Cowardice asks the question:
Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is
neither safe, not politic, nor popular, but one must take it
because it is right.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Ethics of Everest...
Everest season has just come to completion. As usual, it was
filled with stories of success and failure, grand achievement
and broken records. But, with all the fantastic news coming from
the mountain this spring - including Apa Sherpa logging an
incredible 16th (yes, SIXTEENTH!) summit - there were
disheartening signs of the changing ethical landscape on the
slopes of Everest.
In the following article I would
like to share with you some of my thoughts about ethics and
priorities on the slopes of Everest. I will begin the following
with the caveat that I was not on Everest this spring, and thus
speak from afar, from a perspective of 20/20 hindsight. But,
having been on the mountain 5 times, I feel that even from this
perspective I have some insights into the situation.
On the evening of May 14 and the
morning of the 15th, David Sharp, a 34 year old British climber,
lay dying just below the First Step on the Northeast Ridge
route. Reports indicate that roughly 40 people walked past him
en route to and from the summit. No one stopped to lend the man
a hand. No one was willing to sacrifice their summit, their
dream, to help a fellow human being.
Perhaps there was no possibility
of rescue. Perhaps David would have died regardless of
assistance from other climbers. Either way, the actions on the
mountain this spring beg the question: How much is the summit of
Everest worth? Do mountainous goals legitimize the sacrifice of
our humanity and compassion?
Having had the good fortune to
stand on top of the world twice, I can say with certainty to
anyone caught in a similar situation in the future: The summit
is not worth the sacrifice of one's humanity. Yes, reaching the
top is a wonderful experience. But, in the end, the summit is
merely a small patch of snow sitting upon a big hunk of
rock...and thus is not material for sacrificing humanity.
On the morning of May 7, 2001, my teammates John Race, Tap
Richards and I had just begun our summit bids on what was my
second expedition to the mountain. En route to Advanced Basecamp,
we encountered Tibetan yak herders carrying two injured Chinese
glaciologists down the mountain. Both men were suffering from
advanced pulmonary and cerebral edema; if left unaided, they
would soon die. Our decision was simple: We aborted our summit
bid and began the arduous task of carrying two men down the
Rongbuk Glacier. I blew out my knee in the rescue, ending my
expedition with a resonant POP...but both Mr. Gao and Mr. Li
lived to see their families again.
Three weeks later, my teammates
were going for the summit via the NE Ridge. During the course of
their summit bid, they ended up abandoning their summit hopes to
rescue 5 people - 3 Siberians, one American, and one Guatemalan.
The final rescue took place a mere 45 minutes from the top. Did
they hesitate? Not a bit. Again, the tiny patch of snow lying at
29,035 feet is just that...a patch of snow. It will be there
next year, and the year after that. And, in the end, standing on
it does not change one's life. Reaching out to change the lives
of others - no matter how short those lives may last - does.
In his famous book Zen & The
Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig writes: To
live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the
mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things
grow. I would add to Pirsig's observations that it is on the
sides of the mountain where we grow, not on the top. And, there
are times when that growth comes from sacrificing our own goals,
dreams, and ambitions to reach out and assist others.
We must have goals in our lives,
and we must aim for those goals, go after them with everything
that we have and everything that we are. But, the important part
of our goals is not reaching the end mark, crossing the finish
line, but rather the experiences on the sides of our mountains.
And, again, sometimes we must let go of Machiavellian ambitions,
sacrificing our ambition so that we don't sacrifice our
humanity, echoing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: there
comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe,
not politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is
the morning of April 21st, Ang Phinjo Sherpa was killed by an
ice collapse in the Khumbu Icefall on Everest. Also killed in
the same collapse were Sherpas Lhakpa Tseri and Dawa Temba.
I first met Ang Phinjo in 1997 on
my first expedition to an 8000m peak. I was guiding on Cho Oyu
that year, and Phinjo was one of our high-altitude climbing
Sherpa. I was immediately taken by Phinjo, especially by his
gracious, welcoming smile, indefatigable good humor, deep
spirituality, and strong work ethic.
We had a great time on Cho Oyu
that autumn, and on September 29th we reached the summit. I
remember Phinjo pointing down valley from the summit, a huge
smile arcing from ear to ear, saying proudly: There is my
village. There is Phortse!
Ang Phinjo had been on countless
8000m peak expeditions at that time; he had worked as a climbing
Sherpa since 1973. Amazingly, though, this was only the second
time he had stood on the summit of one of those peaks. As my
friend Dave Hahn wrote on
GreatOutdoors.com: [Phinjo] was very capable, but he'd
never asserted himself as someone deserving of a summit
Humble, caring, gracious...those
are but a few of the adjectives that describe Ang Phinjo Sherpa.
He was 50 years old this spring, and working hard on his 49th
8000 meter peak expedition. Ang Phinjo's death leaves behind his
wife and two children, age 12 and 14.
Eric Simonson and
International Mountain Guides has established a fund to help
take care of Ang Phinjo's family. If you would like to make a
donation, funds are being accepted by AFFIMER (American
Foundation for International Mountaineering Exploration and
www.affimer.org), of which Eric Simonson is a founder.
Please make checks payable to AFFIRMER and send to:
AFFIMER (Sherpa Support)
P.O. Box 155
Ashford, WA 98304
If you have ever spent time in the Himalaya, you know how
wonderful and hard working the Nepali people are. Here is an
opportunity to say thank you, to give something back to a family
in need, even if you did not have the opportunity to meet and
work with Ang Phinjo.
Please feel free to contact me
with any questions, and thank you for your support!
Photo Tip of the Month...
Rule of Thirds
When composing images, we tend to
put our subject right smack in the middle of our image.
Subconsciously, we figure that the subject is, well, the
subject, and thus it should take a prominent position - i.e. the
center - in the image.
While this works in certain
scenarios, namely portraits and headshots, we often create a
strong effect by making sure the subject is not dead
center in the frame.
Most photographers use what we
call the Rule of Thirds. In a nutshell, you mentally
divide your frame into thirds, and make sure your subject is on
either the left or right third for a horizontal image, or the
top or bottom third for a vertical.
By dividing up the image and
keeping our subject to one side or the other, we often create
energy and movement in the image as well as a more dynamic and
So, next time you are at a family
function, out in the mountains, or taking pictures on your next
vacation, try out the Rule of Thirds...your photos will thank
Jake Gains Membership in NSA!
just became an official member of the National Speaker's
To gain membership, a speaker has to meet a rigorous set of
criteria demonstrating his or her professionalism, dedication,
and success in the field of speaking.
A coveted designation in the
speaking industry, Jake is honored to be a member of NSA and to
continue providing inspiration and professionalism to his
Jobing.com, an online job
search and recruiting website, liked Jake's Climb Your
Everest article from the last newsletter so much that
they asked permission to run it on their website.
Read it online now!
Jake's stunning image of
King Penguins bickering on the shores of South Georgia
Island was a finalist in the 2006 Teva Mountain Games photo
Jake was honored to be the
commencement speaker for The Colorado Springs School on June
2, 2006. His commencement speech, designed to send the
seniors off with motivation to pursue their dreams in life,
We have redesigned the image
database portion of our website to make it more streamlined
and effective. Limited edition and standard edition fine art
prints, autographed books, screensavers, posters, and other
items are still available to purchase at the
MountainWorld Productions store. The remainder of our
online stock collection, featuring images by Jake Norton
taken on his adventures around the world, are now contained
fully searchable stock database.
Jake's images are on display
Penrose Carnegie Library Gallery in Colorado Springs
through the end of June. Stop by and see Jake's images from
around the world!
Upcoming Events &
I am often on
the road, traveling to speaking engagements, working as a
photographer on location, or leading worldwide expeditions for
International Mountain Guides.
This autumn, I will lead a
group of climbers up Gurla Mandhata (AKA Naimona'nyi, 7728
meters), a remote peak in West Tibet. This will be an
incredible journey, complete with a circumambulation of
sacred Mount Kailash. I hope to send dispatches and images
from the mountain to my website; stay tuned for details!
On Saturday, June 10, at 2:00
PM, I will present my Lost on
Everestpresentation to teens at the
Penrose Library in Colorado Springs as part of their
summer reading program. The event is open to the public, so
please drop by if you are interested.
As part of my work as a Board
Porters' Progress, I will arrange a presentation this
summer in Golden as well as a fundraising hike in the
mountains to raise money for Porters' Progress programs and
also awareness about the situation of Nepali mountain
porters. Stay tuned for more information coming by email
Jake Norton is a
professional speaker, photographer, climber, and guide from
Colorado. He delivers high-impact, multi-media motivational
presentations to audiences worldwide, inspiring them to set
lofty goals in life and giving them the tools to reach them.
this newsletter to other people who might find it helpful.
Have a question
about Jake Norton or MountainWorld Productions? Please contact
American Mountaineering Center
710 Tenth Street
Golden, CO 80401