MIDWAY : Everest lessened by stunts

Now look, my purpose is not to mock Steve Colligan, an “extreme unicyclist” from Salford, north-west England, who later this month sets off to ride a unicycle across the Tibetan plateau from Lhasa to Kathmandu via Everest base camp. Personally, I can’t see the point of unicycles but Colligan is doing the 1,000km to raise money for education in Nepal, so good luck to him.

“It’s the challenge that drives me,” he told the Manchester Evening News. His preparation has been admirably thorough, with long hours spent cycling up and down the East Lancashire Road. “I get a lot of beeps from people,” he says. Marvellous, though even with my hazy knowledge of the geography of north-west England I am guessing that the East Lancashire Road will not be a perfect mirror of the Himalayas.

My real concern, however, is poor Everest. This once majestic mountain, associated with the heroic names of climbing — Mallory, Irvine, Hillary, Tenzing — is now the plaything of cranks, stuntmen and would-be breakers of obscure records.

In 2006 a Nepali climber took off all his clothes when he reached the summit and claimed the record for the world’s highest display of nudity; in May 2007 Dutchman Wim Hof, aka the “Iceman”, failed in an attempt to scale the mountain wearing only shorts; but in the same month, in an expedition sponsored by Motorola, British mountaineer Rod Baber did reach the summit and achieved his grand objective — to make a mobile call. Climbing verest “because it’s there” is no longer enough; now you must be towing a fridge, dressed in a kilt or advertising a make of mobile phone.

Everest faces ecological damage because of the people tramping through; deforestation is occurring and glaciers are in retreat; it is covered in rubbish — last year Japanese mountaineer Ken Noguchi picked up 500kg of garbage — and uncollected corpses, 188 at the last count; and restaurants are springing up at base camp. “Everest has become crowded. It needs a rest,” says Japanese climber, Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the summit. The last thing the mountain needs is a unicyclist. Stick to the joys of the East Lancashire Road, Steve. I might even sponsor you.