Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dark Shadows Falling, by Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson discusses the ethics of climbing Everest and narrates a climb of his on Pumori in Dark Shadows Falling. He was first bothered by Everest climbers after viewing footage from Ronald Naar's 1993 expedition, in which Naar and his teammates discuss what to do after an Indian team leaves a (living) fellow climber stranded on the South Col only 30 meters from them, and they ultimately reason that doing nothing is the best course of action, even though the climber is waving at them. A further incident in 1996, during which a Japanese team climbs past two distressed Indian climbers who survived a storm and an overnight bivouac high on the Northeast Ridge, causes him no end of grief. As a survivor who was left for dead (who by all rights should have died), he stands up for the severely distressed, demanding others help, or at least show compassion for the dying in their final moments. Simpson also discusses the tragedy on the other side of Everest in 1996, contrasting it with these two heartless (but perhaps rational) acts, pointing out that even if Hall made a poor decision helping Hanson to the summit, he at least stayed by his side to the end, while Harris climbed back up to render aid. He also uses the examples of Beck Weathers and Makalu Gau to show that severely frostbit and hypothermic individuals have a chance of being saved.

He makes an attempt on the South Ridge of Pumori post-monsoon in 1996. The recent events are heavily on his mind during his climb, especially as snow conditions make for quite a bit of waiting at Base Camp. The book includes a number of conversations with his teammates about the commercialization of Everest and the ethics of climbing it. He's not sure that commercial operations have a place on Everest, but then again if someone offered a climb in the same style to him on a platter, he's not certain he wouldn't take it. The book provides a unique perspective on the ethics of climbing, especially when it discusses making the ultimate decision of saving someone else or looking after oneself. It's a thoughtful reflection on not just the risks of climbing, but on what those risks might lead to.

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