A New Zealander who was cooking provided team members with mousse au chocolat and fresh strawberries flown in from Katmandu by helicopter. In the evenings they watched films on a flat-screen TV in the cinema tent. One Russian expedition had liters of vodka on hand and a wireless Internet connection for which the expedition leader paid $5,000 a month. “It was pretty crazy,” says Bierling.
Billi Bierling, the German journalist who started off as the eyes and ears of legendary Everest chronicler Elizabeth Hawley, is shocked at what a soft touch the once-forbidding mountain has become in recent years.
When Bierling arrived in Nepal she was surprised at the extent of the commercial tourism on Everest. In the high season in May some 700 people live in base camp at a height of 5,350 meters — it has hot showers and even a bakery.
Some summiteers are anything but professional. “Many don’t know how to put on crampons or even how to hold an ice pick,” Bierling says. She was even more astonished to find that she didn’t need to use her own ice pick to reach the summit. “Anyone looking for a mountain adventure shouldn’t go for Everest,” she says. Without the Sherpas and infrastructure — such as fixed ropes leading right up to the summit — some 90 percent of climbers wouldn’t even reach the top, she believes.
More than 4,000 climbers, including some 200 women, have conquered Everest to date. More than two-thirds of expeditions have taken place in the last 15 years. Some agencies now offer “budget ascents” from €20,000. “But they often don’t have the right equipment or enough oxygen or good food,” says Bierling.