The summit of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet high. Tibetans call it “Chomolungma,” which means “Mother Goddess of the Earth.” From the top, you can see Tibet, India and Nepal, and the first people to get there were Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, in 1953. They were the ninth expedition to try.
Actually, apparently, some other people could have gotten there first (Andrew Irvine and George Mallory), but they disappeared.
About 4,000 people have tried to follow them, but only about 660 have made it. On the way, 219 people have died. Roughly, only one in six people make it to the top, and one in four people die. It’s difficult to retrieve bodies, so corpses stay where they are, up on the mountain. People also leave their garbage. (Mostly, empty oxygen bottles.) There’s apparently even a controversy amongst serious climbers and alpinists about using bottled oxygen at all, but the truth is, above about 26,000 feet, humans get very fragile, and conditions get very terrible. More oxygen = better decision-making = less dying. Less oxygen = bad decision-making = lots of dying.
So, it’s pretty dangerous.
It’s also very expensive — about $65,000 to train, get there, hire guides and people to help you.
It’s pretty safe to say I’m never going to do it. Aside from all the things I don’t like about it (it’s outside, you have to camp and wear ridiculous clothing, it’s cold, there’s snow and to get there is a really long flight), I probably also won’t do it because there’s a very very real chance I’d die.
Another thing I don’t do because it involves things I don’t like and possible death: large outdoor music festivals. Since 2002, ten people have died at Bonnaroo. Now, I’d love to go to Bonnaroo. I love music and I love a lot of the bands they get for the Bonnaroo lineups every year, but have you been to Tennessee in the summer? It’s roughly 150 degrees all day every day. (For comparison, in 24 years only one person has died at Glastonbury, the big English music festival, and only one person has died at Coachella in the 13 years it’s been around. I don’t know what it is about Bonnaroo, but it’s dangerous.) About 70-80,000 people go to Bonnaroo every year, so the mathematical chances of dying are slim, but I don’t trust myself. I don’t trust my self-preservation skills on water-drinking and sunblock-applying and all those things. I’d die and then my corpse would bake.
I’m incredibly pale, out of shape, prone to dehydration and fainting, plus in my lifetime, I’ve already been to (and worked at) my share of oppressively hot outdoor music festivals. I’ve finished with that.
Anyway, lots of people go to these things, and love them. But if it’s so dangerous, why aren’t more people just climbing Everest instead? Danger, physical exertion, scarcity of water/food/survival amenities, it just costs way more and Radiohead isn’t going to be there.
But what’s the difference? How do people choose their preferences? What determines whether someone goes go Coachella or goes to Tibet? If I had to pick one, at gunpoint for example, I’d probably pick Everest, just because I hate crowds, and there’d be a good statistical chance I’d die and then never really have to do either one.