8000m Crime

The Alpinist's web site is running an excerpt from High Crimes: the Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed by Michael Kodas. High Crimes documents the shocking but very real emergence of theft as yet another deadly threat climbers must face on 8000 meter peaks. You've probably heard about the 'borrowing' of oxygen bottles on Everest and similar tales, but the depth of the crime on Everest and other big peaks (including K2!) is truly astonishing.

Kodas notes numerous incidents in which climbers left high camps (ie, the last camp before summit) for marathon summit pushes only to return and find their tents ransacked, with critical supplies, such as fuel, clothing, and even sleeping bags gone. Obviously, such theft is life-threatening for exhausted, exposed climbers at extreme altitude with the sun going down.

The author makes the point that in many of these cases, it would be patently evident to the thieves that their actions could directly lead to the deaths of other climbers. If you watch someone take off for the summit, and then raid his tent, what you are doing is tantamount to murder.

If that sounds like an overstatement, consider the situation Don Bowie found himself in while trying for a solo summit of the Karakorum's Broad Peak.

Following a demoralizing rescue of an injured climber on a first attempt, in which other climbing parties refused to help, Don was glad the mountain was deserted for his second attempt. Don climbed to 23,000 feet before deciding avalanche threat made conditions too dangerous to continue.

On this particular route, Don depended on a lengthy section—some 1600 feet—of fixed ropes to climb and descend safely. While rappeling, Don suddenly noticed that the rope had been cut. Figuring a rock edge or avalanche had cut the rope, Don looked for the missing segments, only to discover it was all gone. Someone had stolen the entire 1600' section of fixed ropes, leaving Don with little to no way of getting down.

It's hard to understand how 1600' of rope could fetch enough money to justify the effort in climbing up to steal it in the first place, as well as to motive someone to (essentially) kill for the loot. For those interested in 8000 meter climbing, High Crimes offers a remarkable look at an unexpectedly dark side of the sport. Check out the excerpt at the Alpinist, or buy a copy from amazon.

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Lei Wang February 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Wow. I hope that this doesn't happen to me! I'm heading out to Everest in March 2010...