Climb Every Mountain?

In the past nine days, ten climbers have died on the crowded slopes of Mount Everest. By and large, the media have treated the personal tragedies each of those deaths represent as a matter for regret and censure for the Nepalese government. The subtext is a chaotic lack of organization, greed and an unpreparedness among some that amounts to folly. That narrative is one that fits the West’s competitive and commercial spirit. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for Everest, you will scroll through paragraph after paragraph about expeditions to ‘conquer’ the mountain, routes to the summit and so on, until you come to a few short lines about the religious significance of the mountain for the majority of Nepalese and Tibetans. It is a holy place, a living goddess, not just a challenge, another peak to scale. Perhaps, like me, you will recall photos of the litter left by climbers and note, with some shame, that in April this year attempts began to clear another 10,000 Kg of waste. Is that how we treat the holy places of others?

Listening to today’s second Mass reading (Apocalypse 21. 10-14,22-23), which recounts John’s vision of ‘an enormous high mountain’ and the city of God descending from heaven, ought to make us think. Mountains have always been special places where the divine touches us. Sinai, Tabor, the ‘high places’ of Western Christianity, all have a story to tell that goes beyond rock and clay. 

I wonder whether, in our obsession with winning and proving our physical stamina, we have lost sight of something more important. ‘The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,’ sings the Psalmist. Until we recover that reverence, that sense of the holiness of the planet we inhabit, we shall never quite understand why we must forego some pleasures. Conservation isn’t just about cutting our carbon footprint or reducing our use of plastic — all things we or our governments essentially decide for ourselves — it is about realising that our very humanity obliges us to restraint, to a kind of humility that will never be popular and which most of us prefer to ignore. Hillary famously observed that he climbed Everest because it was there. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to, does it?


4 thoughts on “Climb Every Mountain?”

  1. A very good point. Selfishness in shoing a total disregard for others special or religious places is never justified by “I wanted to do it”. Greed kills more people there… promising inexperienced climbers a safe trip…..if you’re not prepared….you won’t make it…if it was easy….people wouldn’t die…. reality is that fast accomplishments are worthless….with all the effort coming from others instead of ourselves and then you miss the most important part of the experience….

  2. People are very disrespectful and careless about the environment generally. During Lent last year and this year I started litter picking on my walk. I do the same walk usually five times a week. Most days I take my camera, but on dull days I litter pick which is my way of honouring God and the world He created. The amount of litter disgusts me, particularly the filled poo bags which are often dropped within yards of a bin.

  3. It was George Mallory who once said, in a moment of frustration that he’d been asked so many times why he wanted to climb Everest, ‘Because it’s there’. He and the other members of the 1920s expeditions had great respect for the sacred ground of the mountain. Before climbing, they visited the Tibetan Buddhist monastery at Rongbuk. The film of their expedition in 1924 (in which Mallory and Irvine died) ends with footage of spindrift blowing off the mountainside, and the peak’s Tibetan name: ‘Chomolungma: Goddess Mother of the Earth’.

  4. Amen, dear Sister Catherine. It is enough to know that it is there. It doesn’t have to be climbed.
    Prayers for those who have died on the mountain and for their families and friends.

Comments are closed.