Oxygen-aided climbing falsely lowers peaks

I am writing in response to the question posed in yet another well-crafted column by John Peel: “Everyone has an Everest, real or imaginary” (Herald, June 11).

The question was: “But even experienced climbers such as Kedrowski aren’t quite sure what the answer is to preventing future disasters on Everest. He leans toward a limit, but wonders if better coordination of those headed to the summit might be enough.”

An honest realization must precede the evident answer to “preventing disasters” on Chomolungma (aka Mt. Everest).

No one using supplemental oxygen on a peak actually climbs that peak. Using oxygen falsely lowers the elevation and subjective dangers of the peak to the fitness capacity of the perpetrator, or climber. Tour de France champions are routinely stripped of their titles when found guilty of using performance-enhancing aids. So, too, summit registers should be wiped clean of any oxygen-reliant climber.

Reinhold Messner and Pete Habeler bagged Everest without oxygen in 1978. Two years later, Reinhold put on his crampons, grabbed his ice axe and free soloed Everest sans oxygen – in three days! The standard of spiritual, mental and physical integrity was then set. Yet few honor their boldness, fitness or their standard. In fact, more than 5,000 people have since been pulled, yanked and prodded along to the summit of Everest. Of that number, barely more than 50 have climbed her genuinely, without oxygen.

The answer to the question is simple: No oxygen. There are plenty of beautiful, challenging peaks to climb within our trainable fitness levels – perhaps even Everest. But, don’t lower a mountain to a pseudo-ascent – that creates negative karma, according to one of my Tibetan teachers.

I’ve turned down sponsored climbing trips to the high Himalaya because I know my natural limits. I also did not want to contribute to the circus polluting, abusing and destroying the high, precious Himalaya.

Native Americans consider all peaks to be sacred, their summits hallowed realms of the mountain gods. Let’s honor that notion and climb the mountains of our lives with pure intention and authentic fitness.

Steve Ilg