Climbing Mount Everest

There are people who seek great challenges in life to test themselves both mentally and physically. One of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest, is to climb Mount Everest. Rising 8,848 meters above sea level, it is the highest peek on our planet. Its breathtaking scenerys have been a source of attraction for many people for decades.

Mount Everest was first summited by Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. It has been summited by 2,700 people since and has claimed the lives of 210 others. Everest, though not the most technically demanding mountain to climb, is one of the hardest due to its extreme altitude. Every year expeditions encounter cases of high altitude sickness, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and in worst cases, high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). HAPE is caused by lack of oxygen causing fluids to fill the lungs. HACE, on the other hand, is a swelling of the brain. Cerebral edema strikes very quickly and unless immediate descent from the climber, the person will likely die.

The toughest part of reaching the summit of Everest is without a doubt the Death zone. The Death zone is once the climbers reach the altitude of 8,000 meters. At this point, only 1/3 of the oxygen at sea level can be found, making any physical motion extremely fatiguing. The lack of oxygen has many other important effects on the human body. To make up for the lack of oxygen, the body shuts down non-vital functions such as the digestive system. Less oxygen reaches the brain, making simple tasks feel very complicated; some people have difficulty just zipping on their coat. More worrying is how the lack of oxygen can cloud the judgment of expert climbers, leading them into making bad decisions which has cost the lives of many. The human body is not meant to live above that altitude and so people can only remain there for 2 days or so. Too long of a stay will cause the body to completely deteriorate.

There are 2 main routes used to ascend the summit of Mount Everest. The most popular being the South East route. The base camp for this route lies on the Nepal side of the mountain; climbers must then ascend the Khumbu ice fall, which is considered by many as the most dangerous part of the climb. They must then walk though the Western Cmw which leads to the Lhotse face, a massive steep slope where a mistake will more often than not cost you your life. Climbers now approach the death zone and make their way on to the SE ridge, once past the 8,000 meter mark, they must overcome the famous Hillary step which is a huge rock wall that is dreadfully exposed. All that remains is the summit ridge which is relatively easy and then lays the summit of Everest, the roof of the world.

A debate that has been raging on for many years on Everest is whether climbers should be aloud to use bottled oxygen or not. 9 out of 10 climbers will use oxygen to reach the summit of Everest, very few have attempted to climb to Everest without it, and even fewer have reached the summit. The use of supplemental oxygen has opened the door to less experienced climbers to get on the slopes of Everest that would normally not attempt the climb, which has been the cause of the ever growing crowds on the mountain. Too many people on the mountain at the same time cause bottlenecks near the summit where there is less room for people to ascend. Ultimately, this causes people to fall behind schedule on their summit push, which has been the cause of death for many climbers in the past, as they found themselves on the summit too late and were unable to make it back to the lower camp. Many climbers would like to see bottled oxygen get banned unless for emergencies. This would greatly reduce the amount of climbers that swarm the mountain every year.

There are many great books that can allow you to learn allot on Everest and take you on a journey like none you have ever been on before. Personally, my favorite book on Everest is “Into thin air”, written by Jon Krakauer, who took part in an expedition in 1996 when the biggest disaster on Everest occurred. Many teams were caught in the death zone by a freak storm that came in without warning on the same day that they summited. Eight people died on that day and 7 more would lose their lives on the mountain that season, making it the deadliest season in Everest history. Jon’s book lets you relive the trip that he and his teammates experienced, and giving you his personal account of the tragedy that happened high on the mountain.