The professional guides who take clients up Mount Everest can be a little pushmi-pullyu about the pricey service they offer. At first they’re all “You can do this!” and “Adventure of a lifetime!” and “Send us your $80,000!” But on the mountain they’re all “You could die up here!” and “If you get a headache, we’ll stop your climb!” Do you want people to make it or not? Pick one.
Given that Everest will continue to attract hordes of unqualified hopefuls, we need a rethink that maximizes their chances of triumphing, surviving, and (dare I say it) staying cozy and happy while they’re up there. Guides will tell you they’re already dedicated to safety and success. But many of them freaked out recently when it was suggested that, to decrease the risk in a dangerous bottleneck, a ladder be installed on the Hillary Step, the 40-foot stretch of rock and ice that is the last treacherous obstacle before the top. Veteran American alpinist Ed Viesturs called this a terrible idea born of “a herd mentality and summit fever.”
I call it Not Enough. Forty feet is a lot. If you fall, you’ll land on a conga line of fellow climbers holding ice axes up as a shield against your hurtling form. Meanwhile, it all could be avoided so easily: just cocoon the ladder inside a 55-foot tube made of inflatable Bouncy House stuff, pressing climbers against the rungs like an airbagged crash dummy.
Currently, some aspects of the Everest experience are working O.K.—such as Base Camp, with its funny-hat parties, boozing, and shagging—but it’s time for the next logical phase: Everest Base Station. I’m seeing a modest, green-designed, 25,000-square-foot stone lodge with themed restaurants (Tenzing’s Tapas, Western Cwm Sizzler) and a spa where a sore alpinist can find a decent Hot Prancercise™ class.
Alas, once you head up, you run into the Khumbu Icefall, a calamitous field of giant, unstable glacier blocks that you “negotiate” by stumbling over frozen ladders in hardshell Li’l Abner boots. Again, there’s an easy fix: tactical F-15 strikes that reduce the ice blocks to ice cubes. In the future, Sherpas at the wheel of grooming tractors can keep this crucial pathway as smooth as a blue run.
After the Khumbu, the fun of Everest awaits, with an emphasis on fun. I’ve always questioned those endless up-and-down acclimatization hikes between high camps. Why not let climbers scoot back and forth on a stylish, vintage Poma lift? The goal is to get your brain used to thin air, not wear out your knees.
Eventually, above 26,000 feet, it’s Man versus Mountain, and you’ll have to dig deep. Still, it’s reasonable to expect a few small perks: oxygen tents every 100 yards, “Sherpa Shovers” urging you toward greatness (from behind), and performance drugs delivered via patches and drips. Thus potentialized (not “aided”), you’ll reach the top of the world, where you can well and truly say: “By god, I’ve done it! Now please send my helicopter pickup.”