the area above 26,000 feet where there is so little oxygen in the air that the body begins to die without supplemental oxygen and people are incapable of the exertion that would be necessary to recover the frozen bodies. I wondered why people climb in May rather than in August (when it seems like the temperatures would be higher), but apparently at 29,029 feet, you’re up in the stratosphere where normal climate patterns aren’t quite the same…and of course the risk of avalanches is greater when it’s warmer. There’s a 2-week window in May when temperatures are at their best. Otherwise, temperatures can fall to —76°F, and jet streams at the top of Everest have been recorded at 175 mph.Why do people climb mountains? Because they’re there and we want the challenge? Because they’re beautiful and we want the experience? When journalist Jon Krakauer was interviewed, his response was: “I climbed for the wrong reasons…I wanted to climb Everest, because it’s Everest. I wasn’t used to being guided. To be guided, you advocate your own decision making, your own judgement, you listen to what the captain of the ship orders you to do and you have to do it. The system doesn’t work otherwise.” He also reflected sadly on the risk climbers put on the guides. In fact, two of the guides who survived the May 10 disaster, Anatoli Bourkreev and Lopsang Jangbu, died within months in other avalanches. Probably most of us have heard the song, “Climb Every Mountain,” but in the light of Jon Krakauer’s hindsight, and after reflecting on the movie, I would like to make an amendment to this inspiring song. May we choose our mountains with extreme care, and only after soberly examining our motives to decide if they are worthy. I believe God does have mountains for us to climb, but may we only climb by his invitation, in his strength, and with him as our all-knowing, all-wise guide…whose advice we’re willing to take! As Krakauer observed, “The system doesn’t work otherwise.” Also, climbing simply for our own pleasure or glory isn’t worth the risk to ourselves and others. Only God is worthy of the sacrifice of our entire lives.“Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord” (Haggai 1:8).“The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19).
(None of these stunning photographs are mine; they are entirely from Wikipedia Commons and the movie Everest. The attributions are listed on each picture if you click and drag or hover.)