The choice… is ours

Below is a link to Ellis’s initial response to my “Letter to a Stranger”, as well as 2 more subsequent emails.

In an attempt to tame any potential trolls from meddling in the comments section, I would like to point out the respect that we have shown for each other’s opinions. This has been a healthy conversation & whilst I disagree completely with Ellis’s path, I have learnt from him. My aim by posting this is to provide food for thought to anyone that may be interested in the subject.

At the end of the day, Ellis will continue on his quest. I, on the other hand, should I ever raise the kind of cash that Ellis needs and when I have mastered the required skill set (a journey which may suffice in itself), will choose to plan an expedition to Antarctica; stepping foot on untrodden summits; ascending unclimbed lines & descending unskied faces.

The choice…. is ours.

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Steve Chaplin descending the north ridge of Mt Gardner, Antarctica’s fourth highest mountain.

© Damien Gildea

LINK: Ellis’s initial response

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MY REPLY:

Hi Ellis,

I apologise that it’s taken so long for me to respond. It takes me a while to put things down on paper, plus I have also been really busy.

I am relieved that you took my letter in the spirit that it was meant and I am ever so glad that we are able to show each other some respect.

To answer your questions….

·       I am more than happy for you to post my letter on your site. I have enclosed a new version with a title (you don’t have to use it) and some photos, which may draw in more readers as well as break up its length. The photo of the queue on Everest should be credited to Ralf Dujmovits. I have also decided to start a blog, so in the near future, I will post it too and I guess that it is also ok to post your response?

·       I’ve always been drawn to the mountains and as I said in the letter, previous to becoming a climber, I trekked in many parts of the world – I lived in Scotland for 7 years; I spent 7 months in South America; trekked a lot in Patagonia; walked up some volcanoes in Ecuador, including Chimborazo, plus some of the mountains of the Huayhuash in Peru. I love getting out in the hills and always have done. I’m also a keen skier. Learning to climb was something that I always wanted to get around to, but work, too much of it, as well as personal life, just got in the way a lot.

·       In regards to whether I have a family, no I don’t. So, I agree that our circumstances are different. I have also taken some time off work since September so it has been easy for me, I agree. However, you plan to take 7 weeks out as well as put your heart into the training before that.  I certainly haven’t spent 7 solid weeks climbing, I could have done. You could too, then a weekend every 2 months after that for example, plus some days out with the kids notching up more inspiring climbing experiences. Also, according to Tim’s site you need to have a decent amount of proper climbing experience – http://www.everestexpedition.co.uk/everest_south_col/skills_required.htm. Ellis, if I take this link literally, then I have barely achieved this now. When are you going to do that?

·       The reason that I wanted to impart to you, with your completely different passion and goals, what I have personally gained from my recent climbing exploits, is as follows:

I have obviously built up a strong opinion on the subject of commercial mountaineering on Everest. Some of the reasons for which are explained below. Having said that, I also presumed that I was someone similar to you – a climbing newbie with an adventurous spirit, a passion for endurance challenges and a love of the mountains. I guessed that you might have a certain amount of “dure climber naysayers” trying to discourage you by smashing their opinions on your plate. So I thought to myself, “I wonder if I tell Ellis about the path that I have taken, what it has opened up for me and where it could lead me…. I wonder if he would be interested in that as another option? I wonder if he would be more likely to listen to me than to someone rudely “opinionating” at him?” Ellis, I don’t want you to go into the death zone and risk your life & the life of others without being suitably experienced. Even if you are suitably experienced it saddens me deeply that there is a place in the mountains, or on earth for that matter, where people’s greed may mean that they could either get themselves into a situation of helplessness or step over someone else that is in trouble. I feel that by going there, you are condoning this circus, so I wanted to try to discourage you.

The other day I read this in another of Tim Mosedale’s blogs:

“If you become incapacitated in some way you will not be able to sort it out and, unfortunately, other people from other teams will possibly step over you on their way to the summit. This is not right and I do not condone it in any way but other people who have saved hard and trained hard will possibly not want to have their summit bid jeopardised by someone who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. If they attend to you and don’t summit are you, or your insurance company, going to pay for them to go back next year? And in actual fact they don’t want to go back next year because they won’t be able to get the time off work, or they have plans already for the following season, or they are planning on having a family etc etc. Added to this is the fact that as soon as they start attending to you high on the mountain they are consequently jeopardising their own well being. How would you feel if you were saved by someone who died as a consequence?”

The fact that this needed to be written, I find very sad. It really hits me emotionally that a natural environment has become plagued by these problems. As I said, by climbing Everest as a guided inexperienced climber, it is my belief that you are condoning the existence of this environment. If you aspire to climb Everest and have read all of those books then I think that you should climb it in the way that they climbed it. Commercial mountaineering does seem a form of cheating and is definitely responsible for creating this environment. I don’t understand how you can come back satisfied or “lay on your death bed” feeling happy that you were involved in such a thing. At the same time, everyone’s opinions differ so I respect your wishes and certainly don’t wish to attack you. I’m just answering your question and explaining how my opinion was formed.

Ellis, one thing that I will say in your defence is that I had no idea how much Everest has been a “part of your life” or about what drives your passion. Your link was suggested to me right at the top of my Facebook timeline, so I looked through the Facebook page, the main page of your website and your “about” page. None of what you said below is explained there at all. Your passion really does draw me over to understand your way of thinking, even if I don’t agree with the way you plan to summit the mountain. It would be my suggestion for you to incorporate some of the background to your passion on the pages that strangers are going to come into contact with. If I had known some of this background then I may have been less presumptuous and might not have written the letter. I presumed that you were just another “I’ll have a go at Everest as its the highest mountain in the world and it sounds good” type.

Hopefully I have answered all of your questions above. I just have a couple of further comments…

Firstly, it seems very clear that we don’t feel the same when it comes to your statement:

“Will I look back on my death bed and remember some climb I did somewhere in the French Alps one weekend when I was in my thirties? Probably not! Will I remember standing on the roof of the world after a lifelong dream and a seven week expedition of hardship and camaraderie?  Damn right I will.”

If I don’t remember some or even just one of my truly exhilarating, funny, remote, beautiful, challenging experiences, then it will only be down to dementia. They are woven into the fabric of my whole life, the journey I took to achieve them. They make me the climber that I am, the person that I am. I don’t need a “single extreme” to sit back on.

Ellis, at the end of the day, I do get what you are saying, it’s just not for me. I had your page thrust upon me, so I got involved! I am glad that we can keep it respectful.

You summed it up very well in this line: “What you get out of your climbing adventures is completely unique to you and is what gives you the air you breathe in your lungs and the passion in your heart.  What I and anyone else who shares this goal to stand on the highest point on our entire planet gets only we can truly know.”

I have tried to convince you not to got up Everest, I have failed but I am cool with that statement.

All the best and stay safe

Steve.

ELLIS’S FINAL RESPONSE:

Thank you Steve,

My website/blog is being revamped in light of a commercial sponsor coming on board so I need to err on the side of caution by printing your emails to me. Steve, the majority of people who visit my site and Facebook page are very pro Everest so I feel it would be unfair to produce your article if it were to provoke a backlash or witch hunt against you. You are entitled to your opinion at the end of the day and it is one that you put across very well. It has fallen on deaf ears with me as to be honest, the calling of Everest is far too strong for me to ignore. It’s who I am and is a huge part of my life, hopefully about to be seen through to a satisfactory outcome in the next 14 months. But I appreciate your camp and where you are also coming from.

I personally believe that the mountains should be for everybody to explore and adore and I feel that elitism has no place in mountaineering. Again not accusing you of such a thing here. Merely just pointing out my stance.

You question my experience to climb on Everest, well taking the technical ability and putting that aside for one moment I believe that Everest is 60% mental and 30% physical and only 10% technical ability. As you yourself acknowledge Everest is an extended walk all be it in hostile high altitude terrain. For the record I have been to well over 7000 metres on a previous expedition. I am hoping to climb on Ama Dablam this autumn and then during the winter months I will be consolidating myself with some Scottish winter skills training with Tim in the Lakes and north of the border. Tim does not take anyone with a big enough bank balance to Everest. He will only take suitably qualified and proficient people whom he thinks has a real viable opportunity of summiting. Again for the record he turned down two climbers for his trip to Everest this spring because he didn’t deem that qualified enough.  The qualities that I possess that have stood me in good stead for Everest are absolute focus, determination and passion plus experience of climbing well over 7000 metres on Cho Oyu.  This grouped with what I will be doing over the next twelve months mean I will be leaving to go to the mountain in the best shape possible. Both physically and mentally. I will leave to head off to Everest knowing I have done everything in my powers to give myself the best shot possible. I feel I deserve my chance. It is not my fault that less suitably prepared and experienced individuals are giving the mountain a bad rap. The problem lies squarely with the tour providers for taking these people.

I will leave it here by saying I wish you well in your future climbing endeavours, whatever they may be. If you don’t mind me printing your article then I will by all means do so.

Best Wishes once again.

Ellis J Stewart.

All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.
T.E. Lawrence

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