Mt. Everest has been in the news lately thanks to an uptick in deaths, but as John Oliver explained on Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight, it’s not exactly a new problem. When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first reached the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953, it represented an incredible feat of human achievement. But with the advent of commercial expeditions in recent decades, the highest mountain peak in the world is starting to resemble “the line at Trader Joe’s,” per Oliver.
The peak of Everest is roughly the size of two ping-pong tables. Add to that the fact that one can only really summit the mountain during a brief period in May, and you see the beginnings of the overcrowding problem; there simply isn’t that much space or time on Everest. But conditions in the mountain’s upper areas are quite different from your local neighborhood Trader Joe’s, making it quite dangerous to get stuck in line. Up above 26,000 feet there’s only 30 percent as much oxygen as sea level, and that means all kinds of things: The stomach stops digesting food, the heart stops pumping blood to extremities, and the brain starts to swell within the skull, with nowhere to go but down the spinal cord. “Well that’s delightful,” Oliver summarized.
There are two ways to approach Everest: From the Tibetan side and from the Nepalese side. The former route is quite relegated, but the latter will give a permit to anyone who pays an $11,000 fee and produces a doctor’s note deeming them physically fit. That can create a dangerous disparity among climbers, as Oliver showed by playing a clip where mountaineers descending from the summit got stuck waiting behind inexperienced adventurers who had trouble properly climbing down a ladder.
“Think about the violent rage you felt the last time you couldn’t walk down an escalator because a bunch of assholes were standing still,” Oliver said. “Now imagine doing that for hours in freezing temperatures as your brain leaks slowly down your spinal cord. You’d be pretty f—ing angry too!”
Most of these people climbing Everest are only doing it for photos and bragging rights; few of them have a deep love of mountaineering or would even be able to attempt the ascent without the help of local sherpas. So Oliver came up with a solution to the problem: Just use Photoshop! Make a cool photo of yourself on Everest’s peak without endangering your life or those of sherpas and other mountaineers.
“The more you think about it, the more brilliant this idea becomes,” Oliver said. “If it is just a summit photo that you want, faking it is probably the most ethically defensible way to get it. If even faking it seems like too much work to you, don’t worry. That’s why we’ve created Adventures Indoors Luxpeditions, the world leader in getting people to the summit of Everest without ever actually going there.”
Indeed, Oliver unveiled a new website, TheTopOfMountEverest.com, which allows users to Photoshop themselves into a picture on top of Everest’s summit without making anyone’s brain leak down their spinal cord in the process.