The Death Zone
Mount Everest the highest mountain in the world attracts many climbers from around the world to try and reach her lofty summit. Safety on a mountain like Mount Everest is paramount, one mistake and it could be the last thing you do.
The climber will probably experience avalanches, hidden crevasses and extreme weather conditions while on the slopes of Mount Everest, all of which are beyond the climber’s control. One thing that climbers can have control over is human errors brought on by the effects of high altitude.
The region above 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) is called the death zone. The reason for this name is because nothing lives at that altitude or above and no human can survive long there due to the lack of oxygen in the thin air.
Climbers are very vulnerable to altitude sickness once they climb into the death zone. They cannot escape the potentially deadly effects of oxygen deprivation, although they can help themselves by staying in the Death Zone for as minimum time as possible before the thin air eventually wears the body down.
On the summit of Mount Everest the atmospheric pressure is about one-third that of sea level. It has been said if you magically arrived on the summit straight from sea level you would lose consciousness nearly immediately and would be dead within minutes. One famous climber, David Breashears from the USA once stated that even when using bottled oxygen on the summit it feels like “running on a treadmill and breathing through a straw.”
Upon reaching the death zone the climber will notice his or her increased breathing rate and heart beat. The ability to do any basic tasks like making a meal, putting on climbing boots etc will leave the climber very short of breath. Inside the body the blood will start to thicken which could lead to clotting or strokes. These physical reactions are the body’s way of combating oxygen deprivation, also known as hypoxia.
Altitude also affects the climbers loss of appetite which can be potentially dangerous as it is vital to remain well hydrated and nourished for the climb a head. Sleeping can also be a problem in the death zone, many climbers can not sleep at all while others sleep but wake frequently during the night gasping for air.
As the climber goes higher, the air quickly gets thinner and this can lead to far more dangerous medical conditions such as High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) which is known as acute mountain sickness.
HAPE is when the lungs fill up with fluids. If the climber does not descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible he or she will eventually drown by there own internal fluids.
HACE is where your brain swells due to increased blood circulation from not getting enough oxygen. This can also cause loss of coordination, hallucinations and mental deterioration.
For any climber on the slopes of Mount Everest the best way to avoid getting into serious problems at high altitude is to climb high, sleep low, this way it gives the body a chance to acclimatize to the thinner air. A series of Camps will be made to reach the summit, usually the climber will climb carrying a load of equipment to the camp above then descend for a rest before going higher again. This is repeated many times before the final long ascent to the summit.
It was first unsure if humans could even survive such altitudes as the summit of Mount Everest without oxygen. In 1978 it was proved that you could stand on the highest point on earth without breathing bottled oxygen. Climbers Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler reached the summit without using any bottled oxygen, they were the first to do so. Although shown it can be done nearly all climbers make the use of bottled oxygen on there summit attempt and many would probably not have survived without it.
Bottled oxygen gives a very much needed performance boost, it helps climbers sleep, retain there mental clarity, and resist the mountain’s fierce cold. But it also adds one more thing to the list of what can potentially go wrong. If there is a malfunction with the bottle or it runs out of precious oxygen, oxygen deprivation can have catastrophic consequences for climbers who suddenly find themselves high on the mountain and without it.
Lack of oxygen, exhaustion, extreme cold, and the dangers of the climb all contribute to the death toll. A person who is injured high up and can not walk himself is in serious trouble since it is often extremely risky to try and help a stricken climber down to safety.
People who die during there climb on Mount Everest are usually left behind. About 150 bodies have never been recovered. It is not uncommon to find corpses near the main climbing routes. The reason for this is that in many cases there is not the available manpower and those climbers in the area just don’t have the reserve of strength needed to carry a body down the mountain.
Climbers who have gained the summit and arrived back home safely have written and shared their experiences with others. They have said that climbing Mount Everest is not just an ordinary expedition but an experience in itself.
No matter how good a climber you are there will always be dangers up in the death zone that are out of your control.