Who Does and Doesn’t Belong on Everest?

By Kate SadoffApril 23, 2024

Who Does and Doesn’t Belong on Everest?
WILL COCKRELL’S LAUNCH OF EVEREST, INC., DIESEL, A Bookstore, Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.

I avoid the Brentwood Country Mart at most costs; it’s a danger zone for running into people from my high school. Last Tuesday night, however, I sucked it up and went on a whim to hear Will Cockrell launch his new book, Everest, Inc.: The Renegades and Rogues Who Built an Industry at the Top of the World, with climbing legend John Long at DIESEL, A Bookstore.

The pair sat in front of the bougie children’s clothing store, Poppy, beside the carousel and blue car I used to ride as a kid, to discuss what Cockrell described as a new kind of book about Mount Everest. As he explained, the story isn’t about the triumphs and tragedies of climbing the behemoth. Instead, it focuses on the commercialization of Everest, and the guiding industry—now 85 percent run by Sherpa people—that makes the climb available to amateurs. Well, he qualified, rich amateurs: It costs about $40,000 to summit Everest with Sherpa-owned companies, and $100,000 to summit with Western guiding companies. John Long was quick to point out that these amateurs also must be “cardio freaks.”

As the discussion went on, Cockrell recounted learning in an interview with a guide that those who choose to climb Everest can be categorized by similarities besides their wealth. Often, they fit into one of three categories: the “traumatized,” the “empty,” and those who have endured life-altering changes, like divorce or the loss of a loved one. The audience laughed as Cockrell quoted one bemused Sherpa: “Why do people come looking for things they didn’t lose here?”

The author went on to describe another commonality between these seemingly depressed (or at the very least, desperately soul-seeking) climbers who pay such hefty prices for what sounds like a terrifying and generally uncomfortable experience: many are hell-bent on making it look like they ascended alone. From posts on Instagram to harrowing tales at dinner parties, people don’t want to acknowledge the Sherpas who went ahead and put up the fixed ropes. Cockrell flagged this erasure as a particularly problematic dynamic within the colonialist tradition of summiting Everest.

A draw for many at DIESEL last Tuesday was likely that this book finishes what Jon Krakauer set out to accomplish in Into Thin Air (1997), which began as reportage on the Sherpa guiding industry and ultimately became a tale of eight people dying in a freak storm. Cockrell spoke candidly about his issues with Krakauer’s book—how the premise, distilled, constructs an idea of who does and doesn’t belong on Everest, making characters like Sandy Pittman the subject of mockery in the publications’ wake. Chuckling nervously, Cockrell admitted to expecting some awkward future interactions with the seemingly untouchable Krakauer (who repeatedly declined interview requests for the book). Talk about a little enviro-journalism drama …

The talk closed as a woman in a fabulous, pink furry coat asked if Cockrell had come across any “murder mysteries” during his years of scrupulous research. I was a little disappointed when the writer reported to have found no stories of brain-hypoxic-induced betrayal or murder by ice pick. By the sounds of it, the book won’t reveal any literal skeletons frozen in Everest’s closet—ice fields?—but will instead begin to strip away many of the myths surrounding the great mountain.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Takes live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Kate Sadoff is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. More importantly, she makes smoothies at Erewhon Santa Monica.


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