Nepal 1978, was my first ever time in real mountainscape, other then crossing an occasional pass in the Alps with my parents on our yearly summer pilgrimage to Italian beaches. Saw Everest from Gokyo peak, and very nearly got myself disappeared when crossing the Cho La. No experience, no gear, no clue. Humbled and deeply affected, returning to Namche, I passed Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, sunburned and blistered, descending from their historic first Everest-without-oxygen. I don’t remember how I knew it was them, or how I knew about their climb. But the celebrity-effect of that encounter has been undeniable, ever since. Mention Everest and this absurd sense of entitlement pops up. Entitlement to what is very unclear. Entitlement to it being part of my personal narrative? My previous post was about similar tendencies to claim credit for what is not yours. We’re all posers, imposters, and fabulists.
This film was shot by Leo Dickinson and only very recently uploaded to youtube. It’s the traditional heroic tale of those out to conquer. But for anyone following Himalayan climbing, and especially the Everest dramas, it is instructive to see how very different the scene was three decades ago.
I mention Dickinson because he is another strand in my vacuous claim to this mountain. In 1991, during my stint as trekking agency manager, my company did the logistics for Leo’s second attempt to balloon over Everest. That movie also made it to youtube recently and for me is an icon of another era of heroic adventure. 1978 was a final chapter of more traditional mountaineering, the ballooning was part of a scene of sponsored adventures to be the first to do whatever wild undertaking (the current mainstream is commercial expeditions guiding paying clients up summits – but that may already be morphing into some new form, I’m out of touch).
Obviously the mainstream is not all, and plenty of very different exploits are happening. My intention is not to armchair criticize mountain tourism. It is to share my embarrassment at these silly attachments, an embarrassment which in itself is silly, because the ego at the centre of it all cannot help it. The attachment needs indeed to be seen for what it is. And not legitimate any foolish behaviour out there. But embarassment about it changes nothing. It just blocks enjoyment of the show. And the show is all there is, however fictious it may be.
I left Nepal with the feeling that these heroic tales were only very partial stories of what was actually going on. My previous post tells you a bit about that. But that doesn’t preclude in any way a sense of entitlement to both of these archetypical tellings, the mountain at their centre, and anything else in there that my mind-body remembers. The popular uprising in 1990 toppling autocratic Nepalese monarchy? Yes, mine.
To wipe away the embarrassment, I have to close with something that I really have no claim to at all, may you enjoy it too: