This past weekend I watched the television show The Good Wife with my family. In case you don’t know, it’s a court television show that centers around the wife of a politician. What interests me here is this week’s courtroom drama: It involved an Everest climber that died on the mountain but that might have lived hadn’t other climbers taken and removed his oxygen tank.
It seemed to be a takeoff on some of the current events from 2010 where stories of a climber, Peter Kinloch, stopped from suffering from temporary blindness and in need of help was left to die by other climbers. The media and blogs then claimed that climbers gunning for the summit ignored him completely, which does not appear to the case.
The take on the television show was rather entertaining and they took mountaineering seriously in this show. The terminology used was credible without being forced and thereby laughable by climbers. My singular moment of oh-gosh-they’re-trying-too-hard was when they brought in witnesses to talk about the incident. They got into the effects of altitude above 26,000 feet, which was fine, but then a seemingly affluent working professional and guided climber called Everest “my mountain” wistfully and made some comment speaking on behalf of the “climbing community.” It seemed forced and unnecessary for the show’s plot.
It also illustrated to me how complex and diverse the real climbing community really is, but that most of the public only really sees (and still don’t typically understand) the Everest guided-climbers illustrated in Into Thin Air, Jon Kraukauer’s book about the 1996 Everest disaster. The climbers in The Good Wife episode and in Into Thin Air were all primarily professional guides and clients on high altitude Himalayan peaks. If I chose to climb an objective like Gasherbrum II I would definitely be in this group on a client-guided trip. But this is only one portion of the climbing community and they don’t all tend to get along in regards to respect for their style of climbing.
As you know, there are many types of climbing that climbers engage in and various styles they prefer. Aside from strictly rock climbing, alpine climbing alone has its own factions and varying styles. For instance, contrast Alison Levine to James Pearson. Levine climbs established routes as a client like many of us in the mountaineering consumer market. She also speaks to non-climbing audiences regularly. Pearson seeks out unclimbed and rarely climbed routes and while he is known in climbing circles he is far from a household name anywhere.
In the Pearson example, he is pushing the limits of the sport. Levine uses the sport as a message platform. Both undoubtedly enjoy the self-challenge. But I hardly think that I will be able to sit down for a beer with both of them at the same time, let alone the same pub.