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For Messner traditional mountaineering finished with Bonatti and himself

In these days there is much talk about the interview Reinhold Messner granted to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on September 6th, 2014, with the following title: Reinhold Messner celebrates his70 years: ”My mountaineering has failed”.
The matter of debate is his statement that his mountaineering is dead, has failed. For the reason that nowadays it is no more followed by the young people.

Here below you can find the short movie with the interview. Please follow it carefully:
http://video.repubblica.it/cronaca/reinhold-messner-compie-70-anni-il-mio-alpinismo-e-fallito/176505/175208

Now I can try to summarize what Messner says in few key concepts.

In the very beginning he seems to examine the changing by means of the “parcellation” of mountaineering, but instead of making a complete analysis of all the various activities, probably due to needs for concision, he just mentions the competitive aspect inside the indoor climbing areas, creating in the listener the impression that young people do just that and nothing more.

Das Archivbild zeigt den Südtiroler Bergsteiger und Europapolitiker Reinhold Messner im Oktober 2002 auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse. Nach seiner Besteigung des Mount Everest mit Peter Habeler 1978 überkamen ihn keine Glücksgefühle, die kamen erst nach dem Abstieg auf. Foto: Erwin Elsner dpa (zu dpa-KORR.: "'Angst und Zweifel': Messners Gefühle auf dem Everest-Gipfel" vom 02.05.2003)Messner then denounces the situation that has come about both in the Alps and in Himalayas, where the greatest peaks are summited with such an expense in terms of men, of means and of preventive safety equipment that the definition of “high-altitude tourism” can be justified. Also in this part Messner – and let’s assume once again it is due to the tyranny of the very few time – does not even mention the hundreds of bigger and smaller “expeditions” made every year to the mountains all over the world and which cannot absolutely be confused with tourism.

Immediately after that, Messner introduces the main issue, i.e. that traditional mountaineering has now become marginal due to the fact that the mountaineering practitioners are just “a few”, although “excellent”.

The conclusion is quick and effective, as well as, in my opinion, rushed and inappropriate, and says simply that his own mountaineering, meaning the traditional one, has failed and ended, maybe together with Walter Bonatti.

That kind of mountaineering, which meant exploring and fighting the great mountains by fair means, “is not followed anymore by young people” (who now happen to be, from “just a few”, absolutely no one, so, just for the sake of emphasis).

Later on, Messner correctly states that his generation was lucky, since still virgin ground could be found and because it was culturally nourished by a society which gave the young people a hope and which placed trust in them. Nowadays the society offers them only “a closed and overcrowded world, without any opportunity to have a job and with no possibility to express their own personality” with facts and achievements.

In my opinion, however, I do not think, unlike what has unfortunately been written, that Messner is highlighting the excellence of the mountaineering of his time in comparison with the one of today. No, on the contrary he even praises those “very few really great ones” who are now practising it and even seems to imply that, if compared with his own times, a lot of progress has been made. The problem lies in the fact that Messner, at the end of the whole speech (and so, unfortunately, also in this sensational title, for which, by the way, he shall not be held responsible) even denies the existence of some modern traditional mountaineering!

This denial is not in line with reality. Nowadays even the less informed ones can follow the daily reports thanks to web portals and specialised journals: should also they be lacking, it’s sufficient to follow each year the Piolet d’Or, where every achievement, even the ones which in the end receive “no nominations”, have an absolute value, with a precise place in the evolutionary scale, so let’s only imagine the finalists!

The ascents of Matteo Della Bordella, Luca Schiera, Ermanno Salvaterra, Rolando Garibotti, Denis Urubko, Hans-Jörg Auer, Ueli Steck, Andy Kirkpatrick, Leo Houlding, Sandy Allan, Rick Allen, Steve House, Alex Honnold, just to quote them with no particular order and within a list which is clearly incomplete, are in no way the adventures of late epigones, imitators of the great mountaineering of the past: no, they are great adventure achievements, with a technical level which only twenty years ago was still inconceivable, and all this not to mention the fantastic rock climbing achievements whose level can be defined at least as sublime.

About all this there is no lack of information and if we consult and review it with careful and impartial eyes, it reveals that the practitioners of “traditional mountaineering” are absolutely not “very few ones”, and in any case they are numerically not less than thirty or forty years ago.

I really regret for this unfortunate interview granted by Messner, because at its end we can see more and more clearly arise the tedious suspicion he wanted to mean something like Sanson’s “Let me die with the Philistines”!.

All his more than proven historical analysis skills and his experience, which are, in terms of quality, not inferior to his own personal and astonishing great adventures all over the world, in this case appear to be somehow tarnished. I think he should get back to his own usual level, by writing a clarification himself. He surely has the possibility and maybe also the time… Shouldn’t we all be retired at the age of seventy?

Alessandro Gogna (translated by Luca Calvi)

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Everest, tragedy and farce

Everest, tragedy and farce
by Carlo Alberto Pinelli

It took the death of sixteen sherpas in the labyrinth of the so-called “Nutcracker” icefall that separates the Everest base camp from Camp 1 for news of what has been happening for years on the slopes of the world’s highest peak to reach a wider public. But  already back in 1997 Jon Krakauer, in his best-selling book “Into thin air”,  had lucidly and bleakly described the degradation – complete with deaths and amputations – that the excesses of commercially-run expeditions have brought to mountaineering in the Himalayas. Anyone who thought that those reports might have led to a change of course was seriously wrong: what happened was exactly the opposite, as can be seen in the chilling photos published in June 2013 by the National Geographic Magazine. Climbing Everest has become a cynical and ruthless business that each season involves thousands of visitors and hundreds of  often unscrupulous tourist operators – and brings large sums of valuable currency to the Nepalese Exchequer. This is why it is extremely unlikely that the government will take serious measures to limit the flow of foreigners beyond base camp. Every stage of the ascent of Everest from the Khumbu side is now effectively managed by Sherpa highlanders, who earn on average between twenty and forty times the salary of a government employee.

Climbing the Ice-Fall on Everest
EverestTragediaFarsa-Pinelli-Last-ladder-of-the-Khumbu-icefall-1.jpg

It is the Sherpas who tame the dangerous first icefall with metal bridges and then (rightly) charge a toll; it is they who provide the kilometers of fixed ropes on the rest of the route to the summit, along which trudges the interminable procession of their rich, jumar-armed clients. It is the Sherpas who dig out the sites for tents at the higher camps, who carry the oxygen bottles, food, sleeping bags and stoves; who cook dinner and breakfast for the droves of foreigners obsessed with the futile ambition of reaching the summit despite not being up to it. And lastly, it is the Sherpas who, for compulsory payment, carry down the bins from the latrines of the base camp, full to the brim of human excrement. For them Everest has become the goose that lays the golden eggs: the work may carry serious risks but it is particularly lucrative. However justified and sincere our grief for the recent tragedy may be, it should nonetheless not blind us to an awareness and an evaluation of its context, which has more grey areas than white. In the certain knowledge that without their help the commercial business machine would come to a halt, the Sherpas have recently become a powerful lobby that  is about to consider the normal route up the mountain as its private property. Are they wrong? Within this crazy and overcrowded context we have to say that they are not. It is the context that needs to be addressed if even a spark of the real Himalayan mountain-climbing spirit is to be salvaged. A desperate venture, because there can be no solution that is not founded on a radical reduction in the numbers of visitors and a consequent fall in revenue for everybody concerned: the government, the Sherpas, the guides and the agencies that organize the commercial expeditions. It is, above all, the latter who are the real culprits in this disaster: they have imposed a consumer-driven, unauthentic type of pseudo-mountaineering that both denies and betrays the very rationale of real mountain-climbing. There is no point in hiding the facts: the ascent of Everest has become a pathetic parody of itself. The poison brought by this approach to mountain-climbing, introduced through the sound of dollars by the commercial expeditions, has plagiarized the Sherpa’s minds and corrupted the fragile roots of their traditional culture, to a point to make them accomplices.  For this reason alone we can forgive them, even when they fail to help a foreigner in serious difficulty who happen not to be climbing with the agency for which they are working just then, or when, knives in hand,  they threaten the few independent parties that dare to come close to one of their fixed ropes. The episodes described by Fausto De Stefani and Simone Moro are typical, albeit not (yet) generalized.

But everybody has a limit, even the most “robotized” Sherpa. A few days ago a refusal by employers to allow a pause in preparing the ascent route (which is particularly insidious this year) so that the workers could observe their traditional funeral ceremonies and recover from the shock, was met with violent protests that culminated in an all-out strike. This fit of identity pride (combined, in truth, with a more prosaic request for improved insurance coverage and the easily comprehensible fear of paying the ultimate price) was enough to force dozens of pseudo-climbers to abandon the attempt and go home with their tails between their legs – which says it all on the subject of the complete dependence of these bunches of incompetent Tartarins de Tarascon on the help of the Sherpas.

Now let us for a moment indulge in the pleasures of Utopia and attempt to list the minimum measures that could be taken if the world that revolves around Everest were not what it is.

The first measure could be the imposition of a limited number of climbers per season, reducing them by at least half. The loss of revenue for the Nepalese government could be made up in part by a significant increase in the royalties.

The second measure should be a ban on the use of oxygen during the ascent (not at night), at least below eight thousand meters, and a requirement to carry the empty oxygen bottles back down the mountain. This would suffice to eliminate three quarters of the would-be “conquistadores”.

The third measure should be a limit on the equipment used on the ascent route, with fixed ropes only on the really difficult stretches. In addition, each expedition should be required to recover all equipment placed along the route, including ropes.

The fourth measure should limit permission for the ascent only to those who can prove that they have climbed at least one Himalayan peak of over seven thousand meters.

Climbing the Ice Fall (Photo: Manuel Lugli)

Everest, IcefallThe fifth measure would involve the liaison officers that the government imposes on all expeditions. These individuals, who nowadays are totally useless and often easily corrupted, should be required to follow special training courses similar to those held for several years by Mountain Wilderness in other  Asian regions (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan).

It goes without saying that none of this will come to pass; or not, at least, until the UIAA decides to consider stringent and effective measures and put them in place. The first step could be to draw up a particularly strict code of behaviour for commercial expeditions, while anyone who fails to observe those rules scrupulously should be expelled without right of appeal from every Alpine Club. Utopia within Utopia?

Carlo Alberto Pinelli
Director of the Asian Desk of Mountain Wilderness International

posted on May, 5, 2014