The media has always been fascinated by the motivation of climbers, and sometimes they are insultingly wide of the mark. They don't understand the compulsion to climb, I'm not sure anyone understands it, but there's one thing we climbers have that they don't; climbers understand each other. Regardless of where they're from, how much they earn, and what grade they climb, there seems to be a deep respect and a kind of masonic nod between them.
I don't have any more experience of Everest than most of the journalists who have felt compelled to offer their views in the national press - I've never been there - but I'd like to think my opinions might come from a more balanced and informed place. Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing legendary mountaineers Kenton Cool and Lakpa Rita Sherpa. We touched on subjects such as how climbing on Everest has changed, how last year's violence affected the relationships between western climbers and Sherpas, and the future of Himalayan climbing.
One thing that struck me is that Kenton didn't speak to Lakpa as an equal - he spoke to him as a hero. Kenton Cool - 11-time Everest summiteer and the first to complete the Himalayan triple crown of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse - laid the future of high altitude climbing at the feet of his Sherpa friends. Respect doesn't come close; Kenton is not known for his humility, but here he was, almost star-struck.
So when Tanya Gold in the Guardian claims that the "cretinous rich treat Sherpas like pack animals" something doesn't quite ring true. You can expect the British media to present polarised opinions, but this is a flippant and offensive over-simplification of the problems which, undoubtedly, do exist.
The caricature of a bored billionaire, there on a whim with too much gear, too much money and expecting to be carried to 8000 metres, no doubt has its roots in reality. But as the Guardian well knows, applying generalisations to real life situations is lazy thinking. It ignores all the people who have saved and trained for years, who have climbed all their life, who have raised hundreds of thousands for myriad charities. It doesn't take into account the dedication to a goal; many people have to complete high altitude climbs around the world before being accepted onto an Everest expedition.
More importantly it deliberately degrades the role of the Sherpa people in order to make a divisive point. To suggest they are "pack animals" says more about the writer than it does the climbers. As I mentioned, I have never been to Everest, but surely any climber can tell you the vital role of the Sherpa people? The caricature fails to take into account the Sherpa as a climber; the Sherpa that loves the mountains.
And while the western climbers are accused of a lack of respect for their hosts, the Mail Online publish a photograph of Sherpa Dawa Tashi lying in a hospital bed in critical condition after surviving the avalanche that killed so many of his colleagues. The photo was taken without permission, apparently.
There are complex issues surrounding the role and treatment of Sherpas on Everest; the government have increased available compensation since the tragedy, but have also put pressure on to continue the climbing season; there are reports that Maoists have threatened Sherpas with violence if they continue to climb, but it seems clear that the decision to stop climbing this year is likely as much out of respect for the mountain and its victims as it is any idea of 'industrial action'.
I've read reports of any number of politically motivated spins on the situation, but I haven't heard of a single western expedition putting pressure on their Sherpas to continue.
There are countless examples of rich westerners exploiting vulnerable people around the world; but to blame the tragedy on Everest on the whims of spoiled climbers is to sensationalise a complex situation, and I think to misunderstand the climbing community.
Daniel Wildey recently left his job behind him in order to travel around Europe in his van. You can read the full story here.
Thanks Daniel for the words and images.