To experienced climbers like Damien, this is to be avoided, as more snow means more chance of an avalanche. Damien argues that more skilled climbers can take technically challenging, but overall safer routes and prevent putting lives in unnecessary danger.
However, ever being the one for a balanced perspective, Damien quickly comments that he knows many highly skilled, respectable, and responsible ‘Seven Summiteers’ and concludes that this dangerous situation is mostly isolated to a few 8000ers in Nepal, such as Everest, Manaslu and Annapurna.
Sherpas First, Summits Second
At this point, it becomes quite clear that Damien is passionate about the plight of sherpas around the world, who are forced to put themselves in incredible danger just to make a living.
I played devil’s advocate with the classic counter ‘but mountaineering has provided jobs and revenue for developing countries like Nepal’. He doesn’t like this one bit, “
“I know Sherpas that saved their whole lives and moved to America to start a life for their families. Do you think they want their sons and daughters to be mountaineers? No! They want them to be doctors and lawyers and live a safe and comfortable life!”
He says they have no real choice, no alternative income opportunities and this situation is one of the most ignored injustices of a commercial industry.
Talking tragedy, we turn to Hollywood’s latest take on mountaineering, the new film Everest. For those who don’t know the story, it is essentially a recount of a disastrous expedition in which guided tours of Everest were caught in a large storm, resulting in the death of climbers and guides alike.
The main story is the perfect example of what Damien dislikes in commercial climbing, where a guide lost his life after a client begged him to ignore safety protocols and help him to the summit.
When asked if he has an opinion on how Hollywood romanticises mountaineering, Damien responds, “Everest is better than past films, like Cliff Hanger for example, because it shows the very real danger of mountaineering… but the danger is played up in such a way that it’s actually attracted more thrill seekers and big ego-types.”
But for the non-mountaineering people out there (i.e. almost everyone), film and media is the only way we can experience the world of mountaineering, and for this reason Damien remains optimistic as more and more films are now portraying the risks of mountaineering in a realistic fashion (Touching the Void springs to mind).
So…How About Climate Change
So, strapping on my investigator’s cap, I thought this would be a great opportunity to ask a seasoned Antarctic explorer whether he’d noticed any impacts of Climate Change down south. His answer is to the point:“
“Ten years, in geological time, is fuck all”
I laugh uneasily and mentally punch myself in the face for asking such a stupid question, especially since Damien’s time on the frozen continent was mostly based on the peninsula, where the climate has remained the same for a very long time. But, as it turns out, Damien isn’t finished, “…
But, as it turns out, Damien isn’t finished, “…but we get rain there now, which is not what you’d expect, and the shifting ice has blocked up established access routes.” YES! Not a stupid question after all! “…but that’s what ice does, and has done since the end of the ice age. It melts!” Defeated, I call it a day. Thank you, Damien, for your time!