Claim to fame

Over the years, mountaineering as a sport has been redefined by commercialisation of the peaks. While natural parameters on the mountain flanks are intact, the means and methods to climb them have been hugely transformed. Climbing these days is a different feat than the one Mallory and his predecessors performed. The prospect of occupying a place in history books has added a new dimension in this sport and various records pertaining to ascent of Mt. Everest have tumbled every climbing season. It has ushered in a rat race among the climbers. Mutual suspicion among fellow mountaineers is rife about the authenticity of each other’s records. For example, Pemba Dorjee Sherpa’s claim of having scaled Mt. Everest in 8 hours and 10 minutes was scrutinised after the former record holder, Lhakpa Ghelu Sherpa, challenged it. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation had to verify before upholding the claimed record.

There is little doubt that records are made to be broken. They have been the goal of sport persons in every discipline. The thrill in setting a new record and pushing the bar that much higher is always great. And it is a different matter when record gets set while enjoying the sport rather than striving for it. But last year’s experience of two veteran climbers locking horns over a claim has raised questions about the whole issue of who verifies it and by what means. By outlining guidelines for those aiming to set records in Nepal beginning this climbing season, the tourism ministry has done what it should have done a long time ago. But over the years records of incredible feats have filled the alpinists’ diary. Persons without visual abilities or similar other serious handicap have set foot on Mt. Everest. Authentic efforts notwithstanding, one is tempted to ask whether reaching the top by riding piggyback on a Sherpa guide can at all be considered a “conquest” of Everest. These are some aspects which the Ministry can do well to clearly outline before authenticating a record.

In fact, several veteran climbers themselves have derided the race for records and have blamed the practice for diluting the very spirit of the sport. Well, it is for the climbers themselves to decide whether to enjoy the sport or chase the phantom. High altitudes are never hospitable to humans. For a true climbing enthusiast, nothing will prevent them from fighting that physical odd at any given point in time. Perhaps, that is what Mallory meant when he said, the mountain has to be scaled “because it is there” — not the record. It is the human mind and the desire thereof that has made or unmade the sport or its spirit. If records fall in the process, there is little else a fellow predecessor can do except to accept it with grace.