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Everest: Circus and Seriousness

There is a postscript to the ascent of Mt. Everest last May by a giant Asian expedition that broadcast live to television stations around the world from the summit of the 29,028-foot peak.

More than a dozen members of the 252-person, $12-million Japanese-sponsored expedition stood on the tip of the world at the same time. Teams met each other at the summit after climbing from opposite sides of the mountain via established routes, including the well-traveled South Col route first ascended 35 years before. Because of the live television, via a miniature camera and a satellite dish at the base of the mountain, the climb reeived considerable worldwide attention.

Under way, unnoticed, at the same time was a more significant expedition--from a mountaineering standpoint. A four-man Anglo-American-Canadian team ascended an unexplored line up the Kangshung face of Mt. Everest, with Britisher Steve Venables reaching the summit alone on May 12. Americans Rob Anderson and Ed Webster reached the south summit, completing the new portion of the climb, but were unable to continue on to the highest point because of poor weather. (Canadian Paul Teare had to turn back because of suspected pulmonary edema.) This was the smallest expedition to climb a major new route on Mt. Everest without oxygen. And the team did not have the security of a massive support group on lower reaches of the mountain to provide supplies and to assist climbers if they ran into trouble.

In its current issue, Britain’s Mountain magazine contrasted the achievement of the four-man team with that of the Japanese, commenting: “Everest is becoming a circus ring for performers seeking material and nationalistic gain and this year’s extravaganza is undoubtedly only the first in a series.” Not much can be done to prevent that. But the hoopla of the circus tricks at least can be placed in perspective by giving due recognition to the achievements of people like Venables, Anderson, Webster and Teare.

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