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  • Georgia Rodgers

Why Must We Conquer Everything?

Updated: Mar 1

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Along with many others, I have always had the desire to climb some of the world’s most notorious mountains. I’ve been fortunate enough to climb parts of the famous foothills of India’s Himalayas, but it never seemed to quite satisfy my ambition to climb more. In fact, one of my biggest travel regrets is not climbing Mount Kilimanjaro during my time in Tanzania.

But while this is a very privileged regret of mine, it’s something that I have wanted to explore within myself; as I find the concept of mountain climbing to be quite peculiar and intriguing at times.

Through careful consideration, and analysis of my regrets, I can’t help but link such ambitions with a desire to conquer and dominate.

Before writing this piece, I underwent a bit of googling on this topic, and half of the search results that would continuously surface involving mountain climbing, surrounded Pinterest boards with inspirational quotes of climbing mountains to overcome inner challenges. What struck me most, was the saturation of romanticism for such a travel choice, and the impulsive influence it could potentially have for so many willing people.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a few corny inspirational quotes to get you motivated. But the problem begins when these metaphors become a reality and people begin to pursue these conquests, rather than keeping their ambitious dreams confined to a Pinterest board.

When people become blinded by what can be considered selfish ambitions, we begin to see detrimental impacts on others as a result.

I can’t help but wonder why we must pursue these extreme desires. This article's intent has not been written to completely disregard the idea of mountain climbing, as it’s often a better travel choice than many other activities that are available within the tourism industry. The issue, however, is the disconcerting reality of such ambitions, which strays far away from the simple inspirations of Pinterest.

What these posts don’t highlight is the disconnect people can often have. Issues of commercialisation, as well as environmental carelessness, are never highlighted. But unfortunately, this can be the reality of pursuing such ambitious travel desires.

Mountaineering began in the mid-1800s when scientific pursuits began to grow along with colonial expansions around the world. Then, during the nineteenth century, romanticism categorised nature within a divine category and portrayed mountain climbing as a spiritual journey that allows for inner growth that can be attained if you reach the top.

In addition to this, there a bizarre concept that comes hand in hand with mountain climbing and privileged culture, that involves this idea that we must conquer everything. There is a sense of an imperialist ideological desire to fulfil the achievement of conquest.

Again, this piece is not here to say that mountain climbing is inherently bad, but we cannot argue that there is an underlying need and desire to conquer these quests; a concept we have been battling throughout history, that should be considered quite out of date.

Mount Everest is a perfect example of this desire for conquest. For the native Sherpa community of Nepal, Everest is a sacred mountain and is referred to as ‘Chomolungma’, which translates to the “Goddess Mother of the Land”.

Nepal is famous for Everest; it’s one of the most popular selling points for the Nation’s tourism industry. Every year, thousands of people travel to Nepal to attempt the ascent of Everest. A popular climb is to Base Camp, which people of all levels of hiking abilities can often endure and succeed. It is estimated that 500 tourists embark upon the mountain each day during the high season.

Although tourism can often be one of a nation’s largest economic incomes, through the large quantities of climbers, and demands from these hikes- entitlement has led to the increase of disrespect for this sacred mountain through pollution of rubbish, degradation of the environmental surroundings, as well as the disregard to the values and significance of the native Sherpa’s connection to the mountain.

While Everest is one of the strongest selling points for Nepal’s tourism industry, many of the factors involved with such a selling point, are being exploited; a process not too unfamiliar with the elements that construct the progression of colonialism.

The taint for colonialism not only applies to the ideas surrounding conquest but also through the origins for the name Everest, itself. Like many other famous landmarks around the world, such as Australia’s sacred Uluru, otherwise referred to as ‘Ayres Rock’, the call for such landmarks to revert their names to Indigenous predecessors is now more important than ever.

Named after British surveyor and geographer George Everest, Everest served as a Surveyor General in India from 1830 to 1843, during the British colonial rule. Through such a label, we have disregarded the sacred connections to this mountain, that many native people hold. Within China, the Chinese refer to the mountain as the ‘Holy Mother Peak’, and within Tibet, it is referred to as the ‘Holy Mother’. Through such names, the mountain is personified as a powerful life force that references spiritual sacredness. For Indigenous people, the significance of names embodies history, teachings, as well as environmental knowledge.

One of the biggest issues that is linked to the ramifications of colonialism through European landmark names, as well as the growth of tourism, is the interconnectedness between the outside community and the local community being unequal. Through such blatant disregard to Indigenous values, and further the growth of commercialisation for such landmarks, the significance and sacredness of such places are lost. The meaning and value behind these Indigenous sites are lost when colonialism and western intervention, such as irresponsible tourism, disconnect these sites from their past.

Everest has grown into a destination that is controlled by the interests of the tourist; trekking companies are dominated and owned primarily by foreigners. It is hard to deny that the conquest of Everest and the surrounding Himalayas was a form of colonialism, and now, the new extension of tourism and influx of commercialisation is nothing more than postcolonial progression.

Journalist Tim Pale simply puts:

“The growing appetite for summiting the world’s highest mountain has left this bucket-list staple littered with bodies and waste, while those who make the dream come true remain unsung and woefully underpaid.”

We see similar concepts and practises of irresponsible and entitled acts through the climbing of the already mentioned Australia’s First Nations’ Uluru; a sacred cultural landscape that has held significant spiritual value and meaning for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years.

A popular tourist destination for many travellers; people have been allowed to climb and disrespect such a site, despite ongoing conversation and Indigenous wishes and requests against it. Due for closure of climbing in October of this year, hundreds have flocked to the Northern Territory to tick the climb off their bucket lists. Through these actions, there has been a total disregard of the Indigenous population of Australia.

When I see people still posting about their ‘triumph’ over Uluru, it saddens me to think that an individual can feel so entitled over another group of people. That despite the ongoing conversation and Indigenous outcry for respect, people are still booking their tickets to Central Australia to make the final trek. With no doubt, the impact that these entitled choices are having on Australia’s First Nations, far outweigh the overall satisfaction that completing the trek on Uluru would ever have on an individual.

I just don’t think a person can ever justify such a disrespectful act.

It’s hard to deny that these particular travel choices are driven by a sense of entitlement; something so many people feel that they inherently have a right to have. However, entitlement leads to corruption and through corruption, we see disrespect and a loss of culture. Entitlement also opens the door for exploitation, again allowing for corruption and unethical practices to be considered acceptable within nations who become reliant on tourism for economic growth and stability. And through such actions, we see the instilment and continual progression of colonialism and conquest.

It’s a vicious cycle but is one that we can in fact control and determine through our actions.

It’s time, as privileged travellers, we step back whilst travelling and understand the impact our choices may have upon others and the environment in which we are visiting. It’s important to remind ourselves that travel is not an inherent right, but a privilege, and it should be something we value with conscious choices and responsible decisions in every travelling situation we embark on.

We need to remember with each trip we take, that we are the visitors, and with such a reminder, it should not be forgotten that we have a responsibility to uphold the utmost respect and values of the nation we are visiting. It’s important to do your research.

Respect costs nothing, but its impact is invaluable.

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