Prague mayor successfully scales Everest

Pavel Bem, photo:

Last week was no doubt an important one for Czech mountaineering fans: two Czech climbers in separate expeditions conquered Mt Everest: at 8,848 metres the world's tallest peak. Klara Polackova made headlines first last Wednesday, when she become the first Czech female to summit Everest and two days later the peak was reached by the highly-prolific Pavel Bem, Prague's lord mayor.

Besides being mayor of Prague Pavel Bem is well-known as an experienced and capable mountaineer and before setting out on this year's expedition to Mt Everest he made no secret of the fact that summiting the mountain had been a dream since childhood. Last week the dream became a reality. Mr Bem followed the two-day old success of 29-year-old Klara Polackova becoming the tenth Czech to ever reach the top. A little earlier I spoke to Alena Cepelkova, the head of the Czech Mountaineering Association and asked her how she viewed Everest's importance for mountaineers as well as Mr Bem's success:

"Mt Everest remains a major challenge for climbers although it has to be said that it has lost some of its original allure: it seems now almost anyone with enough money can try to put together an expedition. As a result traditional ascent routes have become clogged with traffic and there are now many fixed lines along the way which means that even non-climbers can attempt the peak. On the other hand, I've heard that Mr Bem is an excellent climber, and he [planned on making the climb without supplemnetary oxygen]. Among those in his expedition he alone made the final climb which certainly shows drive and determination. I would say he prepared for this for years."

As many mountaineering experts point out alpine-style climbing without use of supplementary oxygen remains the purest form of summiting because it pits the climber alone against the mountain, requiring full preparedness and skill. It's not the only measure of success, but it is certainly one.

Sadly, following the news of Mr Bem's success, last week also brought a grim reminder of the deadliness of mountaineering as a sport even for the most experienced: the weekend brought confirmation that 47-year-old Czech mountaineer Libor Kozak, part of a separate international team also on Everest, died last week not far from the peak in as yet undetermined circumstances. According to reports the climber complained of malaise after returning to camp at 8,300 metres shortly before he died. Czech authorities as yet have been unable to uncover further details.