Explorer Cory Richards talks about the struggles of modern day mountaineering and his latest attempt at a new route up Everest.

Though more and more people attempt an ascent up Everest each year during the narrow climbing window of May, the deadly expedition is no less challenging than it was in 1953 when Tenzig Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary first reached the summit. 

Cory Richards is no stranger to the risks of this kind of expedition. The world class photographer (known for his work with National Geographic, among many others) has made the climb twice successfully thus far (once without additional oxygen). This past year, his attempt involved taking on a new uncharted route. His latest expedition garnered additional attention through luxury watch manufacturer, Vacheron Constantin, who created a prototype of their Overseas Dual Time out of tantalum for Richards to wear on the expedition. This sort of practice was once more popular among luxury watchmakers, as it’s expeditions like this one that truly test the reliability of their mechanical watches in the most extreme and challenging conditions. The prototype was subjected to extremely cold weather, impact, shock, and a litany of other tests throughout Richards’ journey, and it survived it all effectively unscathed.

Here, he recounts his latest trek and discusses his take on the world of modern day mountaineering and exploration.

How has technology and global connectivity changed the world of mountaineering?

The biggest changes that have come through are reflected in real-time storytelling. You’re able to tell a story as it’s unfolding, rather than just a revised and curated version. This allows a more honest look at what can be and is. There’s now an added a layer of immediacy to exploration. 

What were the biggest hurdles involved in your Everest expedition?

It all came down to weather this year. [It] didn’t play nice, and it just wasn’t a great season for climbing. There’s also the matter of the extreme mental challenges that come with this kind of expedition. It’s like being asked to describe a colour that you’ve never seen before. There’s no way to understand what you’re trying to do because no one has done it. It’s a massive psychological struggle to overcome that giant quagmire that stands in front of you. 

Cory Richards, Everest photographer

How real is the often reported overcrowding of Everest?

The fact that there’s this impression of overcrowding due to the lack of attention to the mountain’s carrying capacity is frustrating. There aren’t too many people, but there’s definitely some mismanagement of people. More thoughtful and pragmatic management of both routes, in conjunction with better management of teams at basecamp, would solve a lot of issues. There’s also a need to better communicate the fact that just because you’ve paid to be there, it doesn’t mean you’ve paid for a shot at the summit. 

What kept you motivated in completing the Everest expedition? 

Ever since I was a child, I read books about the Himalayas. Climbing Everest has always been my truest love. A new route on any 8,000-metre peak was a target I’d had in my mind for quite some time. These mountains are astounding and impressive. The experience that’s offered that we can bring back into our daily lives is unlike anything else. It’s a search for an act of perfection. The consequences are so severe that it’s either perfection or nothing.

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