Everest: The Highest Gamble

It’s time to Break It Down!

Francis Bacon was the 1st Viscount of St. Alban, an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author. He served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England. In 1625 he publish his third book of essays, entitled, Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall. In Chapter 12 of this edition, Bacon framed an aphorism, a version of which is still used today:

If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.”

Today, the related phraseology we hear most often is, “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” When Francis Bacon coined the phrase, the first recorded instance of its use, he set it in context.

“Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers, for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed.

Instead of being befuddled, perturbed, or embarrassed, without missing a beat, Mahomet pivoted, and uttered the phrase referenced above…

If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.”

Bacon, called the father of empiricism, was popular both during life, and after his death. He considered his Essays mere recreations of his other studies, though his contemporaries yielded them critical acclaim. In fact, one 19th century literary historian, Henry Hallam, wrote of them:

“They are deeper and more discriminating than any earlier, or almost any later, work in the English language.

The Essays were translated into French and Italian during his lifetime. The 1999 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations includes no fewer than 91 quotations from his various Essays. That’s more than an adequate set up for Sir Francis Bacon.

Today’s real conversation does pertain to a mountain, and of course to one of the aphorisms popularized by Bacon, but obviously not directly to him. Instead this is a discourse about Mt. Everest and the array of individuals who have been, and who may be in the future, drawn to scale it…or to attempt to do so.

Everest is located in the Mahalangur Himal section of the Himalayas, which is in northeast Nepal and south-central Tibet (China) extending east from the pass Nangpa La between Rolwaling Himal and Cho Oyu, to the Arun River. It is the tallest peak in the world, and has been measured at 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level. The current official height as recognized by China and Nepal was established by a 1955 Indian survey and later revalidated by a Chinese survey in 1975. In 1865, Everest was given its official English name by the Royal Geographical Society upon a recommendation by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. Waugh chose the name in honor of his predecessor, Sir George Everest, disregarding Everest’s objections.

As the tallest mountain in the World, Everest is like a video game character festooned with a target on its back, or as the dynamic Janet Jackson put it in her Standard, That’s The Way Love Goes, “Like a moth to a flame.” And, just like that moth, too often, the result will be tragic. The next line is the song is “Burned by the fire.” On the positive side roughly 5,000 people from all around the world have successfully reached the summit of Mt. Everest. However, by the end of the 2014 climbing season at least 265 people died trying to reach the summit, and/or just as important, descend.

Avalanches alone have killed 35 people in the last two years, including 16 in one day in 2014. At least one person has died trying to climb Everest every year since 1900. Now, the 2016 count of individuals who did not survive their effort to climb Everest commences. At least four people have died on the mountain since last Thursday.

In the words of geographer and climber Jon Kedrowski, who successfully reached the summit in 2012, “Everest is a mountain of extremes. At altitude, the body deteriorates on a certain level.” In 2012, the year Kedrowski reached the summit, 10 climbers died. April 2016 was the first month of climbing since all ascent was stopped after a catastrophic earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015 and the avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas in one day in 2014.

The four deaths over the past week have rattled climbers who are just starting their descent as the climbing season comes to an end. April and May are the months most attempts are made due to there typically being less wind. Wind or not, the temperature is always a factor, ranging from -31 to -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

And yet, the climbers just keep coming. Over 400 individuals challenged Everest during this season. According to the director of Nepal’s National Tourism Department, Sudarshan Dhakal, the total included 288 foreigners and over 100 Sherpas and guides. That is more than the average of previous seasons. The two-year hiatus undoubtedly created an element of pent up demand for the experience. As a result of the weather related interruptions, 2016 was the first time in two years any one reached Everest’s summit.

On four consecutive fateful days, beginning last Thursday, “Like a moth to a flame,” four brave souls were “Burned by the fire” of Everest. May their souls rest in eternal power and peace! In their honor, see a summary of their individual stories below:


Phurba Sherpa – An Everest crew member, Phurba fell to his death. He was 25-years old and had been working to fix a route near the summit when he fell. The Sherpa people are an ethnic group from Nepal who have lived in the high altitudes of the Himalayas for many generations. They serve as guides and their local familiarity and experience has been invaluable, especially for foreigners trying to climb Everest.


Eric Arnold – A 36 year-old from the Netherlands, he died at night while heading back down after succeeding in reaching the summit on Everest. It is believed he had a heart attack. Eric was a triathlete. While the cause of his heart attack has not been determined, one of the key steps in preparing for an Everest trek is to consult a physician for a full evaluation and screening to detect any pre-existing conditions. When high altitude is the goal, cardio, rather than strength, is the emphasis.


Maria Strydom – A 34 year-old Australian woman, Maria began suffering from altitude sickness. She reached Camp IV, the final camp before the summit. She was unable to climb any higher and a rescue attempt failed to reach her. She had a high altitude cough and acute mountain sickness, which can mean headaches and shortness of breath. These are common symptoms among Everest climbers. Maria had aspired to climb the tallest peaks on all seven continents. Before taking on Everest, she had climbed Denali in Alaska, Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey, and Kilimanjaro in Africa. A finance professor at Monash Business School in Australia, she died before she could descend to Camp III.


Subash Paul – A 44 year-old, died of altitude sickness. He was part of a team of four Indian climbers and four Sherpas. The team also had two other members go missing Saturday night. It is believed that the weather deteriorated suddenly and resulted in the team losing direction. According to Nepalese officials, a helicopter search was not possible because the climbers were too high up the mountain.

Of the four casualties noted above, three died chasing a dream; the fourth fell to his death helping them. All four were in effect, “Like a moth to a flame…Burned by the fire.” Rescue efforts are still underway for two missing climbers. The death toll presents a chilling reminder of the enormous hazards Everest poses, even for the most experienced of climbers.

As moths are innately drawn to the light of the flame, we humans, as a species, are drawn to the challenge, thrill, and exhilaration defined by our individual beings. For some, it is Everest. I for one surely can’t even begin to explain it, but that’s a moot point. Those who feel the yearning do what they must. Some folks go to Vegas, and role the dice. Mountain climbers of the highest order go to Nepal and Tibet where they challenge Everest: The Highest Gamble!”

I’m done; holla back!

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