Why would a climber speak to a class on the Ethics of Ambition? Does climbing pose ethical dilemmas? It may - if you’re a sponsored climber and under pressure by sponsors to perform. Or if you have a very ambitious goal.
I’ll describe recent scenarios of climbers around the world that involve decisions made by climbers, guides, and Sherpas.
Once our ambition drives us to set goals such as climbing the world’s highest mountain, or being the fastest person to climb El Capitan, then these goals require much time spent training, and in the case of Mt. Everest, a very large sum of money - about $65,000 to $100,000 (per person) for a guided climb.
Today, many of the rich and would-be famous sign on with a guide to climb Mt. Everest, some inspired by the book, Seven Summits, by Dick Bass and Frank Wells. In the book review, it states that, “For their third and final attempt on Mt. Everest, Wells had to choose between the summit try and his family.”
Driven and ambitious climbers, after paying $65,000 or more for their chance at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, have walked right by dying men and left them on the side of the trail alone, to die.
In 2006, German climber, Thomas Weber, collapsed and died, less than 20 yards from the trail. A British climber, David Sharp, became seriously ill and died. IN 2006, 40 climbers, intent on the summit, refused to help. Climbers often pass dying climbers on the mountain without stopping to help - either, because they lack the strength and skills … or, because they are intent on reaching the summit.
In 2012, the Guardian posted a blog about “the ethical dilemmas facing climbers” as they describe how one climber found many bodies attached to the fixed lines and had to walk around them. In conclusion, they ask, “has human life come to count for less than the fulfillment of a personal ambition?”
In 2013, Sherpas attacked Swiss climber Ueli Steck and two of his friends and threatened to kill them. Steck says that after passing the Sherpas on the climb, when they returned to camp they were met by “a mob of 100 people hitting us with rocks and they threatened to kill us.”
Swiss info asked Steck what his sponsors said, and Steck replied, “they understand but on the other hand … we don’t get anything for free. The sponsors want to benefit from me. And now, all three of us have to deal with financial disaster. We spent a lot of money… the world keeps on spinning and I have to keep going.” Steck said he would not return to Everest after this threat on their lives.
In Oct. of 2013, Steck returned to the Himalayas to solo climb the south face of Annapurna, and said that, though he’ll not forget what happened on Everest, that “I think I’m beginning to find the fun in life once again!”
Büchel and Deutsche Welle looks at the dark side of extreme sports and sponsorship in “the Dark Side of Red Bull - the Perils of Extreme Sports.”
In 2009, three athletes died while doing (paid) stunts for Red Bull: skier Shane McConkey, parachuter Eli Thompson and basejumper Ueli Gegenschatz - who was filmed when he was killed.
The press asked “who is responsible for deadly maneuvers?”
Büchel said that McConkey was under tremendous pressure: “In order to stay in business, McConkey perceived himself as challenged to perform ever-more reckless acts - like combining extreme skiing and base-jumping.”
Robb Gaffney, a medical doctor, described Red Bull marketing as unethical.
And last, but not least, what about kids climbing? In July 2013, 12-year old Tito Traversa was killed in a fall to the ground when his incorrectly-assembled equipment failed. The Italian prosecutors filed manslaughter charges against five people - the gear manufacturer, the store selling the gear, and the manager and instructor of the club the organized the trip on which Tito was killed.
But who’s really responsible? In my opinion, not the store or manufacturer, if the quick draws are sold unassembled, but whoever put the draws together incorrectly. And whoever checked (or failed to) check them.