This is a sensitive topic but, in my opinion, I would have to say yes. You may have noticed that this has been a common thread through all of my blog postings. I have told many stories of how inexperience creates issues on Everest.
Inexperienced climbers have a very narrow working window. When situations crop up that are outside of this window they are at a loss as to what to do. They can experiment and try to figure it out. But is Everest really the place for experimentation? This often ends in disaster, or requires the assistance of others. In my opinion, relying on the assistance of others as a back-up plan amounts to recklessly endangering your life and the lives of others. Is it fair that one climber loses his or her life, becomes injured or misses a summit bid just to rescue an inexperienced climber who should not have been there in the first place? As I have stated many times, I feel that every person on Everest should be experienced enough that they can be self-reliant in all but the most extreme circumstances. Yes, people will always get into trouble for various reasons. But, if you are experienced, when you do need help, it is often as a last resort.
The next question is what counts as experience for Everest. Once again, I can only state my opinion.
Climbing Everest requires such a variety of skills that it is impossible to learn them all when you arrive at the mountain. There may be a few specialized things that are unique to Everest, but everything else must be well-practiced ahead of time. For instance, I had never used oxygen before I went to Everest and it took me about an hour to adjust to it. When I first put on the mask, I was expecting a miracle, but this was unrealistic. With this “miracle” in mind, I pushed harder than I should have and I paid the price quickly. Out of breath, I ripped the mask off my face and vomited in the snow. Lesson learned. Once I got the hang of it, I loved it.
The required skills on Everest stem from every facet of climbing; rock, ice, big mountain, and aid. Therefore, I feel that each climber should be proficient in each of these disciplines before embarking on a climb of Everest. You do not need to be able to climb at a 5.13 level and lead an A4 pitch, but you should be a technically skilled climber. (If you do not know what 5.13 and A4 refer to, then you should likely not be going to Everest.) Many people may think these standards too high, but this is what I believe.
The use of technical skills needs to be so automatic that you can do them in an exhausted, sleep-deprived, calorie-deprived, hypoxic, wind-blasted, white-out, frozen-to-the-core state. This is the reality of climbing Everest and all big mountains. If you are not up to the task, bad things can happen. I believe that you need to prepare for the worst possible conditions and if you can survive them you are good to go. We all hope for perfect sunny, windless days, and it is amazing when we get them, but it is not smart to count on them.
The photo is of the Lhotse Face in a wind storm. It was extremely cold and the wind was fierce. Driving snow bit into any exposed skin. It became difficult to do anything. These were the conditions on my descent from Camp 3 after an acclimatization rotation. Because I had been in these situations many times before, it was well within my ability to handle. I actually thought it was fun and that it added excitement to an otherwise long slog of a climb. Others were not enjoying it so much. It took me about 1 hour to descend the face. Others took up to six hours. When I looked up the face from the bottom it was like a war zone. Climbers were hunkered down for protection, climbers were fumbling with gear, people were stumbling and making desperate moves on the ropes, and guides were working their butts off to get people down. Many, many climbers got frostbite that day. As I have said, Everest is not the place to learn how to deal with adverse situations.
My apprenticeship came over years of climbing. I have intentionally gone out in horrific conditions just to learn how I would react physically, mentally and emotionally. This way I learned my limitations. Anyone going to Everest should know their limitations and have a realistic understanding of what they need to know in order to be safe and successful on Everest. For me, this took about 20 years of climbing. Some can do it much faster, but this was my comfort zone.
The government of Nepal does not set the standards, and many guiding companies do not set standards either. So it is left up to each individual to decide if they have the experience and skills necessary for Everest. Everest is not just a ride at Disney in Florida. It is a big, bad and dangerous mountain. Play safe!