Mountains house the gods — Shiva on Kailash, Zeus and the fam on Olympus, Ruwa on Kilimanjaro, Salcantay and Veronica in the Andes.
To go to the mountain, to climb the mountain, means getting closer to god. Athos and Ararat, Kailash and Kanchenjunga are places of pilgrimage.
What does it mean that the world’s highest mountain, Everest, the Holy Mother in Tibetan, becomes a playground for the wealthy? Another trophy to bag? Another brag? Another rich person’s goal?
Apparently, it costs between £50,000 and £90,000 to make the ascent.
Once upon a time, there was a kind of romance to mountaineering. The image of a pair of climbers crunching over glaciers, clawing up sheer rock; the solitude, the silences, the wild. But maybe that was just an illusion. Maybe mountaineering has always been about ambition and conquest.
Today there are queues on Everest. Climbers describe passing by the dead as they make their way to the top, shuffling in a long line, unable to turn back because of the press of the people. The holy mountain is covered with climbers’ detritus.
This year 9 people have already died up there, and there will be more.
The sign Capricorn rules the mountains. Capricorn: part goat, part serpent or fish. In some legends, for example, The Mistress of the Copper Mountains from the Urals, a goddess lives under the mountain. She has an affinity for salamanders; in Near Eastern tradition this is snakes. So above there’s the climbing goat and below is the reptile. A strange creature indeed, but perhaps descriptive of the mountain with its crystal caves and rushing water at the bottom, and its mysterious cloud-encircled peaks.
Currently, Pluto is in Capricorn, along with Saturn and the South Node. These are the planets of death aligned with the point of oblivion. You couldn’t pick a worse year to climb the mountain, because even if you make it, you will be climbing with death as your partner. Climbers describe the dead bodies they pass with a curious detachment though. Perhaps seeing death is becoming part of the “experience”.
One mountaineer has described Everest as “the greasy pole of Asia”, and that also is a curiously Capricornian expression, for this is the sign of vaunting ambition, and Saturn is, of course, the planet of ambition. To say that you have climbed Everest (apparently the term is summiting?!), or walked to the North Pole proves that you are a person who has achieved something — if your mind works that way. You have literally reached the highest peak, climbed the mountain.
The photograph of that queue of neon parkas crawling up the narrow ridge to the summit is a vivid reminder of loss of the wild, of the sacred, of proportion and value. It’s a photograph of purest folly.