Last month, the Journal of Consumer Research, according to Science Daily, examined guided clients that pay US$50,000 or more to climb Mount Everest. The study’s findings said that guided clients do not have the “communitarian spirit” that usually defines “transformative experiences.”
The scientists that conducted the study also found that the clients’ individual goals created competition among clients and surpassed any camaraderie that might develop organically from the struggle. To use Charles Houston’s phrase, the guided clients do not become part of the brotherhood of the rope. But to elude to Science Daily’s provocative take on the study, it seems paying to climb Everest errs on selfishness rather than nobility.
The study focused on commercial expeditions to Everest and ignored other popular guided ascents, like those up Mont Blanc, Mount Rainier, Denali, Aconcagua, or others. It also did not recognize the different ways of approaching Everest, and all but one seems to sidestep one of Malcolm Gladwell’s key concepts in Blink: the 10,000 hours of experience necessary to become an expert.
Approaching Everest, or any major , can be done by being a mountain bum and climbing at the drop of a hat, which requires a means of income that can support it and the willingness for a lower quality of life in other areas. It can also be approached as a sponsored climber, by making climbing a full-time profession and taking new risks. The 10,000 hours can also be achieved through becoming a guide or teacher of climbing. The last way requires proficiency at some level of less than 10,000 hours: the guided client.
Regardless of the Journal’s findings, it really is a brilliant arrangement. For someone like you or me, working a professional career you feel committed to (willingly or not) and not willing or able to pursue your mountaineering goal through one of the three other methods, paying a guide service to give you the chance is a breakthrough! However, short-cutting the 10,000 hours does have the drawback where in some cases the paying client is an expert climber, in many cases the client is not the same caliber as the guides or other independent alpinists on the mountain. Reading Into Thin Air by Krakauer makes that evident.
I certainly do not consider climbing Everest or any peak selfish. Frivolous might be a better word. And the lack of camaraderie on Everest? Well, they were not seeking bonding friendship, but rather the top. That does however make me wonder: If the paying client was simply seeking to try for the top (carefully avoiding summit fever!) would he or she return from the attempt more satisfied than going for the top and failing? Would he or she have grown closer to the other alpinists? I may never know…
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