Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. More than 300 people have died on the mountain, and over 200 bodies are still on the peak, unable to be retrieved because of how dangerous the conditions are. While climbing Everest was long thought to be only for the most experienced climbers, that’s changed over the years, and now more than 90 percent of those on the mountain are clients or employees of guided expeditions. Will Cockrell’s new book, Everest, Inc.: The Renegades and Rogues Who Built an Industry at the Top of the World, delves into how this came about, the myths and realities of the Everest guided climbing industry, and the future of Everest.

Everest, Inc.: The Renegades and Rogues Who Built an Industry at the Top of the World

Climbing Everest has long been thought to be the stuff of highly experienced climbers, but in the 1980s, there were signs that things were beginning to change. “Many saw the mid-1980s as the end of an era, a time when Everest came to be more of a logistical challenge than a technical one.” (p.40). Things like computers and propane heaters were brought to base camp. Several mountain guides were starting to sense an opportunity, and the Seven Summits market was born, with guided expeditions available. But despite all the excitement, Cockrell writes, “No matter what country they were from or which certification they did or did not have, most climbers and guides around the world believed the idea of guiding on Everest was asking for trouble. The prevailing wisdom was that no mountain guide in their right mind would try.” (p. 59). It was dangerous enough for them; to bring other people for whom they were responsible, especially those who were not experienced, would be foolish.

But the industry exploded, and those who had the time and money took advantage of the opportunity to attempt the mountain. Amateurs and those who saw mountaineering as a hobby found themselves on Everest, sometimes wildly unprepared, because after some guiding companies turned them away, another one would take them on.

In exploring the explosion of guiding on the world’s highest peak, Cockrell tackles the issue of exploitation of the Sherpas, as well as the tensions between Western-run guiding companies and Nepali-run companies. What most people don’t realize is that there was exploitation in both types of companies, as well as real safety concerns. And more and more Nepali-run companies are thriving, finally taking more control of the Everest narrative.

It’s clear Cockrell has done his research for the book, and he packs a huge amount of information into it. He spoke with more than a hundred Western and Sherpa climbers, guides, filmmakers, and more, and it shows in how detailed the book is. However, this also means the book is chock-full of names and dates and expeditions, and there are so many people and so many threads to the narrative that at times it can be hard to follow, especially if this isn’t something with which you’re super familiar. The narrative largely focuses on a lot of the business aspects of the climbing culture, which makes sense, considering the topic of the book, but it’s almost too broad of a scope at times, providing a skimming of the topic instead of narrowing the story down.

Overall, if you’ve ever read an article or book about Everest and wondered how it became so popular, and whether it’s true that anyone can do it if you have enough money, this book is a compelling read. I am not a mountaineer, but I’ve long been curious about the culture of guided climbs for those who aren’t hard-core hikers or climbers, and this book did not disappoint.

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