Yesterday, I read two articles mentioning a man named Don Cash, who quit his job a few months ago and set out to chase his dream of climbing the highest mountain on the seven continents. In one of the photos shared in a New York Times article about him, Cash wears a t-shirt that reads “Do Epic Shit.” Cash was trying to do epic shit when his life came to an abrupt end.
Mr. Cash’s last action on earth was to climb Mount Everest, situated in the Himalayas bordering Tibet and Nepal. It was the last mountain on his bucket list of seven. He fainted just after reaching the summit and was revived by the Sherpas who were guiding him. Then, on the way to a camp, he fainted again. This time, the Sherpas couldn’t help him and he died.
Lately, a lot of people have made climbing Mount Everest a personal goal. One reason cited for Mr. Cash’s death is that he was “stuck in traffic”. The New York Times included a stunning photograph of an enormous line of people waiting to reach the summit of Earth’s highest mountain. On Wednesday, May 22nd, Mr. Cash was in line with hundreds of other people, all of them wishing to make it to the top of the mountain. They had good weather that day, and when the weather is good, the people come in droves. Meanwhile, some of them were getting sick from the high altitude and the harsh elements. Mount Everest stands 29,029 feet tall and the air is very thin at the summit.
Cash, who lived in Utah and was the father of four grown children, had suffered health problems from his extreme mountain climbs. He’d lost some fingers and toes. At age 54, maybe he wasn’t in the shape of his life, although based on the pictures posted on social media and in news reports, he appeared to be in good health.
The comments on the articles were interesting. They seemed to be equally divided between those who commended Cash for chasing his dreams and those who thought he was a narcissistic fool. Cash’s daughter, Brandilin, commented in The New York Times that his family had last seen him in April and they’d “blessed” him before he set off for Nepal. He signed a waiver allowing his body to be left on Mount Everest, so his corpse will remain there, along with the corpses of some 200 other people who had tried and failed to conquer the huge mountain.
I can understand a person loving to push themselves and doing extreme things like climbing Mount Everest. On the other hand, it seems like climbing Mount Everest has almost become like going to a theme park. Every year, more than 600 people climb to the top of the mountain, which is about half of whom attempt the climb. It’s gotten to the point at which climbing Mount Everest isn’t so special anymore. Moreover, the people who climb the mountain don’t even seem to respect it very much. Aside from the human “traffic jams” at the top of the massive peak, there is also a lot of pollution. The people who want the experience of climbing the world’s largest mountain also have a nasty habit of leaving their trash behind.
The “traffic jams” on Mount Everest are deadly, because the longer people have to wait to get to the top of the mountain, the longer it takes for them to come back to an atmosphere where altitude sickness is less likely. Another climber, Anjali Kulkarni, a 54 year old woman from India, also died while climbing Mount Everest with her husband. She was unable to maintain her energy while leaving the summit because of the huge crowd of people that prevented her from descending the mountain to a safer atmosphere.
It seems like Mr. Cash’s family and friends supported his choice to undertake extreme mountain climbing expeditions. His children, who appear to be young adults, said he would much rather die climbing mountains than lying in a hospital bed. I guess I can understand that notion. He “died with his boots on”, as it were. However, I can also understand those who think climbing Mount Everest is kind of a foolish thing to do, particularly if one has a family.
Mr. Cash’s Facebook page is wide open and it’s easy to see that he had a loving family and much to be grateful for in this lifetime. He had a gleaming white smile with two perfect rows of teeth and appeared to be financially well off. I guess he’d have to be well off to be able to afford his mountain climbing expeditions. It must have been worth it to him to risk his life climbing tall mountains, but his family has lost a father, husband, and grandfather. And while his body will eventually decompose on the mountain, he will no doubt leave behind more litter that doesn’t belong up there.
Everyone dies, and maybe there is something to the idea that it’s best to die while doing something you love. I think if I were Cash’s wife, I’d be very bitter about losing my husband to something so incredibly dangerous and, frankly, totally unnecessary… especially since so many people are doing this kind of “epic shit” that there are “traffic jams”. But it was his life. He was fortunate enough to be able to do things that other people can only dream of doing and was obviously very “blessed” in this lifetime.
A lot of people commented on how Cash was “chasing his dreams” and died doing something he loved. They express admiration for that. I noticed one person commented that actually, everyone is chasing a dream of some sort. A person doesn’t have to do “epic shit” in the form of climbing a mountain or performing some other physical challenge. For some people, simply graduating from high school is “epic”. For others, “epic shit” equates to having a baby or moving to another country… joining the Peace Corps or earning a master’s degree, and managing to pay for it. Or maybe… just getting out of bed in the morning is “epic”. I don’t know if I should admire Cash for accomplishing his dream of climbing the highest peaks on every continent any more than I should admire a homeless teenager with learning disabilities managing to earn a high school diploma.
I know that climbing Mount Everest has become big business in a place where money might be in short supply. However, it seems to me that climbing Mount Everest should be something that far fewer people– people who are trained and physically up to the challenge– are allowed to undertake. This should be a policy, if not for the safety and welfare of the mountain climbers and their guides, then for the environment of the mountain. Everest is becoming just another trashy tourist destination. There’s nothing “epic” about that.