Beck has up an interesting one, with interesting links to lots of things Everest. This is a subject I never tire of, having seen most of the documentary and docu-drama footage out there — not only about recent fiascoes on Everest, but other peaks as well.
I wanted to call attention to this aspect, to which I’d never really given serious consideration:
I have in mind a whole generation of people who really believe that they can do anything,
steeped in grinning hype that "there are no limits". Really: I diagnose
a primacy of consciousness over reality which has turned the tallest
peak in the world into "World Class" Dilettante Central. And so, for
instance, a postal worker from Seattle, Doug Hansen, lies where he fell
half a world away in geography and a universe away in reality from
where he belonged.
I cannot but reflect on the differences in culture between 1953 (the
year of his famous ascent with Tenzing Norgay) and 1996, and conclude
that there was once a time when people understood the implications of
reality in ways that have, really, simply gone out of fashion. Whatever
one might think of those men, I cannot imagine that they were deluded in ways that the traffic on Everest now seems to evidence.
I’m not sure whether I buy his assessment completely, but it did get me to thinking. For sure: there’s an essentially automatic respect in our culture for adventurers, risk takers, and people who in general undertake things most people would never even dream about. Part of that, at least, is a good thing. But reality is inviolable, ultimately. The the mark of a great adventurer is one who understands the very fine line, and how easily and quickly it can be crossed from adventure to a deadly point of no return. Confidence in one’s self to do great things begins with confidence that one can and will apprehend reality and ensure his actions are guided accordingly.
The element of risk, technically speaking, is that element that cannot be logically accounted for with any facts or analysis of reality. You just don’t know. You can’t know, because if you do, then you can guide your action, and it’s no longer a matter of risk, but competency, unless, of course, you are incompetent — in which case your risk is absolute. That’s caution-to-the-wind territory, and the consequences are usually disastrous. There is always some degree of risk in everything, but most of it is a consequence of not knowing the future, so real risk assessment and management begins from there.
Back to these everyday-folks climbing Everest…it strikes me that far apart from the question of competency, it ought to be no surprise that none of these people had the slightest idea of their risk. Think about that as you consider: a great many of these "one with the mountain" crowd would recoil at the thought of eating a single strip of bacon, or in coming within 100 feet of anyone who’s just lit up.