Leicester PIPs (Philosophy in Pubs) meets on the first Wednesday of the month, upstairs in the Crumblin' Cookie on the High Street. There’s a dozen of us around the table and our stimulus this evening is an article from The Guardian blog by Jon Henley, reproduced below.
Mount Everest: the ethical dilemma facing climbers
Since the first recorded deaths on Everest in 1922, 233 people have lost their lives trying to reach (and return from) the summit of the earth's highest peak. As expedition organisers' experience has grown and equipment improved, the ratio of fatalities to success has fallen. But the sheer numbers of people now climbing Everest – more reached the summit on a single day in 2010 than in the 30 years after the first 1953 ascent – means 70 deaths have occurred since 2000 – including 10 this year.
The deadliest situations occur when large numbers of climbers, all relying on the same forecasts, decide to take advantage of a weather window to make their summit bid at once. This can quickly lead to dangerous, oxygen-wasting bottlenecks of two hours and more, particularly on the more popular southern approach pioneered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, which follows a single rope line over almost 10km to the summit.
That is what happened when Leanna Shuttleworth, 19, and her father Mark headed for the 29,035ft summit on May 19-20. Up to 200 others had the same idea; six of them lost their lives. "There were quite a few bodies attached to the fixed lines and we had to walk round them", Shuttleworth said later. "There were also a couple who were still alive." Shuttleworth describes coming across one man who she assumed had perished. "As we passed he raised his arm and looked at us," she said. "He didn't know anyone was there. He was almost dead. He was dead when we came back down." Their sherpa did manage to help one of the people they found who was still alive.
The debate around ethics on Everest has raged since 2006, when an estimated 40 climbers passed a dying British mountaineer, David Sharp, without stopping. A week later a US climber, Don Mazur, and his team gave up their own summit bid to co-ordinate the rescue of an abandoned Australian, Lincoln Hall. He survived. On the weekend the Shuttleworths reached the summit, an Israeli climber, Nadav Ben Yehuda, carried a Turkish-born American climber, Aydin Irmak, to safety on his back for eight hours. So should the Shuttleworths have stopped and tried to help? There are no formal guidelines issued to climbers, and we don't know the risk it might have meant for their own lives. But can it ever be right, in the words of mountain leaders Chris and Simon Holloway, for climbers to "carry on to the summit, while there are living people dying behind them"? Ben Yehuda, a former soldier, described his decision to stop as "automatic". For others, it plainly isn't. In an era when climbing Everest has become a form of extreme tourism open to anyone with $10,000, has human life come to count for less than the fulfillment of a personal ambition?