From the Laramie Boomerang: Laramie writer aims to ‘reveal some truths’
As Laramie resident and National Geographic field staff writer Mark
Jenkins made his summit push during a recent trip to Mt. Everest, he
climbed over several dead bodies, frozen in the snow along the
well-trodden path to the top.
But the dead bodies didn’t slow
Jenkins down as much as the live ones did — hundreds of people strung
out along fixed lines in a seemingly endless stretch to the summit.
the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of
Everest, Jenkins encountered a mountain that’s more crowded than ever,
with most climbers paying tens of thousands of dollars to a guide to
take them to the highest point in the world.
“I think that I have
some reservations, certainly some questions, about the style in which
Everest is being climbed today,” Jenkins said.
He’ll give a
slideshow and presentation about his expedition at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the
University of Wyoming Education Auditorium.
“My hope is … to
give a realistic portrait of what Everest is in 2012, and to dispel some
of the myths and to reveal some of the truths of what it’s like to
climb the highest mountain in the world,” he said.
part of the Everest Education Expedition, a recreation of a 1963
climbing season in which Jim Whittaker, together with Sherpa Nawang
Gombu, became the first American to reach the summit. It was the fourth
successful attempt of Everest. A few weeks later, four more Americans
reached the top, with two of them forging a new route up the West Ridge.
the 2012 West Ridge attempt was called off because of dangerous
conditions, the group was successful in ascending the now-standard South
Jenkins, a writer-in-residence for UW’s creative
writing program, first attempted Everest in 1986, when he was a UW
graduate student studying geography. He didn’t make the top then, turned
around by avalanches.
These days, despite the existence of a
dozen or so established routes, almost everyone climbs up either the
North Col or the South Col using supplemental oxygen and hiring a guide
who in turn hires Sherpas to carry the gear, pitch the tents, cook the
meals and escort climbers along the route.
The use of guides on
any big peak isn’t unusual these days, but it doesn’t mitigate the
inherent risk of climbing a 29,000-foot mountain.
at eight-thousand meters, can a guide actually save your life? The
answer is no. If you make critical mistakes, no one can save you,”
Those mistakes usually involve miscalculations on
the part of the climber related to their own chances of making the top
and getting back down safely.
“One of the myths is that the
mountain is killing all these people, where in fact it’s mostly hubris.
They’re killing themselves,” he said.
For Jenkins, mountaineering
isn’t just about reaching the summit. It’s about challenging oneself,
developing the necessary skills through years of training, working with a
team and making decisions under life-or-death pressure.
matters. Style is substance, and how you climb is as important as what
you climb, or if you reach the summit,” Jenkins said. “If it’s just
about the summit, eventually we’ll have a chopper that can go right to
the top and drop you off, if that’s all you need,” he said.
magazine article will be published next May or June in National
Geographic magazine. He’s also writing a chapter for a book about
Everest, and the blog posts he wrote during the expedition will be
compiled into an e-book.
Next year, he’ll present his slideshow at each of Wyoming’s community colleges.