Escalator on Everest set for 2012

Climbing Mt. Everest used to involve years of training, thousands of dollars in equipment and plenty of luck. But, come 2012, all it will take is one step. The Chinese government has announced plans to build an escalator up the northeast ridge on the Tibetan side of the world’s tallest mountain. It will be the largest project in mountaineering history in terms of funding and manpower with estimates suggesting that it will cost the Chinese $1.5 billion and involve more than 4,500 workers from China, Tibet and Nepal.

At a ceremony on the Rongbuk Glacier, Chinese Minister of Vertical Infrastructure Zhi Huang spoke enthusiastically about what the project meant to both China and Everest. “China will show the world that it can accomplish anything,” he said. He added, “our escalator will take people to the top of the world. From there, the sky’s the limit.

Not everyone, however, is pleased with the idea of an escalator on Mt. Everest. Roger Bivouac of the Sir Edmund Hillary Society is appalled by the idea. “No mountain should be tamed with a man-made structure,” he said at a press conference in Kathmandu. “No mountain is defined by its summit. It’s the climb that makes the mountain and the man,” he proclaimed to a crowd comprised mostly of mountaineers and sherpas.

Despite protests, the Chinese government plans to break ground on the Everest escalator in July 2009 and complete the project by March 2012. The down escalator is slated for construction in 2014.