An interesting array of cultural factors aligned in the 1990s. As baby boomers were entering their 50s, they were experiencing mid-life crises in large numbers and with large bank accounts. Boomers were ready and willing to part with a lot of money to alleviate the nagging ache that invades the spirit as one grows older. The ache that says, “I haven’t lived up to the expectations I set for myself when I was younger…there’s so much more to do!”
Additionally, the 90s saw the advent of eco-tourism and adventure tourism. With the number of untouched wild areas dwindling, the Australian Outback and South American rainforests were becoming more and more popular. For many people, vacationing in Paris or Tuscany started to hold little pull compared to the more raw emotional experience of the wild.
One type of adventure tour that emerged in the 90s was the Everest climb. The way to the top had been well mapped…not only the actual routes up the mountain, but the process of acclimation to the thin air and biting cold. It remained a dangerous and sometimes deadly climb, but the perils were more predictable and preventable than ever before.
Tour guides – people who were themselves highly trained, very experienced climbers – began offering the thrill of a lifetime. For around $60k (plus travel and equipment, of course), you could essentially be carried to the Top of the World. Everest was no longer the exclusive domain of the most trained, elite, risk-seeking mountaineers.
The process has a built-in ready-check. Most humans are not built to deal with the trivial amount of oxygen in the high mountains, nor with the trivial amount of heat in the air. So climbers spend weeks at Base Camp, which is actually at 17000 feet above sea level, doing little but letting their bodies adjust to the extreme conditions and taking occasional forays to higher altitudes. (The summit is over 29000 feet.) Not everyone is suited to this process, let alone to the final, intense hike to the top. Those who are physically able to endure the conditions do so with the assistance of the very best gear, large support crews, and a generous dose of supplementary oxygen.
Early explorers, of course, traveled under a very different set of circumstances. Sir Edmund Hillary wore winter clothes that look to our modern eyes as scarily insufficient. He had guts though, and he failed multiple times before he finally succeeded in his historic ascent.
In 1996, everything went wrong. Two tour guides and six of their customers died on the mountain. A combination of bad luck, bad judgment, and raw arrogance brought the experiment in paid summiting to a devastating halt. No amount of money or gear was enough to secure the safety of those involved. The two tour guides died trying to save their customers’ lives. The inexperience and arrogance of their paying customers was just too much weight for them to carry.
I find myself fascinated by this type of arrogance and its results. We all have it, we all act on it, we all create some form of repercussions because of our own hubris. This was obviously an extreme example, with deadly results. But what about in our little corner of the world, where the price paid for shortcutting is virtual?
We all know that in this patch especially, gear is free for the taking, no raiding required. Which means no learning required. You can be geared in 245 without ever having made a mistake severe enough to wipe a raid. Messing up that badly is a very real learning experience. Wiping in a heroic is not. It’s why the Everest tour guides were tour guides: they learned through hard work and mistakes, in real and challenging situations, not just on indoor rock-climbing equipment.
I’m very much in favor of the gearing shortcuts that have been implemented in 3.2. The thing is, farming (or buying) cheap epics is not a substitute for learning. You can be a well-geared failure but still be proud of your accomplishments (i.e., purples), never realizing that you earned nothing.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. On my DK, I have something like 100 heroic instances completed, and only 15 boss kills in Naxx and Ulduar combined. On those fifteen kills, I wiped the raid at least five times, and no one knew it was me. I was brought in as the overgeared tank – with the assumption that I was a low-risk asset to the raid – and proceeded to silently prove to myself just how empty the purchased epics were. I learned first-hand how utterly irrelevant good gear is compared to the skills and awareness that come only from experience. Some of that experience transferred over from my priest, but much of it had to be re-learned as a tank the hard way.
So…you’ll get a snapshot from the Top of the World if you get airlifted in or get there on your own guts, determination, and suffering. While that snapshot might look the same to others, to you, there’s no comparison. The learning process, while more time-consuming, brings deeper and more lasting satisfaction to the reward you get at the Top than any shortcut method could. I won’t insist that the journey is more important than reaching the destination, because it’s not that simple. Just don’t underestimate how rewarding the journey can be, both because of and despite the difficulty of truly doing it yourself.
Oh, and if you haven’t read Jon Krakauer’s book about the tragedy on Everest, called Into Thin Air, I strongly recommend that you do. The story is heartbreaking, and the storyteller is a master.