If ever there was a metaphor for our age it was the photo of Mt Everest crawling with traffic like Spaghetti Junction at rush hour.
A line of climbers crowd the pathway near the Nepalese mountain's summit.
Last week Everest reminded us that it still carries danger for climbers. Ten have died in May, some amid last week's traffic jam bottlenecks. Delays can cause oxygen to run out and make the descent more dangerous. Overall, 17 have died there in 2019.
Just 66 years ago, Everest was the symbol of singular achievement — unattainable by all but the very best.
Sir Edmund Hillary helped define our nationhood when he reached the peak with Tenzing Norgay in 1953. His statement that he "knocked the bastard off" became Kiwi lore.
It was a wondrous feat. To be the first to step foot on top of the tallest mountain. To go where no one had gone before.
According to the Economist, at least 145 other climbers had previously tried and failed. In the years afterwards to 1983, only 9 per cent making the attempt reached the top. Since the 1990s the rate of success has increased. In the past three seasons it's been 66 per cent.
Technology, business, mass travel and advancements in health have now made the climb a more common and commercial one. The Economist cites better oxygen tanks, gear, and weather forecasting; Sherpa work on the trails and guiding firms.
The climbers photographed in the crush were trying to take advantage of a short period of good weather. This month there have been fewer days than normal with good conditions. The numbers of people attempting the climb are still relatively low. Nepal issued 381 permits (costing US$11,000, or $16,788, each) to climb during this year's spring season — a record number yet still in the hundreds.
That said, the photo still makes the climbers look like tourists queuing at a museum.
Global tourism has exploded to the extent that some areas are trying to curb over-tourism.
Commenting on the Everest photo for the Daily Telegraph , former expedition leader Paul Hart writes: "I have no doubt that for anyone who climbs Everest, it is the challenge and accomplishment of a lifetime ... it takes incredible fortitude and effort to make the heart thumping, lung-burning and leg buckling ascent and ... the real, and harder, challenge is to get down safely."
A global feat in 1953 has become a personal milestone multiplied many times over. We want to experience what used to be the preserve of experts and elites. Many people have a furious drive to leave their mark for posterity. We are waving our own flags, starring in our own life movies. We've all got bucket lists to knock off.
With climbing commercialisation, a wide range of individuals can gain an inward, personal satisfaction. But for others, a sense of wonder has leaked from the world.
Everest has sadly lost its mystique in the snowballing rush to conquer it.