The 1971-2021 Anti-Expedition
The 1971 ecophilosophic anti-expedition to Tseringma (7034 m) was like no other mountaineering expedition. Critical of the nationalistic, victory-driven offensive on Himalayan mountains, many of which are sacred to the local Buddhist Sherpa culture, three Norwegians, Sigmund Kvaloy Setreng, Nils Faarlund and Arne Naess set out to pursue another path. They would engage in local culture, travel in a nature-friendly manner, in keeping with the Norse way of climbing for the joy of discovering and not for attacking the summits. Theirs would be a protest against the pressure on the free nature and local culture, both of which were feeling significant consequences from army-like expeditions.
The above passage is a revised description of Nils Faarlund, the surviving member of the 1971 anti-expedition. What an inspirational story this is. More significantly, what relevance this 1971 story has 50 years later. In 2021, with friends/international travellers (all well regarded in their related fields) in many ways cut from the same cloth as the 1971 team, we will revisit the 1971 anti-expedition with two simple goals. One, to re-establish their important messages toward travelling well in foreign lands. One could say, What arrogance! Who were they? Who are we to say what it is to “travel well”? But against a backdrop of today’s culturally insensitive, ego-driven travel, there is a need to broaden the conversation about what it means to travel.
The second goal is simple: to return to the 1971 film to local communities and be a part of what unfolds 50 years later.
Today, we could say the three Norwegian ecophilosophy-minded mountaineers sought out an ethically grounded, place-responsive learning approach to Himalyan travel in the Scandinavian friluftsliv tradition. Most simply put, they wanted to NOT climb a sacred mountain, Tseringma or Gaurishankar in English, and in so doing, honour local traditions and wishes of the Rolwaling Sherpa people who they so admired.
In 1971, Tseringma, as a sacred mountain among a Beyul region (sacred hidden lands), had not been summited despite much pressure by application of climbing expedition groups from Western countries. (It was eventually summited in 1981 by an Australian group.) It is important to highlight that the “anti” of their journey was an opposition to climbing and summiting sacred mountains and the general ambivalence to local cultures and traditions. They were not opposed to climbing and summiting mountains in general.
The people of Beding, under the towering Tseringma, welcomed the three Norwegians, who spent many weeks learning sustainable living practices and seasonal rituals of this “life necessities”–living in equilibrium–society. When they did ascend the mountain, it was with the good wishes of the communities spiritual leaders with a roughly selected advisement to only go to a certain height. The climbing was, of course, challenging, but it was joyously noted, that the “airy” heights can be so easily celebrated when the physical and psychological burden of attaining the dangerous summit environment is not the goal. They were accompanied by two local young men from the region in the spirit of sharing both climbing techniques and local practices of being in the mountains. Nils Faarlund now prefers to call the anti-expedition of 1971 a pilgrimage and I believe this is an apt use of the word.
They’d hoped their experience would serve as exemplary of another more nature and culturally friendly way to approach the Himilayan mountaineering experience. Equally importantly to them, they hoped their actions–or lack of certain actions–would preserve the sanctity of Tseringma. For mountaineering generally, they hoped to instill a spirit of good manners back into the noble mountaineering tradition to which they had been a part and would continue to be a part both in Norway and abroad. Sigmund Kvaloy Setrend would return to the Beding region many times. He was eventually honoured with the status of lama. He worked tirelessly back home in environmental advocacy issues and promoting an ecophilosophic vision to curb the destructive forces of the “industrial growth complex.”
Arne Naess and Nils Faarlund getting guidance from the community of Beding Spiritual Leaders as to how high Tseringma should be climbed.
Nils Faarlund would return to Norway to further develop and cement his role as a leader in Norwegian mountaineering and the friluftsliv outdoor life (outdoor education) traditions. The Norwegian School of Mountaineering he had started in 1967 has been an influence locally and abroad for fifty years.
Arne Nass, within a year of returning, would coin the term “deep ecology” at the Third World Future Research Conference in Bucharest in 1972. He would become a world renown philosophical voice for addressing our continued ecological crisis with a deeper questioning of cultural norms.
All three men would acknowledge their time spent with the Sherpa people and Tibetan Buddhism as major influences in shaping their worldview. All three men, professionally in their prime in 1971, have shaped the lives of colleagues and the public for decades as advocates for cultural change towards our ecologically imperative.
A television documentary was made from the footage taken by Sigmund and shown on Norwegian television. The film was subsequently used to tell the Tseringma 1971 story in lectures and seminars in the 70s. The anti-expedition message remained notable for some years but the weight of summiting expeditions and disregard for sacred places in Nepal and the world deadened its lasting impact. I think it can be said that the film and the story slowly drifted into obscurity,
I stumbled onto the anti-expedition story in a university library. Pursuing a rare Arne Naess english article in the early 1980’s, I found in the same journal, North American Review (Summer, 1974), the Sigmund Kvaloy paper, “Ecophilosophy and Ecopolitics: Thinking and Acting in Response to the Threat of Ecocatastrophe.”
This single essay has, for my lifetime, influenced my practices as a traveller and educator and continues to challenge myself and many others to work against the grain of much of conventional cultural thought and practice. Culture moves! We do this with the slow emerging cultural understanding of a developing ecological-as-social-consciousness.
For over thirty years, I have studied the careers of these three men, starting with journal articles in the late 1970’s. In the year 2000, I first had the opportunity to meet Sigmund Kvaløy Setrend and Nils Faarlund at a Norwegian hosted international gathering bent on preserving the Scandinavian friluftsliv traditions from the perils of the international leisure growth complex (to use the language translation at that time). At that gathering, Sigmund shared the 1971 film and story of the anti-expedition. Since this first meeting, I have collaborated in edited book projects and theme issues of professional journals with both men and reconnected at conferences, including a 2019 interview with Nils at his family home in rural Norway. (Arne passed away in 2009 and was not involved in the 2000 gathering.)
In 2015, with Norwegian colleague Aage Jensen, we released a tribute book celebrating the writing and art of Sigmund, who had passed away in 2014. In 2018, I shared the 1971, 55 minute anti-expedition story and film at the interdisciplinary Thinking Mountains conference in Banff, Alberta. Given today’s well-publicized summit-seeking pressures to the mountain habitat and pressures of the all-too-many-would-be-mountaineers resulting in shifting local community and life practices and dead bodies of Nepalese guides, porters and paying client climbers–not to mention tons of garbage–left behind on the mountain, the message of the 1971 anti-expedition story is vitally relevant today.
Nar Bdr Lama Jigme, our Nepalese guide for the 2021 walk to Beding, shared this with me:
“Because the idea they had then is right and wise to its core, and the negative impacts of environment, loss of local culture and tradition is at its worst phase, it has so much relevance.”
Sustainable development and sustainable ecotourism have advanced as subjects of cultural inquiry and initiatives in ways that point to the Tseringma pilgrimage of 1971 being ahead of its time. This statement strikes me as an understatement of profound proportions. The messages from these ecophilosophers, travellers and mountaineers lay a foundational example of “good manners” centrally attending to place responsive, ethically grounded practice is an exceedingly relevant story for our times today in the Himalaya and beyond to our home communities.
People will always travel. Mountains will always be climbed to the summit. The messages of 1971 were clear: we shouldn’t be travelling without sensitivity to local societies and we need to honour local traditions and sacred places. I wish to return to the Rolwaling Valley and the Beding and Na communities so revered by the 1971 Norwegian travellers. In 2021, it will be 50 years since the Tseringma pilgrimage. It is the plan for a small group to be guided by Nar Bdr Lama Jigme, who in addition to being a tourism entrepreneur and rural development professional is a Nepalese advocate of cultural immersion and slow tourism. We will return the 1971 film to the communities of Beding and Na. We will travel under an imagined watchful eye of the 1971 anti-expedition and contemporary Norwegian colleagues of the three, including Sigmund’s son, Oystein.
We hope to offer an exemplary model of a place responsive, slow adventure, culturally immersive manner of travel. We acknowledge that travel influences hosts, visitors and ecosystems. In advancing this intentional manner of travel, we aspire to an overarching goal to, in the words of M. Hawkins, “create citizens of the world.” For this, it is key that there is a fusing of locally-situated practices and global others. (Hawkins, 2014) We must be seeking meaningful interaction for all, before during and after our visit. In short, all parties (host and visitors) must be learners and together determine what is to be learned. To that end, we will travel with a place-responsive strategy and a developed ethical plan.
Ours will be a walk to Beding and beyond to the environmentally sensitive (thanks to climate change) Tso Rolpa Lake region with time to engage with people in a meaningful manner. We plan to film this pursuit of a virtuous journey. Following the threads and footsteps of 1971, we ask, with good intentions, can a journey to a distant, sensitive land, be a positive thing for all? Can we reclaim the term, “a virtuous journey?”
We will blend 2021 film footage and experiences with the 1971 film and experiences. While the 1971 anti-expedition was over six weeks in length, involving ample time in Beding along with the climb into the heights (about 6000 m) of Tseringma and a post climbing trek over the Tesi Lapcha Pass to the important villages of Thame and Kumjung, ours will be a journey more in keeping with the conventional ways of Himilayan trekking tourism. We will be more than three weeks in Nepal, mostly in the Beding and Na communities with time at the end of our trip to meet with the Nepalese Tourism Board and other officials concerning the interface of Nepalese government sponsored tourism and Western travellers experiences in the Himalaya.
We hope to promote a message of another way to travel in the Himalaya and elsewhere, drawing on the inspiration of the 1971 anti-expedition of Sigmund Kvaloy Setrung, Nils Faarlund and Arne Naess.
Participants (as of Dec 2019)
(Buddhist Studies scholar)
(Writer & Wanderer)
Nar Bahadur Lama (Jigme)
(Tourism Entrepreneur and Rural Development Professional/Travel Guide)