Michael Kodas writes a poignant book accounting the horrific crimes that happen 8,000 meters high, aptly named High Crimes: The Fate of Everest In An Age of Greed. Kodas an award winning journalist with a Pulitzer under his belt, does a remarkable job reporting and story telling detailing bittersweet expeditions in 2004 and 2006 to Everest’s deadly summit. One about Nils Antezana, a 69 year-old American who’s ambitious mountaineering hobby naively drove him to attempt the mountain on it’s south side from Nepal. Nils would eventually meander to the summit but on his descent was stricken from health problems and abandoned by his guide Gustavo Lisi, and sherpas (Tibetan locals who act as guides and porters for mountain climbers). The disappearance of Nils Antezana was deeply investigated by Fabiola Antezana his daughter who spawned a journalistic career after looking into her father’s death. Simultaneously in 2004 on the North side from Tibet, was Michael Kodas at the time reporting as a journalist for the The Hartford Courant taking part on the Connecticut Everest Expedition team providing coverage as the team reaches the summit.
The expedition would flabbergast not just the Connecticut team but Everest in itself. The expedition team leader being led by Romanian-bred George Dijmarescu, who was Kodas neighbor and his wife Carolyn Moreau who also took part in the Connecticut expedition team. In 2006, Kodas decided to return for another shot at an expedition to the summit but due to health problems and bad weather it didn’t happen. The reveal in both Nils and Kodas accounts is the conclusive problem that plagues Everest – the greed of man. The amount of crime Kodas discovers happening atop the mountain especially at Base Camp is nothing short of theft, drugs, extortion, prostitution and violence. While Nils Antezana would deal with problems of avarice in Everest. Gustavo Lisi, the guide Nils paid for to arrange the expedition would turn out to be selfish and irresponsible for his actions and with falsified experience sadly unknown to Nils. Nils would pay with his life as Lisi headed his way to the apex of the mountain. Accounts from Nils’s diary on the trek to the summit would yield a deteriorated relationship wishlist, his guide that would leave Nils the 69 year old man to fend for himself.
High Crime is not just two stories of an adventurous expedition gone wrong but a plethora of accounts on the choices people have chosen out of glory that rest atop the summit of Everest. Kodas goes to extensive lengths to get interviews and coverage in the novel pieced together like a crescendo to keep the reader anxious of every character and journey up on the mountain.The process of verifying facts on a mountain 29,000 ft. high was no easy task for Kodas. His primary sources were witness accounts even though armed to the teeth with media technology it would not suffice. What goes on in the mountain could only be deciphered with first hand and second accounts by the witnesses luckily enough to offer their side of the story. A chilling surprise about Everest that is the amount of corpses that appear on the mountain. Some of the most questionable information came when climbers or Sherpas recalled seeing a missing climber on the mountain and either gave up on their climb and rescued them or left them for dead and went on their way.
Death and violence on Everest is devastatingly real as Kodas uncovers the savage tactics of climbers cutting the ropes of other climbers, throwing tents off the mountain, robbery, and tensions that end in physical violence. The first hand account provided by Kodas offers surreal insight into the derailing Connecticut expedition. He relives a haunting moment between Dijmarescu and Laphka in a firsthand narrative:
“George [hooked] a blow with his right hand into the side of his wife’s head. The rest of the Connecticut team saw Laphka crumple onto the rocky ground just inside the door. She cried hysterically as George grabbed the scruff of her coat…”I’ll show you how to get this piece of garbage out of here,” George shouted, grabbing his unconscious wife and throwing her onto the rocks outside”. ( 223)
Dijmarescu would be the “expedition team leader” accompanied with his wife to lead the Connecticut Everest Expedition and proved to be the type of guides that mountaineers with prestige would deplore.
Ascending Everest has always seemed a worthwhile pursuit but what comes with fame follows the instinct of ambition. Everest has undergone serious problems of commercializing for it’s ambitious goal to reach the summit where others strive for the purpose of exploration and wonder it becomes stagnated by the rudimentary principal of greed. Everest has become in a way the get-rich quick scheme for those adventurous enough, those that are successful enough to reach the summit and descend, are revered as “World Class Mountaineer”. Others “transformed into motivational speakers, authors, television personalities, sponsored athletes, mountain guides, or “life coaches” (11). Learning about the stories of Nils and Kodas as they are unveiled piece by piece illuminating the on going crime on Everest. Kodas captures the hidden lawless underworld that exist on Everest, he goes so far into his investigating that it puts his own life at stake.
Kodas a veteran journalist upholds an investigative standard in his writing and that certainly adds to the story telling element within the novel. It gives the reader an unreal sensibility of the decline on Everest as it turns into a mountain of sins. The factors contributing to the decline are numerous: the Chinese and Tibetan governments lack of authority in the mountains. Culturally, the impact Everest has brought to local inhabitants may have brought tourism to the country but it also brings in pollution, inexperienced and zealous climbers, and criminal activity. The economic factors behind climbing Everest are another concern. Expeditions are not cheap, and if there was anything to take from David Sharp, a British mountaineer that realized his “toes are worth more than $35 apiece” when he decided to not haul out for warmer boots, then lost his toes to frostbite climbing to the summit and his life. People pay more than an arm and a leg in money for guides and Sherpa to lead an expedition to reach the summit with the most capable and experienced of climbers but the problem in the business underlined by Kodas is that many guides take people with no experience and then attempt to climb Everest and for some climbers it becomes their graves. Kodas does more than tell a dramatic story on a climb to Everest he did what any great journalist does reveal the truth. Every detail disclosed in the book contributes to the point that the principles of mountaineering and in some situations human morality are lost on Everest.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in crime or environmental awareness. The pace of the story really keeps the pages flipping,and it is easy to visualize the thrill of Everest from the perspective of Kodas. This.This form of journalism is the type we need to be reminded of exist when anyone mentions the word journalism or question journalism is dead.High Crimes keeps hard hitting investigation at its sharpest edge it is more than a quick PSA about Everest it is a lesson in man’s nature not one to admire but one that we may never have been aware of to begin with.