“Serious climbers all detest Everest, because you just pay someone enough money and you can do it, it’s not a technically demanding climb compared to other major summits, and then if there’s a storm you die. It’s for dummies; it literally looks like a line of dudes waiting to use the men’s room at the Superbowl, so many people do it.”
– Nicole Cliffe on Mt. Everest
“Helicopter Jing, you’re imbued with the stench of your money-bought certificates and honors … The holy Everest has been dirtied by you, a cunning and ugly person!”
– Some guy on Weibo
First off, literally all mountaineering is expensive, pointless, and selfish. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to do it if you want to, or that other people should have to bail you out if you get yourself in trouble hauling yourself up the side of some indifferent glacier, but let’s not pretend that what Wang Jing did this May was qualitatively different from literally every other climb up Everest since the first one.
“Wait, what did Wang Jing do on Everest back in May?” you ask, because you did not check National Geographic regularly for gossip, like an idiot. Remember how earlier this year there was a terrible avalanche on Everest that killed 13 Sherpas and 3 climbers? Well, it sort of (re)highlighted the really difficult situations many Sherpa families are in, where acting as mountain guides is the most lucrative work they can find in the region, but often puts them under a lot of pressure to work in incredibly dangerous conditions, as well as the fact that climbing giant mountains can be fatal. So pretty much all of the remaining expeditions on the South Face were called off. Which is fair!
BUT THEN. Wang Jing, a 39-year-old mountaineer from China, decided to climb Mt. Everest. Which people do all the time. Often while climbing over the bodies of failed expeditioners. Using expensive equipment and oxygen and various technological accoutrements that allow them to complete the climb. Paying local workers a great deal of money to assist them in dangerous climbing conditions.
And people were furious at Wang Jing for climbing Mt. Everest, over the bodies of failed expeditioners, using expensive equipment, while paying local workers a great deal of money to assist her, in the world’s clearest-cut example of HATING THE PLAYER INSTEAD OF THE GAME.
Because Wang insisted on climbing Everest when virtually every other Nepal-side expedition had abandoned their plans, and because she used a helicopter to bypass the difficulties of the Khumbu Icefall, where three unrecoverable bodies of avalanche victims were still buried, her Everest ascent has been mired in controversy—derided as being in poor taste, the indulgence of a rich “pseudo-mountaineer” who breached basic climbing ethics and ushered in a debased new era of “helicopter mountaineering.”
Nowhere has the criticism been more vehement than in Wang’s home country, where Chinese blog sites have been inflamed with outrage, some of it misinformed.
Sure, the Everest industry is corrupt and outrageously expensive and it’s a capitalist bloodsport where the internationally wealthy hire the working poor to possibly die alongside them in an attempt to get a cool picture of some mountains. But to call out one Chinese woman for using a helicopter — which is quite possibly the closest we will ever get to seeing Inspector Gadget reach the top of the world — and not, say, everybody else who would have done the exact same thing if they had her Super-Super-Rich Money, instead of their regular old Super-Rich Money, is absurd. Wang Jing, by the way, is quite possibly the greatest multi-millionaire the world has ever known:
She had donated $30,000 to the local hospital and was feted with speeches, ceremonial kata scarves, milk tea, and cookies. She gave a brief interview to a reporter from theHimalayan Times, entertained a few of my questions, demonstrated her flexibility by putting her foot over her head, and was whisked off to Kathmandu by helicopter.
The woman loves helicopters. Can you blame her for that? She also, incidentally, paid her Sherpa teammates 3-4 times the usual rate.
Jing grew up in the rural town of Ziyang in Sichuan Province, the youngest of four children. Her father was a factory worker; her mother worked for the local village government. Her formal education ended after middle school. She later worked as a waitress and met her husband in 1993, when he came into the restaurant hoping to land a contract to print its menus.
In 1995, they bought a design patent for a tent and co-founded a tent-manufacturing company called Tianhui—Everyday Happy, in English. Wang sewed the first tent herself.
Wang Jing is not the problem. The Everest industry, the lack of regulations and coordination between various expeditionary teams, is the problem; not one Chinese lady who loves helicopters and climbing mountains.
“Mallory, would you really be this vocally supportive if it had been, say, an AMERICAN MAN in question?” Probably not! I am a hobgoblin and an imp and I lack a consistent worldview. I have also never climbed a mountain and have soft hands; this will not stop me from having opinions about mountaineering on a blog.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.