In April of this year eight men from the country of Brunei will begin an ascent of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain. What makes this expedition different from those which have gone before is that the climbers plan to have a chess tournament on Everest’s slopes.
The temptation to make offhand jokes (the tough entry conditions, Sherpa guides as adjournment seconds, an extra tank of oxygen as first prize) is near-overwhelming, but there’s nothing funny about this. These men are (literally) deadly serious about the climb, an undertaking which has claimed 210 lives to date.
Everest’s summit is just over 29,000 feet above sea level. The air is terribly thin; as a means of comparison, aircraft flying at that height have pressurized cabins. The climb is dangerous (as stated above more than 200 people have died trying to climb to the top of Everest), and the terrain is so difficult that the bodies of many climbers who perish can’t be recovered and are left on the mountainside where they fell. Even identifying Everest as the world’s highest peak was a difficult task; that identification didn’t come until 1852 and the verification process took another four years. A successful ascent didn’t happen for another century, as Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first in 1953.
Why are these climbers determined to play chess on Everest? It’s not just a stunt; it’s all for charity: the intent is to raise money for Brunei’s poor. Although the overall economy of Brunei (located on Borneo’s north coast) is booming, there is a huge gulf between the country’s upper and lower classes.
The mountaineering chessplayers will begin the climb on April 23rd and, after about sixteen days, will hold their event at the mountain’s south base camp, at a height above sea level which is about two-thirds of the mountain’s total height. According to the official press release, one hundred per cent of the money raised by the team will go to the Brunei National Welfare Fund. It’s unclear from the news story whether the group intends to continue onward to Everest’s summit.
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