The climbing season on Everest is about to start, but the mountain and the effects of tourism have come under the spotlight again, recently. Everest and tourism have always been a dynamic and dangerous mix. Summiting Everest is the holy grail of mountain climbing and has drawn in many adventurers and thrill seekers over the years. Yet as often as there has been triumph there has also been disaster and death.
Everest’s close association with Nepal is about to be challenged as Gear Junkie reports that China will build a mountaineering centre on the Tibet side. The £11.2 million facility is an attempt to direct some of the highly profitable tourist traffic away from Nepal. The Tibetan side of Everest is less popular with climbers due to geo-political factors and Nepal’s experienced mountain rescue team. The new 900,000 sq. ft. facility is set to challenge this and serve as a different gateway to the mountain.
Everest has been at the centre of a lot of negative attention in recent years. Recent disasters have resulted in many deaths and the Telegraph reports that base camp and the slopes of Everest have been turned into a cesspit. The paper blames commercialisation as the biggest factor in declining health and safety factors. This has led to a large increase in the number of people attempting to summit with the biggest problem coming from “people who have simply purchased a ticket to get them to the top.”
Mainstream platforms such as cinema have played a huge part, with 2015’s disaster movie Everest capitalising on the public’s fascination with the mountain. Time Magazine revealed that the film is based on the 1996 climbing disaster which was caused by overcrowding and bad weather. Less conventional platforms such as the online gaming community have combined our love of travel with gaming. One such example is the online gaming site BGT Games and its explorative game, Siberian Storm, which combines travel and adventure to satisfy its player base’s desire for interesting quests without leaving their homes. While not as edgy as say anything to do with the summit of Everest, games such as Siberian Storm inadvertently feature far off lands and are a great way to market cities and countries in need of a surge in tourism.
The latest medium to combine the public obsession of Everest and adventure is virtual reality (VR). Gaming news site, Polygon reported that Everest VR is the closest experience a non-climber can get to summiting Everest. The experience is 40 minutes long and the reviewer for Polygon praised the realness saying, “my fear of heights kicked in multiple times.” This new experience will please experts who believe that the rise in amateur climbers attempting Everest was one of the main causes of the recent accidents.
The Nepalese government reacted to the rise in inexperienced climbers and brought in much tougher regulations last year. The Guardian states that climbers “now have to prove that they have scaled mountains higher than 6,500 metres to get a permit and the disabled, old and the very young have also faced bans.” A government official told the paper “we cannot let everyone go on Everest and die. If they are not physically and mentally fit it will be like legal suicide.”
It is unknown whether the Tibet mountaineer facility, due to be completed in 2019, will have the same regulations. Everest could be about to be the centre of a new battle between two rival countries. Yet whatever happens, the mountain’s relationship with tourism is still as fraught and conflicted as ever.