The Times newspaper reports that the Nepalese government is planning to make trekking companies responsible for removing dead bodies from Mount Everest. This raises the question about how long the lucrative climbing business is going to last in its current form.
It is barely 65 years, less than an average lifetime, since Ed Hillary summited but he surely would not have imagined quite what it would become.
With the number of summiteers approaching 900 this year and an average cost estimated at US$45,000, this suggests a business with turnover north of $40m, and that is leaving aside all the revenue from non-summiting climbers. Not trivial – and a lot of people have an interest in this money.
The basis of the business is status. The bragging rights which comes from making the effort, taking the risk, having the money (and the modest amount of skill now required) to go to perhaps the world’s most recognisable danger zone.
But status symbols change with the fashions. Although the mountain’s fame endures, it has acquired notoriety as the world’s highest tip, latrine and abattoir.
Status seekers are well-tuned to fashion. The image of middle-aged professionals passing bodies to queue up for the Hillary Step might become less heroic and more distasteful, even risible.
Those who live by the trade get this – and much has been done to clean up the mountain. The Nepalese government’s proposals are a next step.
They might work too. The Everest business is not going to be brought down by its cost – which is trivial to many potential participants and indeed part of its value – nor even by the numbers dying ( 11 in this year’s spring climbing season) which add to the sense of danger and achievement.
No, if Everest climbing becomes unfashionable and unprofitable, it will probably be because it has become ridiculous.