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Dark Endeavors

Avoiding Reality

there was a time when the United States faced bravely into the wind.........all gone

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.

I'm sort of scared of heights, and the young men and women who free climb cliffs and mountains without ropes have my admiration for their skill and calm, athletic competence without inspiring any sort of envy within or desire to replicate their feats. Watching the two guys climb Half Dome in Yosemite this year put me off my feed and made me physically shiver. You can imagine with what joy I avoid photos of mountain climbing in the Himalayas, especially knowing that some of the people up there would have a tough time climbing the stairs of the Washington Monument by themselves, never mind the Hillary Steppes. But they're rich, can afford all luxuries including herds of local Nepalese climbers, Sherpas, who risk their lives and livelihood to literally carry people to the top of Everest.

Last year, a huge avalanche killed sixteen Nepalese and Sherpas near the standard Everest base camp. Part of the Khumbu Ice Fall - around and over which all climbers must make their way to the summit - broke and swept away the men setting rope and ladders for the tourists, so to speak. Doing these this preparation and additional work, they make big money by the standards of Nepal, and chump change by the standards of their clients. After the disaster they went on strike last year, and that was upsetting to the national government since tourism and mountain climbing are the big businesses in that nation, even at 20k feet where the avalanche took place. Of course, they were upset about the loss of life as well.....

Exactly a year and a week later, in April of 2015 a huge earthquake shook Mt. Everest and all the mountains and thousands of people were killed. Most would have survived had even basic structural engineering been done well enough to prevent primitive rock and wooden structures from collapse in the cities. People were trapped on Everest and other mountains and had to be flown out by helicopters that must have prop blades measurable in furlongs. They aren't designed to fly at 25k feet, much less the nearly 30k summit of Everest. And, everything might be lower or higher since the quake.

Let me just say there are videos and photos of people walking along a knife blade ridge towards the summit that present brisk descents of five to ten thousand feet on either side. George Mallory, who may have been the first to summit Everest in the 1920's, experienced such a journey, and his body remains where it fell. You can hear the boots scrunch into the snow and easily imagine a clarifying avalanche being started, with the people roped together pulling each other off the ridge into Charon's barge. Just in thinking about it, I feel fear, and something beyond just mild discomfort.

And just this week, another huge earthquake in Nepal. We have no idea what the death toll is or will be, and since many small villages had been cut off by destroyed roads by the first quake, it's not likely we'll ever know anything approaching the actual death toll.

Climate change for the warmer is going to make all mountain living far more dangerous, because while ice can pry things apart, it can also hold things together. It's not impossible that Everest's summers will be devoid of snow and glaciers, just like in Europe and Canada, and many of the current paths to the summit vanish. More dangerous is that melting ice and snow and permafrost in tundras makes it easier for natural gas to bubble up, be it methane or not. That will be true in North America as much as Asia.

The big catastrophe that may actually occur in our lifetime is that a warmer planet loosens the ground beneath, and if the caldara that is Yellowstone Park blows its top, as it eventually will, the United States will largely vanish under the ash.

To address these certainties, the United States swung into action and sits in discussion of Sharia Law, the current boogeyman of the Republican Party. Fox News is terribly concerned that Michelle Obama is a beneficiary of Affirmative Action, it seems, and Rick Perry, planning on a second run for the Presidency, isn't concerned that his days of prayer for Texas rain didn't work. But California might turn to prayer and perhaps human sacrifice if they don't get meaningful amounts of rain quick. It will be difficult, of course. Increasing numbers of Americans are polling atheist.