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Everest is littered with dead, exposed bodies (godheadv.blogspot.com)
664 points by ck2 on Dec 7, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 255 comments

Deep wreck and cave diving is similarly dangerous (and was much more so before the adoption of Trimix by the technical diving community). There have been numerous fatalities among rescuers trying to recover corpses of other dead divers, too.

I decided after reading a fair bit about this that even if I can afford to dive like this ($20k+ for equipment, $10-20k+ for training, and $500+ per dive for helium-based gas fills), it's just not worth the risk. I'm going to build a ROV or AUV to do all my deep/wreck diving for me, and stick to much safer diving profiles.

The other problem with deep SCUBA is that it's all been done, and better, by commercial divers using surface supplied or saturation diving techniques. It's like cryptanalysis in the open world; the NSA clearly has vastly better capabilities, so at best you're discovering things they already know. Except with surface supplied/saturation, you can see exactly how they did it, and if you had the money, could just do it that way yourself. (I'd be really interested in semi-professional surface supplied or saturation diving as a new super-technical hobby diver thing)

It's actually only about half that price or less (in the US), unless you get into the really extreme stuff. There is a lot more to diving safety than just using the correct gas mixes. The training and procedures developed by groups like the WKPP and GUE have now taken nearly all the risk out of technical diving. http://www.gue.com/

Yes for caves. Caves are easy and safe compared to deep open ocean wrecks. Caves may actually be within the "reasonable to do recreationally" level, and WKPP is or was actually doing worthwhile environmental science too.

Outside of the US, helium is seriously expensive. I was figuring dual rebreathers, or rebreather + OC bailout. $800 in gas alone for a 100m training dive for TDI Adv Nitrox, open circuit.

WKPP and GUE definitely use teams to reduce the risk AND cost (although I have some issues with some of GUE), but at the same time, it reduces your flexibility. I really would want to only do tech diving with a group of people I routinely train with and trust, but I'd be ok with customizing our gear as a group.

Not using computers is just fucking unforgivably wrong, though. Using a computed table as your primary dive plan, sure, but you want a computer in case anything doesn't go according to plan, plus a bottom timer.

I wouldn't dive below 30m in a difficult environment without dual buoyancy on independent gas sources (drysuit + argon bottle, or twin tanks manifolded with BC on one and drysuit on the other, etc.). Helmets, especially with lights, can save your life. Snorkels can be useful if you do shore dives or long surface swims (although I throw it into a BC pocket). There are times when a big knife, prybar, hammer, etc. can be useful, and I never dive without shears and a knife. Solo dives are probably better for some wrecks (although maybe it being a solo-only environment makes it not worth diving there). Air at 30-40m is probably ok, although trimix at 40m+.

> Outside the US, helium is seriously expensive.

OT, but: That would be because it's rare and hard to extract and running out. It's only cheap in the US because in 1996 some genius passed a law requiring it to be sold cheaply to use up the US's helium reserves.

The likely result is that the world will be basically completely out of helium by about 2050. Too bad for anyone not-very-rich who needs an MRI scan at that point.

See, e.g., http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/08/25/nobel-p... for more.

I'm betting we'll switch to hypoxic hydrogen ("Hydrox") for deep (>40m) diving then, or use atmospheric dive suits and ROVs only.

Hydrogen is a pain to deal with on the surface and in transport, but if you're putting it into something like 95/5 hydrogen/oxygen bottom gas, is not going to explode. At >30m, that's quite breathable. Some kind of hydrogen-based trimix is probably acceptable at that point. Continue to use nitrox and 100% oxygen for the shallow stops.

Hydrox might see some limited use for deep commercial diving (there have already been limited experiments) but it will never be rated safe for sport diving. The explosion risk at tank fill stations is ridiculous.

Definitely. There is already enough risk running high pressure oxygen given how some o-ring lubricants can react, I cannot imagine adding an additional fuel to the mix.

Unless we advance high-temperature superconductors by then. The market adapts.

I am concerned because someone seems to have fed you a bunch of misinformation, and unfortunately we tend to believe most whatever we hear first. Technical diving is not some kind of high-risk, white-knuckle adventure. It can be safe and fun in most any reasonable environment.

Having a unified team actually increases your flexibility. When all your dive buddies have similar equipment and training then they're essentially interchangeable (within reasonable limits). Solo sport diving is always and everywhere a bad idea. You need someone to assist if you get entangled or have a serious equipment problem. Plus it's nice just to have some company and another set of eyes to spot interesting marine life. If you can't find a qualified buddy then just skip the dive; there is nothing underwater worth risking your life. There have been too many incidents of solo divers ending up dead for unexplained reasons, because there were no witnesses and no one to help.

The dive computers available today are simply not useful. The fundamental problem is that a computer can't accurately measure bubbles and dissolved gasses in your body. All they can do is run some simple, idealized models (i.e. "first assume a spherical cow") which are fairly close to what a typical person will experience during a limited range of dive profiles. For example, the models I have seen — including VPM, RGBM, and others — fail to properly account for the oxygen window during decompression and so will stretch ascent times out unnecessarily. A lot of divers lack the scientific background necessary to understand the difference between accuracy and precision. A dive computer will display highly precise numbers, but who knows whether they are accurate? Despite their limitations, the mathematical models are useful for understanding the general shape of the decompression curve across a spectrum of possible profiles. Once you understand that then you don't need a dive computer, or computed tables. No one I dive with would actually try to reference a table in the middle of a dive. If you want to waste money on an expensive dive computer then go ahead, just don't fool yourself into believing what it tells you.

Helmets are unnecessary for sport diving; don't dive in places where heavy things can fall on your head. A light on your helmet will blind your dive buddy when you look at him, plus having things stick out from your head is an entanglement hazard. Bring snorkel in your pocket if you want; it won't hurt but I've never found them useful. There's nothing wrong with bringing a bag of tools when you need them but please leave the wrecks intact so the rest of us can enjoy them, too.

I agree with you that tech diving can be safe and fun, but it is also possible for things to go wrong with deadly consequences. All I can say is that when I was doing technical diving you were always told that self-rescue was the first option. If your buddy and/or team can help you out then that was great, but we never dove with the assumption that our buddy or team would be able or available to help out. This means complete redundancy and ability to isolate failed components of your life-support system. It is not about solo diving, it is about sometimes being in a place where the only person you can truly count on is yourself.

The dive computers available today are simply not useful.

This is something I strongly disagree with. Dive computers are very, very useful. They can't measure bubble or various saturation levels of different tissue types, but neither can you. The models they use may be idealized and only have a fixed number of compartments for the offgassing calculations, but they provide several other benefits that make them a key component of any deep dive. For starters they track your depth over time. Everyone drifts and bounced around within a range of depths even when you think you are staying on a fixed depth over some portion of the dive. The computer is sampling and adding the depth changes into the model. This enables the computer to be more accurate than you can ever be. If you disagree with its model then you can do some research into what it is using as its basline profile and either buy a computer that uses a model you like or adjust its calculations according to how you think you fit its model (several of the dive computers you should be looking at allow for this latter option.)

I am not talking about diving on some recreational computer, I am talking about using a dive computer designed for mixed gases and dive profiles with a ceiling. If you are doing mixed gas diving you need a computer that can be set with the mixes you will use and be switched as you switch. Maybe you are good enough or experienced enough to get away without a computer, but I have always dived with a hand-caluclated profile (with various bailout options and numbers) in a BC pocket, a mental model of where I think I am in the dive running in my head, and a dive computer that can provide both accurate and precise info based upon its own model of the dive and diver.

You are still misunderstanding the difference between accuracy versus precision, and overestimating the level of accuracy that any dive computer is capable of providing. Depth fluctuations are just one factor in determining gas loading. Sure a computer can sample depth every second and integrate that over time, but so what? There are so many other variables and unknowns that the margin of error is huge; you're missing the forest for the trees. The profile that a dive computer will generate for you is still fundamentally suboptimal (i.e. inaccurate) in multiple ways. I am not a particularly skilled or experienced diver, yet I learned how to do this stuff with just a little practice; anyone who cares to try can do the same. I'm not "getting away" with anything.

Look, I understand that technically-minded people want to believe that there is a "right" answer and that problems can be automated away. But the reality is that no one fully understands how decompression works and the mathematical models are fundamentally not accurate enough to be useful in the midst of a dive. Better to accept a certain level of uncertainty rather than believe a falsehood. Free your mind.

Outside of the US, helium is seriously expensive. I was figuring dual rebreathers, or rebreather + OC bailout. $800 in gas alone for a 100m training dive for TDI Adv Nitrox, open circuit.

It has been almost a decade since my Adv Nitrox course, but I am trying to figure this one out. You are not doing trimix and from what I remember of the the course spec you are mostly working around bottom mixes that are hypoxic at the surface and dealing with a ceiling on the dive profile. Even with the bottom mix in dual cylinders on my back, a descent/ascent mix on once side an a 50% mix for the last few stops on the other side I can't see how you were getting charged $800 for the mix unless you were getting completely hosed on everything that was not a standard 32 or 36 recreational nitrox mix.

OTOH you are completely correct about it being a deceptively expensive hobby, even if you take the "cheaper" route and go with semi-closed rebreathers or even OC.

Yes, I meant tdi advanced trimix, not adv nitrox.

Nitrox, even 100% o2, is cheap. A lot of places do free nitrox now, it is just a little more hassle to analyze your tanks. Especially on boats with membrane systems.

Have you read Blind Descent? One of the things that most struck me was that cave diving is more dangerous, fatality-rate-wise, than space exploration.

Space is inherently dangerous, but since it's so high visibility (and funded by deep pockets), they can use technology to reduce the risk below most activities. I think they go too far in reducing the risk -- I'd accept a 10% fatality rate for important space missions if everyone was a volunteer, if it improved the rate of progress.

We know how to do diving in worse environments than caves relatively safely -- commercial and naval (Naval diving is working on docks and repairs for the Navy in peacetime vs. military diving, which is the kind of dangerous combat/commando/infiltration/specops missions done by SEALs and UDTs, etc.) diving to 500m is actually relatively safe as a career. This often takes place in HAZMAT environments, zero visibility, etc.

The issue is that recreational/"technical" divers are doing it with much less equipment, and vastly less support staff. A commercial diver has a $3-5mm recompression chamber waiting above, a safety diver ready to splash in, dive medics or medical officers, a dedicated support ship, unlimited surface-supplied gas, heated water in the cold, wired communications, etc. Recreational divers have what they can carry and personally afford to buy.

Oof, I don't think the fatality rate on SEALs is public, but trust me, it's not good.

Naval diving is Navy or Coast Guard (or Army underwater construction) diving done by hard hat divers to repair ships, salvage, do dock maintenance, etc. It is not "all diving done by Navy personnel". They're ND ratings, and while technically part of Naval Special operations, not SEALs. There are probably some special missions where Naval divers have done something special opsy (tapping undersea cables, or salvaging a foreign nation's warship without their knowledge or consent), but it's not routine. Naval diving techniques are basically adapted commercial techniques, and in a lot of cases are more conservative and safer than what cheap commercial contractors use.

SEALs are probably never qualified Naval divers, unless they start out as Naval divers and then switch to SEALs.

What SEALS do -- Combat diving, combat swimming, etc. is called "military diving". That tends to be dangerous, although not as much due to the diving aspects (it's a lot of oxygen or other rebreather use at shallow depths, undersea scooters for long transits, etc.), as due to the other people trying to kill you. Also, at least recently, SEALs mainly engage in combat on land in countries with no contiguous oceans :)

Let's just say night insertions are stupid and be done with it.

s/night insertions/wars/

I'd accept a 10% fatality rate for important space missions if everyone was a volunteer, if it improved the rate of progress.

But would the volunteers accept it? Heh, you're "willing to take risks" with other people's lives, that's the most callous thing I've heard this morning.

Not attacking you, just saying your choice of wording is funny. I assume you are probably implying that all the volunteers know of and accept the risk.

During the few moments I've been typing this, I've gotten to thinking, does how someone answers the question "do the ends justify the means?" say much about what sort of person they are? I guess my answer would vary depending on what the ends were. Sometimes, I would answer yes even in situations where it made others disgusted with me. Sometimes I'd say no at the cost of many lives.

We're all a convoluted mix of conflicting ideals, I guess. C'est la vie.

With the amount of precaution they take for space exploration, I'd think a lot of things are more dangerous, fatality-wise, than space exploration.

I believe Steeplechasing is the most dangerous, widely practised sport, although apparently golf has more fatalities due to all the retired preople dropping dead on golf courses - ofc this could just be urban legend!


A wonderful article about the attempted recovery of a body in a deep cave

I'm not the only one noticing the connection to startups right?

Though not as morbid, I would imagine "stepping over dead bodies" and "leaving teammates behind" is a rather common experience in startups as well, though potentially frowned upon (but even then, it would depend on the situation).

EDIT: I think I need to clarify, I'm thinking more that startup COMPANIES are like everest climbers, trying to reach profitability/success. And then we can similarly say "[The internet] is littered with dead, exposed bodies [of startups]"

There's a difference between even screwing over your best friend ("The Social Network"-style) and leaving them to die alone in a frozen desert of hell, where their mummified remains will stand for years to come as a grim reminder that someone left them behind.

Sure, there's some very distant analogy, but it's really a different kettle of fish.

I feel like there's a sort of mutual understanding of the risk among all parties going into these situations. Yes one is much more grim than others, but in concept at least.

Especially when "screwing over" means settling a lawsuit with gazillions of dollars.

I agree, I don't see much of a similarity between startups and risking death--literally.

It seems tantalizing and there is lots of vague overlap in attitudes and risks but that is something startups share with anything requiring lots of hard work, passion and commitment.

People like to glamorize their business endeavors. Some guys at computers building a web-app just isn't that exciting to people without a lot of fictionalization or likening it to something more exciting.

> where their mummified remains will stand for years to come as a grim reminder that someone left them behind.

where their mummified remains will stand for years to come as a grim reminder of their awesomeness.

Fixed that for you.

It's been my experience that the community is exactly the opposite. Founders and early employees are generally eager to help others, even when they probably don't have the time to spare. I've always tried to do the same and it has paid off easily 10x in terms of the amount of advice and help my startup has received.

Well so do mountaineers - when there not at the edge of life due to exhaustion in the "death zone".

I'm in same millieu with some of the greatest climbers of the world. And generally they are some of the best (read moral, ethical, sincere) people I ever met.

But when an accident happens somewhere on K2 - sometimes there needs to be a tradeoff - either some die or all die. There have been daring (but foolish) successfull rescue attempts. These guys tend to make peace with the world before they start climbing the damn thing.

Messner himself had to leave his own brother die to stay alive.

I agree wholeheartedly. All the startup founders I've met have all been more than willing to help others out.

But at the same time, when it comes to business decisions, personal relationships often take a back seat (i.e. Zuckerberg), and sometimes it's simply good business (i.e. Eric Schmidt leaving Apple board probably due to Android vs. iPhone, WePay icing Paypal, companies suing each other over IP/copyright... etc).

I'm not at all criticizing the people startup community, but just noticing the similarities among us that drive us towards a similar goal of success with that of Everest climbers trying to summit. To outsiders of either community, certain decisions may seem unintuitive, or even outright morally wrong, but sometimes perspective is everything.

Your clarification helped me to understand your comment. However, I don't think what you describe is unique to startups in any way. Any industry or business can be described with those terms. In fact, it's probably more apt of a description of public companies, which frequently state their purpose it to maximize shareholder value.

With startups, in fact, failure or "leaving someone behind" is probably less traumatic, because failure is accepted and often valued as part of improving. While the company may be left on the wayside, the people will most likely be back again with a new company soon after.

Traumatic isn't really the right word, but you get what I mean.

Responding to your edit:

EDIT: I think I need to clarify, I'm thinking more that startup COMPANIES are like everest climbers, trying to reach profitability/success. And then we can similarly say "[The internet] is littered with dead, exposed bodies [of startups]"

Ok, granted, but there the difference is even more important: companies are not people. They are legal persons, perhaps, but they do not deserve the human empathy from us which humans deserve.

"... Though not as morbid, I would imagine "stepping over dead bodies" and "leaving teammates behind" is a rather common experience in startups as well, though potentially frowned upon (but even then, it would depend on the situation). ..."

You're kidding right?

Working in a Startup, in a cushy office with access to water, food & external help is not in the same league as roughing it. Having said that the lessons you learn in the field can be directly applied to Startups. The constraints on resources, the stresses, the lack of knowledge and uncertainty. That's where the comparisons end. If you can't hack it - you can go home. In the field, you never leave anyone behind . Never!

> In the field, you never leave anyone behind . Never!

This mentality is encouraged because otherwise it would be harder to recruit soldiers, but it's bad strategy. There are times when the success of a mission may depend on leaving someone behind.

EDIT> Just as the "never leave anyone behind" meme is an artificial construct, you might be able to train a force with a culture of "I will never force my mates to have to rescue me". Warrior culture is a construct.

Special forces operating in extreme conditions have no qualms about leaving someone, if necessary.

Maybe. Foreign legion [0], Royal Marines [1] say otherwise. It's more about "unity & team" rather than "I".

[0] http://french-foreign-legion.com/french_foreign_legion_code....

[1] http://www.royal-navy.mod.uk/royalmarines/history-and-ethos/...

"... This mentality is encouraged because otherwise it would be harder to recruit soldiers, but it's bad strategy. There are times when the success of a mission may depend on leaving someone behind. ..."

I'm a civvie.

This idea here can be equally applied to many civilian situations. This year it was at the top of Australia's tallest mountain (not very tall, but cold) where a hapless walker got out of his comfort zone & didn't prepare very well ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/4797709801/ and another who got injured coming down ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/4797709801

Last year it was looking out ~ http://seldomlogical.com/2009/04/21/getting-stuff-done-with-... for my old man ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/sets/72157616765213435... & a mate who's family copped it ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/sets/72157621928042355... in one of the biggest fires recorded where I live ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/collections/7215762118... or the bloke I found sitting in his car, post fires ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/3405148567/in/set-7215...

I observed the type of attitude you portray while Casevac'n ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualty_evacuation a youngster in Highschool. I remember watching groups of "potential" helpers look, then walk out of the train while I made sure he didn't bleed out - then moved him 5km in 8m to medical help. I didn't do it by myself. I enlisted a team of ppl to help. Obviously they understood the need after a bit of coaxing?

I've read the psychology behind why people are so callous or reluctant: at group level "bystander effect" at personal level where low agreeability, low responsibility and low morality levels that don't compel action. But I don't understand it. Maybe that's why USMC have the idea of a "blood chit" as a motivator? ~ http://www.usmcpress.com/heritage/blood_chit.htm

eh, I think that if firing someone is like killing him, you are doing it wrong. I mean, yeah, in the course of your business, sometimes you have to fire people for the good of the company; but I don't see how that's anything like leaving them behind to die; and really, I think part of the skillset employers need to be good employers is the ability to separate from someone without hating them or inspiring hate.

I mean, don't get me wrong, to be an employer, you need to be able and willing to fire people. I'm just saying, there's no reason to do so with malice, and there's quite a lot of reason to help them get another job somewhere else, usually. I mean, you hired the guy to begin with, so you must think he's got some redeeming qualities someone else might like, even if you don't need those qualities at the moment.

I up-voted you because I'm honestly curious how many people would agree with your statement. (no sarcasm implied)

Your thought makes me think of some tidbit from an interview on a show. It was an HGTV episode about extreme homes -- some guy with some ridiculously large house that cost gajillions to build. (IIRC) He had been a military pilot who flew more than 100 missions, all of which involved someone shooting at him. He went into real estate after he left the military on the theory that high risk, high finance real estate couldn't be more nerve wracking than that. Obviously, he made scads of money.

I suspect that successfully facing down death can do a lot to prepare you for making it in business. I have no real reason to believe the relationship particularly runs the other direction though.

Not that you were suggesting any such thing.

"the theory that high risk, high finance real estate couldn't be more nerve wracking than that. Obviously, he made scads of money"

I wonder how he's doing now.

Articles like this are very suggestive - of course while in the warm, in front of the computer everyone would try to rescue the poor climbers. However add difficult terrain, height, snow, fatigue and race with the clock and you have wholly different story. Consider how much effort is needed to transport someone by Mountain Rescue teams in lower mountains (<4000m) - teams of 2-5, lot of ropes, pullies and special transport stretchers.

Even seasoned climbers admit that you are pretty much solo on the high mountain. The strongest ones with highest morals have even tried helping some other party at these altitude but with very little effect. The moral choice is hard - would you put your life at very high risk just to attempt rescue with very little probability?

I'm pretty sure the moral choice was easy at first -- of course you help! -- and then got harder as there were more and more tragic outcomes, until it swung all the way to becoming an easy "no." It is morally correct, perhaps mandatory depending on your beliefs, to value your own life as much as another person's, especially one climber valuing his own life as much as another's. You have to balance the odds of dying yourself against the odds of saving another person. Plus, under those conditions you would be risking several lives -- an entire team -- on helping a single person who has a slim chance of survival, in a situation where the rescuers have little more strength than what is required to sustain and control their own bodies. This assessment might be considered unduly pessimistic if there were not plenty of deadly history supporting it, but there is. Therefore, it seems like an easy decision to me. Not that it matters what I think, since I'll never be there to make it!

The moral dilemma quickly becomes a question against your own survival instinct, in places like the Everest.

Ultimately it is a matter of priorities. Yes rescue is difficult in the death zone. Yes people are generally on their own up there and if you fuck up and die it's on you.

But on the other hand, why are you climbing? It takes resources and a very serious effort to get to the summit and back down. And it takes a particular kind of person to do that, to use all those resources and expend all that effort while stepping over corpses or soon-to-be corpses of others. That's not mountaineering to me.

I have never been on Everest and likely never will be, so I can't say whether I would attempt a rescue. Nevertheless, I don't think I could live with myself if I pursued the summit while others were dying.

This is my reaction as well. I can understand hard choices in survival situations. However, there's more than a little difference between people stranded in a lifeboat and people traipsing past the dying on their vacations.

I don't buy people chest-beating about the danger and adventure of their recreational choices, then explaining that the reason they passed by a collapsed or injured person to continue on to the summit and cross something off their bucket lists was because to do otherwise would be just too dangerous.

I agree, but I also want to point out that in most cases people are only going to be passing already-dead corpses, not living people who need to be helped or saved.

Having just read information on the 1996 Everest blizzard, it seems that guides and other climbers generally try to help those that are dying or struggling, but the options are few, and the oblique, ignorant "If they're still breathing there's still hope!" just creates more deaths in the long run. You can only do so much, and if someone is too far gone, there is no point in risking the death of the would-be rescuers in a futile attempt.

I call bullshit. The problem is that certain mountains, notable the "seven summits", most of the 8000m peaks, and a few others such as the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Rainier are overrun by people who are completely clueless. These aren't climbers, they are rich people who want to tick off a box on their list of life accomplishments. These peaks are heavily commercialized and guiding outfits are selling something outrageously irresponsible because there is a lucrative market for it.

The climbing world is full of dramatic remote high-altitude rescues. The following story is a great example taken from google's cache of Alpinist's archives (the original which seems to be no longer available was at http://www.alpinist.com/doctcl/ALP11/profile-trango):

The great epic of Trango Tower began on September 9, 1990. Takeyasu Minamiura, a thirty-three-year old Japanese climber, stood just under Trango's summit with his paraglider sail spread out on the snow behind him. He had just spent the past forty days soloing a new thirty-pitch A4 route on the east prow (Minamiura called his a "capsule style" ascent, but it is the closest to true alpine style that any first ascent on Trango has come), finishing the line that Wilford and I had started in 1989. As if pulling off one of the greatest big-wall solos of all time wasn't enough, he planned to cap his adventure with an airborne descent to the glacier, 2000 meters below.

After reaching the summit, he committed himself to the scheme with Samurai dedication, throwing off his haulbags, which were attached to a chute. Ominously, the gear flight went awry: his bags hit the cliff, then slid at warp speed down the gully to the Dunge Glacier. Low on food and with no ropes, Minamiura waited for a favorable wind for his takeoff. When a head-on breeze came around, he tugged on the riser cords of his rig. The canopy inflated.

But as soon as he stepped off the cliff, his chute collided with the wall. It deflated like a pricked balloon, sending him sliding down the south face of Trango Tower. Forty-five meters into his fall, the paraglider snagged on a rock horn, and Minamiura stopped. He hung at the end of a tangle of strings, wheezing from the impact, his feet dangling in space and his smashed eyeglasses bent around his face. The ice axe strapped to his back had prevented his spine from breaking.

He kept his cool, pulled out his radio and contacted his four Japanese friends, Masanori Hoshina, Satoshi Kimoto, Masahiro Kosaka and Takaaki Sasakura, who had just completed a twenty-four-day ascent of the Norwegian Buttress on Great Trango. Rather than asking them to rescue him, he told them he had had an accident and requested a helicopter.

The next morning, he disentangled himself from his parachute cords and traversed five meters to a narrow ledge. This place became his home for the next six days.

Minamiura's Mayday sent his friends scrambling. While two men went to look for him visually, Kimoto and Hoshina marched to a Pakistani army helipad at Payu, twelve miles away. On September 11, in a stripped-down Lama heli hot-rodded for high altitude, Kimoto and Hoshina flew to Trango Tower. The machine shook violently at 6000 meters, but they spotted Minamiura waving from his perch. Crosswinds prevented the pilot from landing or lowering a climber onto the narrow summit, and they radioed Minamiura that a heli rescue was impossible.

Instead, Kimoto and Hoshina embarked on a daring plan: they would be flown from the Dunge Glacier to the Trango Glacier, and from there climb the original British Route.

No one had repeated this route. When the Japanese started up it, they found canyon-like ice gullies and gaping chimneys festooned with ancient fixed rope. Fourteen years of ultraviolet degradation and stonefall had reduced the ropes to bootlace strength. Clasping ascenders to the tattered lines, they gingerly moved up. Often, they belayed each other on a separate rope and placed protection while jumaring the old cords. "Yes, those ropes very dangerous," laughed Hoshina when I met him in 1994.

While the rescuers battled weathered ropes and waterfalls pouring down the Fissure Boysen, Minamiura waited. On September 12 a helicopter dropped food and first aid, but Minamiura couldn't catch the package. The nights of September 13 and 14 were cold and sleepless. Minamiura kept in radio contact with Takaaki Sasakura at base camp, talking about the meals they'd eat back in Japan. His thirst was becoming unbearable.

On September 15 the helicopter dropped more food, but it too disappeared. Then, on the radio, the pilot alerted Minamiura that a can of cheese had jammed in a flake fifteen feet above the ledge. Minamiura knew that if he left his bivy he might slip off, but he was starving and climbed to the flake on wobbly legs. He immediately found the cheese and ate it. It was his first food in six days.

On September 16 Hoshina and Kimoto rappelled to Minamiura, having blitzed the British Route in three days. The trio continued down by the Slovenian Route. By September 18 they were back on the Dunge Glacier. Minamiura had lived on Trango Tower for forty-nine days, the last twenty-two of them without a break.

Nice story. However it takes place at much lower altitude (around 6000m). Trango is great climbing area with demanding climbs but it is entirely different category than Everest.

It is not saying that one can not succeed in saving someones life (even if it is highly unlikely). It is more if you are willing to risk your life to do it. If there weren't people risking lifes in rescue there would be no firefighters or mountain rescue. But one can hardly look down at people covering their butt first in extreme situations of high altitudes.

I agree that some mountains are heavily commercialized though.

If you ask anyone who has been both places, they will tell you that the Trango rescue or the 1977 Bainthha Brakk epic demonstrate far more tenacity and competence against far thinner odds than these Everest scenarios. This statement includes one of my climbing partners who went back up from high camp after their own long summit day on K2 to rescue incompetent people who should have turned around when their own team members couldn't be bothered.

I don't think it's that rescue attempts are more difficult on Everest but rather that they are more futile. If a climber collapses from HAPE/HACE in the death zone it is often too late to help them.

Of course I agree completely that rescue attempts become more difficult when you throw in a bunch of type-A amateurs.

At least choose a better example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Hall_(climber). Beck Weathers wasn't suffering from altitude sickness and made it back to camp IV on his own.

I didn't say it was futile to attempt a rescue, I said it was comparatively more futile to attempt a rescue. You have to make an assessment - is it likely that we can save this person and is it worth the risk?

Then there is the psychological aspect. In the Trango rescue, Minamiura was in radio contact with the rescue team. It's a lot harder to leave someone when you can communicate with them.

In the case of David Sharp it's not entirely clear he was beyond help, at least at the point when he was first found. I don't think that Ingall's made the correct decision but I also have to accept that it is difficult for me to really know or understand what happened. What I do know is that many climbers suffering from HACE can die very quickly - often much quicker than they can safely descend. In those cases, they truly are "as good as dead" though I don't believe there is any way judge whether an individual is at that point or not.

And next time try not to cherry pick a single word from my post.

Beck was left by people who were perfectly capably of helping, despite evidently still being capable of getting himself down. Your example is good too, but there are many, many examples of people in radio contact with a camp only a few hours of non-technical terrain away, but where the people in camp don't actually do anything in time. Also, being physically present next to the person who needs help seems like a bit closer psychological connection than a radio, but there are still cases of people being left behind due to incorrect evaluation of "futility".

I agree completely, and agree with your original statement that the major problem with Everest is that it's full of amateurs.

I'm just saying that the technical difficulty of a rescue isn't the only criteria. In the case of Minamiura, his survivability if he was rescued was high. The chance of him being rescued was low. For someone suffering HAPE/HACE on Everest it's probably the reverse. I didn't mean to suggest that they should be left behind.

My relatives sometimes ask whether I'm 'still doing that mountain climbing thing?'. I'm pretty sure they think that this is what I'm up to.

I'm sure I'd fall in love with high altitude mountaineering (all other aspects of climbing are so addictive that it follows) but I've always made a point of staying away. The statistics are all there to see. I'll stick with the rocks, thank you.

My personal rule is that if it's cold enough that I'm tempted to put a shirt on, it's too close to mountaineering and it's time to move south.

My personal rule is that if it's cold enough that I'm tempted to put a shirt on, it's too close to mountaineering and it's time to move south.

That's funny. My friends and family think I'm crazy as I research all the things required to do a winter time 14er summit attempt. I'll probably spend this winter practicing my back country skills in general and then next winter plan the hike.

I am with you on that accord. Being cold sucks and climbing is really addicting. Alpinism is too dangerous and cold for my tastes but to each their own. Life is risk management. Not everyone rides motorcycles even though they are really enjoyable in fair weather.

Agreed. Climbing is enjoyable. Being cold... just sucks. I'll save the hardcore tests of my mental integrity for startups and scientific research.

I had a friend describe his experience when climbing one of the highest peaks in South America.

He said it was the most specular view he had seen in his life - he could literally see both the Atlantic and the Pacific simultaneously. But despite this, he was so physically miserable that he derived no joy from the experience at the time.

Of course, that's still much lower the Everest.

I don't do anything spectacular, but I've learned not to expect much of my pictures when I do strenuous (for me) backpacking. Show people pictures of the view, wildlife, etc., and they say, "Wow!" "Beautiful!" "Oooh, I'm so jealous!" Show them pictures of me posing proudly on a peak with a beautiful view behind me, and they say, "Gosh, you look so tired!" "You look miserable! Was it worth it?" "Why do you do that? I'd rather go to the beach."

So I stopped showing people those pictures :-/

The article quotes a 1/50 chance of dying.

For perspective, only 1/20 suicide attempts are successful. That means that climbing Mt. Everest is only half as deadly as trying to actively kill yourself.

This is a silly mis-application of statistics. Risk in both scenarios is highly dependent on preparation and decision making.

Only when it comes to suicide, better preparation means a higher chance of dying.

Yes, that was intentional.

+1 for you then. :-)

It's not meant to be accurate. In another comment someone claimed that 2% was "low" and I'm just pointing out that climbing Mt. Everest is one of the more risky things you can do. Obviously at an individual level it loses meaning, but people often use death rate statistics that don't apply individually to assess risk in a more general sense.

My friend's dad climbed k2. It's like rolling a tetrahedron.

Media 2.0 at its best: a bunch of photos lifted without attribution. I recognize at least one to be from a Nat. Geo. story.

I'm pretty sure Media 1.0 also did and does this.

Mainstream printed media is much better with attribution in general.

This is not the case, at least here where I live. When I contributed to Wikipedia, we had a special page collecting copyright violations found by us. The "old media" section was terribly long, we actually had threads on our mailing list where people rejoiced that someone had printed the author and license information, as if it was strange and unexpected. Usually under stolen pictures they just wrote nothing, or "Source: Internet", which was even worse.

Printed media was also less willing to print an apology and/or attribution than websites, even when we specifically asked them to do so.

Mainstream blogs too, what's the point of this debate?

By "mainstream" I mean normal, non-crackpot outlets who are/were main distribution channels for information to people. In old business, major national newspapers, weeklies, monthly magazines, regional/city papers were fairly good at attribution. Of course plagiarism, stealing and other forms of non-ethical behavior were not unheard of, but not anywhere on par with new media.

Nowadays mainstream sources of information are supposedly replaced by swarms of bloggers and citizen journalists. This one is perfect example. Such a thing as non-attribution is now par for the course. You don't notice how common is it because you are not paying attention.

I recently got back (almost exactly a month ago) from a month long climbing trip in Nepal with some friends.

We had three guides, all three of whom have climbed Everest multiple times. One of our guides, who has summited 5 times, described Everest as his "bad habit".

As a relative newbie to high altitude mountaineering (the highest I got was ~19,850 feet), climbing in Nepal was really, really hard. You are never warm, the food sucks, camping for long periods at high altitude sucks rather a lot, you are never clean, altitude sickness sucks, pooping in an 8" hole in the ground sucks, not eating much protein sucks, but… the views are spectacular, the people you meet are amazing, the place itself is awe-inspiring, the wildlife is interesting and diverse, the peace of the place is fantastic, and the mountains… well, the mountains are something special.

I can see why some people spend their lives chasing summits, and I can also see why some people, having seen their first summit, turn away from the mountains forever and never come back. While we were in Nepal, within two days of our summit push, our head guide had two friends die. One died on Cho Oyu in an avalanche while traversing a glacier. The other died on a relatively unknown mountain in Tibet. Both were world-class mountaineers. These were people who no mountaineer in the world would accuse of being irresponsible, inexperienced, unprofessional, or, even, unsafe. They were serious mountaineers with long resumes and respected records.

That said, exploration is always a serious business, and when you're out at the sharp end, sometimes you get cut. Without these people, however, and the part of humanity which they represent, we would never expand our experience of what it is to be human and our knowledge of the space around us.

Even with Mount Everest, where the experience has been honed to the point where there are professionals whose entire job it is to make sure clients make it to the top… it's friggin' hard. Having been to nearly 20k feet, I have nothing but respect for people who can make it to 29,029 feet. Climbing that far is hard, no matter how you do it. I can only imagine the feeling of being on top of the world, and quite frankly I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge, personally, of tackling Mt. Everest. I will certainly never make fun of anyone who has climbed that mountain.

Given the difference in oxygen between where I got to and the top of Everest, I don't think I can comment on the impairment of cognitive facilities climbing Mount Everest imparts. However: there's a good reason most responsible climbs leave a controller in radio contact from base camp or Camp 1 in charge of final decisions. Oxygen deprivation is a serious impediment to rational decision making.

So, yeah, go ahead and don't climb where you don't feel comfortable. Just don't go judging those who do without having done a high climb yourself.

I'm going to go ahead and judge. 1 in 10. Your have a 10% chance of dying if you attempt a summit, right? How much pain is your untimely death going to cause if it happens? How many everest orphans and widows are there? Include in that the considerable cost and time investment to do this when you could be creating something, exploring something that has a conceivable chance of helping humanity, or just plain investing in helping others.

No, this is a hugely selfish act. Other folks are right that people are indeed wired to get addicted to these types of feelings, but every day people choose NOT to give into their wiring. I respect THAT a lot more than climbing Everest.

Anticipating a straw man: No, we don't have a duty to eliminate all unnecessary risk from our lives. But a single act with a 10% mortality rate seems reckless.

It takes all kinds. People with the balls to summit Everest are rare, and they provide great stories to humanity, just the same as astronauts, deep sea divers or spelunkers. I can admire that because it's unusual and inspiring, something that can not be said for people playing it safe.

I won't judge you for your judgement, and I might even share it for people mountaineers who have kids, etc, but I can not agree with your premise that risking death is automatically bad because of how others might feel about it. There's more to life than staying alive.

I don't think the point is risking life is bad in all cases. It depends on the possible gain. A simple example is a lot of people consider freedom something worth dying for.

But what is the gain here of climbing Everest after it has been climbed hundreds of times? Astronauts clearly benefit humanity with more than just great stories. I can't see much marginal benefit for society for each additional Everest climber.

I'm not saying it's wrong or selfish to continue to climb Everest. For the climber him/herself I imagine the benefits are enormous and perhaps worth the risk of life. But I just can't see much benefit for anyone else.

But I just can't see much benefit for anyone else.

I and my oldest son both have a form of cystic fibrosis. I have figured out how to get us well (we actually work together on it but I do most of the research). Reading up on altitude sickness was an Aha! moment for me. In some ways, medical science doesn't have much of value to offer me in terms of thinking through the problem and coming up with new solutions. Medical science is mostly about finding better drugs rather than a better understanding of the process involved in what is typically a slow torturous death where your lungs deteriorate until you qualify for a lung transplant (assuming you don't have bad habits that disqualify you).

Reading this piece was personally meaningful to me in surprising ways that I probably can't adequately express. I belong to entire communities operating in their own medical equivalent of "The Dead Zone", where lack of oxygen, high doses of medication and so on create very emotional, inflammatory discussions and many people seem incapable of thinking logically. I wrestle continuously with both how and whether to offer assistance in the face of enormous hostility and long odds that it will really do any good. Even people who are interested in what I am doing sometimes write me and bluntly state up front "I will never make the extreme lifestyle changes you have made. But can you tell me more about ... (some food or supplement)?"

Stories about mountain climbing, altitude sickness et al are the absolute best analogies I have tripped across for what I am dealing with. I don't care if mountain climbers are crazy or selfish or whatever. I am grateful for the information they provide. I have a medical condition that forces most people with it to basically gradually suffocate. So I find value in the stories and experiences of mountain climbers. Also, living at 3000 feet above sea level for about 2.5 years, thereby forcibly expanding my lung capacity, probably helped save my life when I spent a year at death's door and was bedridden for 3.5 months and finally got a diagnosis after a lifetime of being treated like a hypochondriac.

Some people are facing things like this totally involuntarily and their situations are difficult to talk about in normal company because it is viewed pathetically rather than like a heroic struggle. I don't need any pity-parties. I am perfectly capable of wallowing in self-pity without any assistance. I need some kind of healthier, more useful feedback. Pieces like this one may be the best I can get given the kind of social responses my story tends to inspire.

> Also, living at 3000 feet above sea level for about 2.5 years, thereby forcibly expanding my lung capacity.

Fascinating. It is certainly no regular doctor would prescribe to anyone. But it makes sense.

My grandfather was wounded during the war and as a result was left with a severely reduced lung capacity. When he came back, everyone was surprised when he started singing in a local church choir. Here is a man that can barely breathe and now he wants to sing. Everyone in the village thought he was crazy. But I think the singing was helping him breathe a great deal. He lived 50 more years.

So sometimes the counter-intuitive thing makes sense.

I am often frustrated when I talk to doctors because I want to know in more details what is going on, I want the results of tests explained and so on, Then I am not sure if they are just busy and think I am an asshole for asking annoying questions, or what I am more scared of, they don't actually know or care to know these things and just prescribe pills according to a textbook checklist of symptoms.

I am often frustrated when I talk to doctors because I want to know in more details what is going on, I want the results of tests explained and so on, Then I am not sure if they are just busy and think I am an asshole for asking annoying questions, or what I am more scared of, they don't actually know or care to know these things and just prescribe pills according to a textbook checklist of symptoms.

Someone who helped me enormously for a time was a former RN who later studied a lot of alternative medicine approaches. I took guaifenisen (sp?) for a time and was trying to figure out what it was doing that it helped. After an internet search failed to answer my questions, I asked her what it did in the body or if she could come up with some information online that might help me understand (she had a track record of coming up with stuff like that). She basically told me "I don't think anyone really knows that. That isn't how drug studies work. You are asking questions that the medical establishment cannot answer." So I suspect that in many cases your bigger fear is exactly what is going on.

I still don't know what gauifenisen really does to the body. It ended up being the last remaining drug I took for a time. I got off it some time in the summer of 2009 and have been drug free ever since.

Have you considered taking up playing a wind instrument ?

This might help you to maintain that extra lung capacity or even to build it out further.

I've had a collapsed lung about two years ago and it was my years and years of sax playing that probably saved the day (that and a helpful neighbor that figured out that something serious over and beyond serious chest pain when inhaling was amiss, I'm off the 'if it came by itself it will go by itself' persuasion, which is ok most of the times but not always).

I am so not musical (I appear to be tone deaf, though as I heal, my hearing has changed and I understand lyrics better than I used to). And a wind instrument would not likely fit into my lifestyle at the moment in terms of owning so very little and keeping everything germ-free. However, chest x-rays 4 years ago and the lack of pain in my left lung indicate that the hole I once had has closed up. I also generally have more stamina..etc.. I have a very long list of criteria for an ideal place to live and, somewhat to my annoyance, Cheyenne Wyoming is looking like it might be the next place I go (assuming I can arrange to go anywhere I want). It happens to be 6000 feet above sea level, which is likely a good thing.

Ai, that rules that out. Ok. Great to see you're healing like that, you should write a book about what you're going through, or at a minimum a very well documented website, I've never heard of someone with CF to recover that much by banging their head against the problem, collecting the data in one spot might be a godsend for others.

But I just can't see much benefit for anyone else.

If the mountain climber's goal is to be a stronger person, both he and the people around him benefit from his achieving it. If he comes out of the experience a strong, unintimidatable leader who inspires others and fights hard to make the world a better place, it's even arguable that the people around him benefit from his experience more than he does.

There is a balance to everything. I am not sure if 10% chance of dying is worth the gamble to emerge as a better leader on the other side, especially, as it was pointed out, if it leaves behind a grieving widow, son, mother, or friend.

* There's more to life than staying alive.*

um... what?

"Every man dies. Not every man really lives."

Risking your life climbing a mountain is no more "living", than sitting at home with your family watching tv is. Romanticised bullshit.

If you enjoy doing something, do it. Don't do it so you can add it to your list of life experiences so you can pretend that you've lived a better life than somebody who hasn't done it.

I think what is required to even get the change to summit Everest weeds out any people who are just there so they can "pretend they've lived a better life".

I disagree. Most of the time when people do stuff like this, they do it just so they can tell other people that they've done it. They don't do it for the experience, they do it for the bragging rights.

Note, I'm not talking about everyone that does it, just most people.

Dude, you are talking so far out your ass that your small intestine is showing.

Ok. Nobody ever does anything for bragging rights.

Not everything is binary. Other people have different motivations than you. Not everyone does an Ironman for bragging rights. Not everyone starts a company for bragging rights.

If you read my previous comment you will see I addressed exactly that.

"Note, I'm not talking about everyone that does it, just most people."

Reality check: how many people do you know that climbed Everest? When you claim to know why most people do something that you actually have no clue about, you look like an incredibly arrogant douche.

I am aware of that. I felt it warranted repeating for this conversation given what you had written up to my response.

You heard right, think about it for a while.

No, this is a hugely selfish act

You say that like being selfish is automatically and unquestionably a bad thing.

No, I said that like there's a recklessly selfish spectrum and this is pegged near one end with driving while extremely intoxicated, habitually using heroin, etc. At the other end are mildly selfish acts.

Playing an X-box is a mildly selfish act. It's fun, but probably isn't a real big win for family, friends, society, etc. Not too damaging to them, though, unless done in excess.

Getting massively drunk and then driving your sports car around risks bystanders (sherpas), your life (causing sorrow and hardship for friends and family), and society (cleaning you and your victims off of the road cost money and time).

Your analogy doesn't quite hold: a sherpa is not an innocent bystander--they know exactly what they're getting themselves into, and they've decided they're willing to accept the same risks that the hikers take on.

They probably know more about what they are getting into than their employer.

They do. They are also paid extrememly well for that area.

How much pain is your untimely death going to cause if it happens? How many everest orphans and widows are there? Include in that the considerable cost and time investment to do this when you could be creating something, exploring something that has a conceivable chance of helping humanity, or just plain investing in helping others. No, this is a hugely selfish act.

I was going to create a startup, but unfortunately I think it's just too selfish of an act. What if by giving up my cubicle I screw over my family and pets that depend on me? Can I be so selfish as to give up my livelihood, my life savings and dedicating every waking moment to making my startup succeed?

I would argue that creating a startup--much like climbing Everest--is a risky endeavor with unspeakable rewards. I am not a mountaineer, and I would never risk my life on a mountain just for the pride.

But you have to wonder, as we sit here talking about it on the Internet, do these people know how to really live in a way we haven't experienced? Maybe it's the physical exertion or the satisfaction of accomplishing one's dreams, but you can't chalk up every hardcore mountaineer (or any other deadly hobby, for that matter) as mere adrenaline junkies. The real debate here is whether or not it's worth it to risk your life in order to live it to the fullest.

Yeah, because comparing something that, if it pays off, will put your family into the lap of luxury, and if it doesn't you can go back to your old life with something that offers no intrinsic value or reward if it pays off, and if it doesn't leaves you dead on the side of a mountain where people name the feature after the colour of your boots is an apples to apples comparison.

Good one.

It's certainly not the same thing, and as I said before I would never risk my life in pursuit of what I perceive to be a meaningless goal.

My point, however, was that I do not presume to judge others based on the risks that they take in their own lives. The juxtaposition I was trying to make is that people comfortable in their corporate lives might say it's selfish or crazy to persue one's dreams of creating a startup at significant financial risk, just like some people here are saying it's selfish or crazy to want to climb Everest.

Is skydiving a suicidal activity? Are surfers that risk shark attacks or storm chasers that follow tornadoes nothing more than stupid, selfish, suicidal sacks of meat? I personally don't think so, but you are of course entitled to an opinion all of your own.

By the way, I'm more than happy to converse different opinions in a civilized manner; bleeding sarcasm isn't necessary to get your point across.

10% failure rate is bad on a website about startups?

Now, we're talking life instead of life savings, but I find it hard to say that their decision is wrong in any ethical or moral sense, and I'm curious what moral framework would justify your viewpoint. Additionally, burning through your life savings (and that of friends/family) can easily cause more long-term harm than having a mom or dad that died while climbing Everest. You just think that one risk is acceptable because it doesn't terminate in death. But there are greater things to fear than dying.

Additionally, suppose there were some not-to-distant dystopia in which reading non-approved books were a capital offense, and the state/corporate/whatever apparatus caught 10% of all offenders and had a 100% conviction rate for that 10%. Would that suddenly make reading wrong? I think most people have the intuition that the law is wrong, not the reading.

Similarly, I have a hard time seeing why 10% of people dying while doing something somehow makes it wrong per se.

Failure rate alone isn't enough to compare climbing Everest and running a startup. The cost of failure on Everest is ultimate, but the cost of failure in a startup is temporary and economic.

It's only 'ultimate' if dying is the 'ultimate' bad thing that can happen. Most people at most times and most places don't think that's true, and I agree with them. Not living is the ultimate bad thing that can happen, and respiration and living aren't the same thing, in this context.

The cost of failure on Everest is ultimate, but the cost of failure in a startup is temporary and economic.

What about the folks who lose their life savings when their businesses fail, and decide to commit suicide? I have no stats on how often that actually happens, but it's something to consider.

Failing a startup is part of the process of becoming a better entrepreneur. Failing a startup actually brings something to the community.

Dying in a mountain may be part of the process of living your life and it's not less stupid than dying in a car accident, however climbing a mountain and have 10% chance of dying in the process is just plain reckless and selfish.

Your life is your own, but don't expect to get approval and admiration from everybody else.

10% is the wrong statistic. According to the article, for every 10 people who reach the summit, 1 person dies in the attempt. So, already, that's somewhat less than 1/10, because not every person who dies does so after reaching the summit.

But it also doesn't count the many people who start climbing the mountain but turn around before the summit and make it down alive.

The true statistic is likely much less than 10%.

This page (http://www.8000ers.com/cms/everest-general-info-185.html) shows 4102 attempts to reach the top with 216 deaths last year. That puts it at about 5% of climbs end in death.

However, only about 2700 individuals climbed -- which puts the deaths / "uniques" back up to 8%. And if you assume that the sherpas die less frequently than do the tourists, 10% doesn't seem too far off.

Interestingly, K2 seems to be much more difficult with a much higher fatality rate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-thousander

That death total is not last year, that's all time. 216 dead people in a year would be the end of mountaineering.

The attempt numbers you quote, 4102 attempts by 2700 individuals, was for 2008. A year with one fatality.

Those odds are quite different.

Sorry, yes, both of those numbers are for all time.

However, the rate stands. It's not correct, according to the source on 8000ers, that 4000 people climb it in a year. Indeed, the list shows that number is for all time as well.

We're both wrong. It's 4000 people all time who have reached the summit. There is no number on the site indicating the number of attempts.

Yes, K2 is is much more technically demanding climb (See the Black Pyramid, and basically any of the other less popular routes) and more unpredictable (falling seracs above the Bottleneck killed several climbers in 2008). It's usually only attempted by very skilled mountaineers. You won't find the same sort of climbing tour groups like operate on Everest - which is part of the reason why Everest, though the tallest, doesn't seem to be the pinnacle of mountaineering.

I recently met one of the 9 Americans to ever summit K2 where for every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying. He quit after his friend didn't make it home.

Although those who don't climb Everest have a 100% mortality rate

(Perhaps 99.9999% if you include the Dalai Lama)

Historically, it's closer to 94%. In rough numbers, there have been around 100 billion humans [1], and only around 6 billion of them are left, even if you count the Dalai Lama.

[1]: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedo...

Well, 94% mortality and 6% for which there is insufficient data to draw a conclusion. We'll have to wait a while to be sure if any of them are immortal.

As reasonable as your assessment is, humanity has not gotten so far in the fields of ideas, philosophy, technology in general or any other field you can think of by being purely altruistic. Inspiration is a powerful feeling that drives progress. An example that comes to mind is how Galileo chose to defy the powerful figures of his time and was, admittedly, willing to die for it. He had children.

Your have a 10% chance of dying if you attempt a summit, right?

10% of people who attempt a summit die, but that does not mean that attempting a summit necessarily has a 10% chance of death. That 10% figure is not conditioned on your individual preparation, your guides, and your fellow climbers. I would guess that with the right preparation, the chance of death is much less than 10%.

This is a pretty good point. Russell Brice, the owner of one of the largest Everest companies and the main person in Discovery's Everest series, has never had a client die on one of his expeditions, and he's had something like 200 people climb with him.

He's able to be so successful because he makes sure his climbers are adequately prepared, and he doesn't allow people to climb who he doesn't think are fit enough. It seems like (at least from the Discovery series) that many of the people who die are hiking on their own, without the help of one of the successful companies, so when something goes wrong, they don't have a support network to help them.

How many attempt a summit without proper preparation? (Or what they consider proper preparation, which amounts to the same thing)?

I honestly don't know, but I would guess that people attempting to climb Everest are not just random climbers, but people who train specifically for this.

1 in 10 is the stat over the past 50 years or so. The past 10 years has seen major changes to Everest summits that make that number much, much lower. Fixed ropes are much more prevalent now which has made a huge difference in keeping people safe, as well as reducing bottle-necks so that climbers spend less time in the dead zone.

Last year there were 330 summits and 5 deaths, so roughly 1.5%

It's the extraordinary who motivate others to excel in what they believe in, whether its the day to day of raising a family or tackling a summit nearly 30,000 feet from sea level. I have huge amounts of respect for anyone willing to even attempt this and it shows you just how far focus and determination can take a person.

Thanks for the link O.P, it really made an impact on certain priorities and perspective.

I think the actual mortality rate is closer to 2%. I don't know if that changes your opinion at all. Frankly, I feel that even at 2% mortality, it's a pretty selfish act if anybody else depends on you.

You could say the same thing about driving a car.

You could, if you were willing to say something very silly. The death rate for car travel is around 1 per 100 million miles travelled. It's safer than just about anything besides riding in a commercial airliner; even lying in bed will kill you sooner.

The other half is that in most of America and many parts of the rest of the world, most people can't support themselves financially or otherwise without driving a car at least 5 days per week. The same is not true of climbing Mt. Everest.

> The death rate for car travel is around 1 per 100 million miles travelled. It's safer than just about anything besides riding in a commercial airliner


Automobile travel is one of the most likely voluntary activities to kill you, and the most likely direct cause of death (as opposed to things like smoking which kill you indirectly over time).

> one of the most likely voluntary activities to kill you

This is for values of "you" which != "mountain climber." Hell, I stay away from mountains and a car isn't going to be what gets me--I swim at midnight in the ocean here in Florida, and ride my motorcycle to work almost every day when the weather's cooperative.

So is every Space Shuttle astronaut selfish too? The Shuttle also has a 2% mortality rate.

> These were people who no mountaineer in the world would accuse of being irresponsible, inexperienced, unprofessional, or, even, unsafe.

This is what gets me about mountain climbing - you can't really be good at it, at least not in the sense that it will save your life. There are so many unknowable, uncontrollable factors that make the difference between life and death, to the extent that you play Russian Roulette with each climb, the only reward being a spectacular view.

I saw Touching the Void (recommended) a few months ago and it described how on one occasion two climbers basically climbed onto a snow overhang and when it broke it was too late to do anything about it. There was no way to know that they were heading onto an overhang at the time, it looked solid as anything else. This is not a skills-based discipline, just crazy gambling. I don't get it.

That is exactly what makes mountaineering so awesome, at least for me.

In modern society most people have lost their respect for nature. Going into the mountains and climbing them makes you respect nature in all its awesome force. You're walking a very fine line, where you're taking risks but also mitigating those risks by using proper equipment.

For the most part this is a skills based discipline, but the fact remains, you're dealing with nature, an unknown force.

> In modern society most people have lost their respect for nature.

So the people who don't risk their lives climbing mountains have lost their respect for nature? I think you might have that exactly backwards :)

Yeah, I TOTALLY respect Everest. Everest would kill me dead.

That's why I'm staying the heck away from it.

I respect lions, too.

I've heard that lions and tigers aren't actually that dangerous. Some big cats have a very vicious fear response, but lions and tigers are apex predators, and no one in their natural environment can really fuck with them, so they've lost that kind of behavior. The only real risk with lions and tigers is if they get hungry, or if you try and play with them, because they don't really realize how strong they are.

I'm not going to test this theory myself, but here's a cute story about a lion who was raised by humans and still recognized them even after being reintroduced into the wild: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_the_lion

Andy Stitzer: You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!


and snakes and sharks.

I think that to respect Nature you need to understand that it won't kill you 'just because' you get out of your safe house. Nature gives you a lot to take care of yourself. You need to learn to properly understand it's signs, that's where you can start respecting. Otherwise you have fear, but not respect. You can't imagine yourself sleeping under a rain, can't you?

I am having a hard time trying to verbalize the difference between knowing something is there and experiencing it first hand and the difference. I think there is a difference, hopefully someone more eloquent than myself can explain.

> not in the sense that it will save your life

There are countless counter-examples to this claim. For example, Jerzy Kukuczka's spent three nights out above 8000m on K2 without food, water, tent, or sleeping bag. During this time, he covered substantial technical ground to summit their new route (the South Face) and descended safely without assistance and even without frostbite. His partner, Tadeusz Piotrowski, was suffering more seriously from the exposure and fell while downclimbing ice unroped. Kukuczka was not just "lucky", he was prepared and knew how to last in extreme conditions. His decision-making with regard to batteries (his headlamp never worked when it mattered) and rope (he died when the second-hand 6mm rope he was leading on cut) was not so good.

Touching the Void is a great story and Joe Simpson is an entertaining writer, but he's also notoriously accident-prone and has some peculiar risk analysis judging from his writing about places that I have climbed. Sure, cutting edge alpine-style climbing is dangerous and requires a great deal of competence, but it's still not crazy gamble you describe as long as you make objective decisions.

I have tremendous respect for the abilities of the climbers, they are obviously among the best in the world in several categories of physical prowess, but it still seems that mountain climbing is one of very few disciplines where you can do everything right and still, with a reasonable probability, get killed due to some random circumstance.

There are a lot of decisions that affect the risk level. This is the same with any activity. Cutting edge climbs generally involve enough "risky" decisions to be considered dangerous, I have lost too many friends to claim otherwise. But there is a lot of "serious looking" climbing, including quite a lot at high altitude as well as very technical routes that can be done at a risk level similar to non-"extreme" activities.

Accidents on hard routes are either because of objective hazard (e.g. climbing underneath a serac, an obvious hazard that the climbers chose to accept because they thought the route was "worth it") or human error (e.g. rappelling accident). You choose where to climb and you assess conditions. Some hazards are hard to assess (avalanches from slopes that you cannot evaluate), but most accidents related to objective hazard involve a specific decision that was known by the participants to be risky.

It is not the case that choosing to attempt a big objective involves an especially large risk. But if you never make risky decisions, then you are likely to fail at your objective (maybe climb something less impressive). The trick the prolific climbers who make it to old age have mastered is evaluating risk sufficiently accurately to get the big lines without dying. There are a couple who were just lucky, but by and large, luck runs out eventually so you have to be good at assessing risk.

You're right, and that's the point of it.

If you play games where one set of moves means you'll certainly survive and win, then you're going to make those moves. It's like playing chess, with a loaded gun beside the board so you could shoot yourself if you chose to. That might give you a thrill the first time, but you'd soon get bored of it, and you wouldn't learn anything worthwhile from it.

The really absorbing games are the ones where every set of moves could get you killed, and the winning ones are more likely to than the safest losing ones.

Many books have been written about this stuff. I think Joe Simpson's This Game of Ghosts is the most accessible.

That's not really a counterexample, at least not to the claim you're disagreeing with. He was not just lucky, but he was nonetheless quite lucky. If apparently solid ground had just given way under Jerzy Kukuczka or the terrain above him had come crashing down on his head, or the temperature had suddenly dropped a lot further, he still would have died, wouldn't he?

The lower part of that route was quite dangerous in terms of rock and ice fall, but that was mostly behind them once they reached the upper part. Crevasses don't just occur anywhere, and they were mostly on technical ground where it was a non-issue. Ridges can have cornices, but if you are paying attention, you can usually find a way to traverse the ridge in a safe place (this might be much slower/harder). Usually you use a rope on serious cornice terrain and you carefully choose how to run it so that it offers some safety, but big falls are definitely possible. They didn't have serious cornices on that route.

I do believe that Jerzy lived through that event due to his preparation/talent for handling extreme conditions and his mental focus (to keep warm when sitting in the snow all night, to not make mistakes after being out for so long). Piotrowski was no slouch, but he fell because he got sloppy. Perhaps his physiology was also somehow less robust. Note that lots of other people have died because of one night out in the same conditions, even following a comfortable tent-bound night of sleep and a day with food and water. These two were strung out from their big new route and after the second night of sitting in the snow shivering without food or water, they still broke trail up to the summit. It was after the third night out that Piotrowski finally got sloppy on the ice climbing.

>the only reward being a spectacular view.

But that's precisely not the main reward. You can get a better view from an airplane, and who cares? Climbing isn't about the view any more than a solo circumnavigation in a small sailboat -- sure, you see amazing things and they're breathtakingly beautiful, but that's not why you do it.

I'm not a mountaineer and probably never will be, but I can definitely see the draw. It's the challenge itself, and the fact that the so much rests on your ability to focus and make rational decisions in the face of extreme danger.

> You are never warm, the food sucks, camping for long periods at high altitude sucks rather a lot, you are never clean, altitude sickness sucks, pooping in an 8" hole in the ground sucks, not eating much protein sucks, but… the views are spectacular, the people you meet are amazing, the place itself is awe-inspiring, the wildlife is interesting and diverse, the peace of the place is fantastic, and the mountains… well, the mountains are something special.

Great post. For those interested in experiencing the splendors of the Himalayas with less of the grittiness, I'd suggest booking a trek. Everest base camp treks can be done in 2 weeks or less for a modest price, along with many other scenic and adventurous treks in the area - no mountaineering needed. Tea houses provide an alternative to camping, no need to "poop in holes," and I found the food available great. You can't escape the lack of bathing, nor the possibility of altitude sickness - but I had an amazing time, and hope to go back some day. My one suggestion: go during low season.

Do you have any links or just perhaps some Google terms to search for? This is pretty interesting.

Googling "everest base camp trek" will dig up all sorts of information. There are several adventure travel companies that offer treks of this sort - typically you'll go in a group of around 10 other travelers plus your local guides. If you're on a tight budget, flying into Kathmandu and booking the trip yourself with a local company can be much cheaper, it'll just require a bit more effort. Depending on the time of year you go, it can either be busy with many other trekking/mountaineering groups, or it could just be yourselves. You don't need to be superhuman to finish the trek, but you do need determination and a relatively good level of fitness.

One drawback with booking a set itinerary is that if your body doesn't take to the altitude well and you need more time to acclimatize, it could jeopardize your trip. Within a group of 10, a couple people likely will not make it all of the way to base camp and will need to stop. If that worries you, finding a more flexible itinerary will let you travel at a slower pace if need be.

This is the sort of scenery you can expect: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6ZPYwlj4bc

Climbing Mt. Everest has nothing to do with exploration, and hasn't had for a long time.

It's an industry catering to reckless thrill-seekers.

> Climbing Mt. Everest has nothing to do with exploration

At an organizational level, you are correct. There are very few places left unexplored by the human race on this planet. However, on an individual level, if you have never been to the summit of Everest, then it is very much a personal exploration. Maps and guides reduce the required effort from superhuman to formidable, but I see a clear exploratory factor.

At a personal level -- answering the question "what have I explored" rather than "what has the human race explored" -- the chasm between having crossed the Hillary Step and merely having read a description of it is vast. You are exploring your own limits in a purely figurative sense, and this could be boiled down to "thrill-seeking", but you are also literally exploring the terrain and geography, figuring out how to hoist your own personal mass beyond each obstacle. It is this very personal sense of exploration that I think drives most non-professional mountaineers.

Also, even at a macro / organizational level, completely new routes are tried (explored!), and the route through the Khumbu Icefall changes every year.

There are very few places left unexplored by the human race on this planet.

Actually, IIRC, most of our oceans are completely unexplored.

On personal level I can explore Mt. Everest over Internet and get better understanding of what it is than someone who climbs it. Assuming that we both spend equal amount of time (me researching, and the climber -- in preparations and climbing).

Has an industry sprung up around climbing Everest? Yes. Are all Everest climbers reckless thrill-seekers? No, no and No.

I would argue that if climbing Everest is not reckless thrill-seeking then nothing else is.

Joyriding your car and doing donuts in the middle of mainstreet on a Friday evening would probably fall into the "reckless thrill-seeking" category every time. Yes, a good number of Everest climbers may also fit that bill. But it's incorrect and not particularly insightful to attribute that characterization to the entire endeavor.There are many good reasons why someone would climb Everest or any mountain for that matter. What is the particular objection? That climbing the mountain quite possibly can lead to one's premature and needless death? So can launching yourself on top of a rocket. Yet I don't see too many astronauts being accused of reckless thrill-seeking. And no, it shouldn't matter on the former if the primary motivator is personal in nature. Personal exploration can be just as valid as public exploration, as is often the justification for going into space.

> not particularly insightful

what is HN with all the passive aggressive insults of other people's comments?

The article does not judge; in fact it says:

whatever the preparation and outlandish cost, perhaps it's not simply ruthless determination that makes someone abandon their team mates, and yet still have the energy to summit. In such alien conditions, utterly hostile to human life, climbers might face their own mortality. Under the spectre of pure, unadulterated fear, they must realize that they are beyond help as well as beyond helping anyone else.

If they don't, they fall among those who never leave, abandoned on Everest.

Can you elaborate a bit on why you'd see people wanting to do this? I mean, I understand that mountain climbing affords a nice view, and I understand that it's a feat that you can tell people about, but I can't imagine being willing to take a risk as large as Mt. Everest for those reasons.

It's just the way some people are wired, and sometimes peoples' wiring changes. They may decide they're not comfortable with the idea of someone else being able to do something they can't. They may have always wanted to climb the highest mountain in the world. They may just want to add it to their summit collection. Sometimes it's just a job. Sometimes it's a trophy, or the crowning achievement of a lifetime.

I used to have arguments with one of my old roommates about space exploration. He would argue that if we found a planet several thousand light years away that could support human life, we'd never get there because nobody would volunteer to go. I could never get through to him that there are people who will take any risk to get to do something like that, even if it meant only being memorialized in the memories of their distant descendants or being frozen for a few thousand years and never again seeing everything they'd ever known.

However, human history supports the idea that there will always be those few who are willing to do things for reasons which evade the rest of the human race. That's just the way we're wired.

just imagine our ancestors lived only in savannahs, somewhere between africa and middle east, and a few them foolishly wanted to explore north and eastwards... and they were right. In the same way, a few foolishly played with fire and other sharp objects ... and they were right again, inventing precious tools.

My opinion is that this "wiring" is crucial in what makes us human. It makes us grow and discover our full potential. So you will still have people wanting to dive in apnea for 5+ mn or crazy programmers experimenting stuff with twitter. And that happens even if those people are extremely logical/intelligent people.

Nobody would want to go?

I'd go to friggin Mars, just to step on its red soil. I'd go there on a one way trip to stay there and die and I'd sign up tomorrow. If I only could.

But sadly modern world is too worried about my well-being to let me do something like that.

> But sadly modern world is too worried about my well-being to let me do something like that

Not really. Many of the people actually working towards going to Mars probably feel as you do. The problem is it's actually hard (technologically and politically).

It's also insanely expensive. What are they going to get from their money but letting you die on Mars?


Mallory is famously quoted as having replied to the question "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?" with the retort: "Because it's there", which has been called "the most famous three words in mountaineering".

Mallory also had a pretty strained relationship with his wife as a result of his mountaineering. If I remember correctly, he promised her several times he would never go back to Everest but always ended up going. I'm not saying I don't sympathize with his dilema, but it's worth pointing out that there are two sides to those famous words.

I love unfiltered information, but there was something pathetic about seeing Mallory's corpse in that picture -- just a frozen, eroded lump of meat.

There's a reason we don't see more pictures of our dead heros.

Of course, I don't think it's bothering him any.

Wouldn't that be 4?


Uh? What am I missing? "Because-it-is-there." The 's counts as one word, no? At least that's what I was always told.

The 's doesn't count as a word. "it's" is one word, but it has the same meaning as "it is".

Some quotes:

"Mountains are the means, the man is the end. The goal is not to reach the tops of mountains, but to improve the man." - Walter Bonatti

"When I rest I feel utterly lifeless except that my throat burns when I draw breath...I can scarcely go on. No despair, no happiness, no anxiety. I have not lost the mastery of my feelings, there are actually no more feelings. I consist only of will." - Messner on the first solo ascent of Everest

I have never been to Everest (would like to one day), but I climb 14ers in CO all the time. Climbing at high altitude is simply the hardest thing I've ever done from a mental, physical, and emotional standpoint. Once I started climbing everything else in life just seemed easier.

Mountaineering in general is not just about the views, wildlife, and other unique memories, it's also about being probably the hardest thing you will ever do, mentally, and physically.

One of my hobbies used to be brutal enduro-hiking, and my little trip up Rainier years ago still stands out in my memory as the hardest thing I've ever done.

If HN readers really need that entrepreneur spin on this, then I'd suggest that there are a lot of parallels between summiting (and knowing when not to summit) and entrepreneurship.

Everest specifically is probably more because it's a trophy; there are a lot of mountains out there that would afford a pretty similar challenge.

Alpinism, mountaineering's crazy sibling, takes this a step further. Often, cutting edge alpinists (the people who do dangerous, high stuff with little more than a pack on their back) don't climb for the summit--they climb to plumb the depths of what they are capable of. Sometimes, the summit doesn't even matter.

Everest is a trophy, for sure, and it is hardly a purely difficult climb (that's not to underscore the objective dangers, however). Stevie Haston, a famous and accomplished British alpinist, has compared Everest to doing push-ups with a plastic bag over your head.

I hope the risk of dieing is significantly lower than 1:10 with entrepreneurship.

Different people measure value in different ways. I can't speak for anyone else, but as for myself, I would be driven suicidal by a long, boring life. If the risks that I take in the pursuit of memorable experiences and exciting ventures results in a shorter life ... that's OK with me.

Also -- risk of accidental death aside -- climbing and mountaineering are probably the two singularly best ways to maintain great physical conditioning.

Anyway, that's enough HN for me for a while.

I would agree, if I couldn't think of lots of other exciting activities with lower risk.

It's not

How so? (I am not talking of death because of old age).

To feel well and fully alive sometimes requires one to step out of the boundaries of comfort (and some would say sanity). I honestly believe that you don't appreciate your life as much as when you've been close to losing it.

Some people like extreme situations.

I remember the John Krakauer Book _Into Thin Air_, about an Everest disaster, made me want to climb it -- I haven't.

It's the whole "yeah people die, but it won't be me" attitude.

I remember coming out of Saving Private Ryan thinking "that looks like fun", despite what I know intellectually.

> I remember coming out of Saving Private Ryan thinking "that looks like fun", despite what I know intellectually.

Going through live fire infiltration training cured me of any such sentiment.

It says something about these heroes that none are willing to brave Everest to recover (or even to cover) the body of Green Boots instead of pursuing their own self-actualisation on the summit. Never mind the matter of poor Sharp.

s/Cho Oyu/Baruntse/


> exploration is always a serious business

What did you explore? Nothing, it's all documented, explored, exploited. Hell, it's a tourist attraction.

What I did would be best classified as adventure travel.

The two people I was talking about in the quote you took out of context, however, were serious explorers and mountaineers. One had a few dozen first ascents under his belt, and the other had summited Everest 19 times.

tl;dr This guy pooped in a 8" hole.

I'm not sure why everyone is down-modding you. Pooping in an 8" hole and climbing to 19,850 feet seems like a pretty good summary of the experience.

Edit: I might actually use that as my short summary of the trip.

It is probably because it is not really a good summary of the poster's experience. It also has a hint of being mildly disrespectful of the difficulties of really climbing to 20k feet by not acknowledging the experience in totality and merely highlighting 'pooping'. If it was not a jab, it atleast sounded like one.

I've never made it to 20K, infact the highest I've reached is 15k feet being a non-professional climber and it is hard to do justice of the difficulty of every step after 12k. From the difficulty in breathing to not being able to sit for anything more than 30 seconds, it is really a testament to the strength of the climbers who make it to 20k and above like the OP.

not sure if you've realised it yet, but the person you're replying to is the OP

I do realize it, however I was referring to a reasoning why antidaily's comment was downmodded. This was questioned by the OP (wooster) and I do probably realize that the reply to wooster should've been fitted at a better between wooster's question and a reply to antidaily. Since that was not possible, I chose the former.

While I think the grandparent comment could be considered disrespectful, note that the commenter I'm replying to is the original poster in this thread, i.e. the guy that actually climbed the mountain (and, apparently, pooped in an 8" hole).

So please don't downvote too much.

Thanks! I was trying to be funny but also call attention to the extremes of climbing.

We modd you down, because if you aren't here to contribute then maybe you shouldn't contribute.

I was fortunate to hear Peter Hillary speak last week while I was home on Thanksgiving break. His stories were amazing. I was absolutely floored the entire two hours. A couple quotes I remember (and damn I wish I brought a pen and paper)...some of these may be paraphrases:

"On the top of Everest, your perception of reality is distorted. I remember thinking, 'wow, its really cloudy down there' while looking down the mountain. When I got back to base camp, I looked at the pictures we had taken. There were no clouds. It was clear as day"

"People often ask me what I'm most afraid of. Sure the elements are tough...but what gets me is more mental. Often when you hike you are alone in your thoughts for days,weeks, even months at a time. You have nothing to do but think, and if you don't have the mental discipline, you can deteriorate quickly. Its important to have good relationships with your family, your friends, and especially your climbing mate"

"I once went on a trip to the North Pole with some friends and my dad Edmund. You may know them. They were Buzz Aldrin and Steve Fosset"

"The last time I went to Everest, National Geographic sponsored the hike and the plan was to have a 3-way phone conversation with my dad and the [CBS/NBC/ABC] affiliate in New York because it was the 50th anniversary of my dad's first climb. When we got to the summit, I phoned in despite my hands rapidly becoming frostbitten and the affiliate said, 'Gosh, we're really busy here. Can you hold on a minute. Theres a conflict going on in Afghanistan right now'...'What? I can see Afghanistan!'"

"When I went to the South Pole I had to train in a rather unusual manner. On that trip we had to pull a [x100lb] sack of supplies behind us for a month straight while cross-country skiing. To train, I tied a bunch of tires around my waist and went jogging with my son in a stroller. You can imagine the weird looks I got"

There's a few videos I've seen recently -- I've also just been trekking in the Everest region and watched and read a lot before going -- that do an amazing job of conveying that summit-fever attitude.

The one that most sticks in my mind is this talk on K2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zkC9IMQmYA It's an hour long, but I highly recommend it.

There was an incredible documentary, which you can probably find online, called "Doctors in the Death Zone" which followed a team of doctors studying the effects of altitude on themselves as they attempted Everest. There's some pretty horrific footage of a team they encounter along the way watching their companion, in obvious distress, drunkenly attempt to reach their position, while they just wait.

Lastly, this talk from TEDMed is by the only doctor on Everest during the 1996 disaster, and it's both a great depiction of the main route, and a frightening reminder of just how dangerous it still is up there despite the number of summits and knowledge of the route these days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSidnKdH5_4

There is a great mountain-climbing article here that I recommend reading: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/11/prep-scho....

The mini-documentary season Everest: Beyond the Limit (streaming on Netflix) is a pretty interesting watch, and chronicles an expedition to the top - including a climber who actually encountered David Sharp on the mountain, while he was still alive, and the thought-process / decision of having to leave him behind.

Also, even though Everest is the highest mountain the world...

Annapurna has the highest fatality to summit ratio of all mountains @ ~40%.

And K2, with the second highest fatality rate (and 2nd highest elevation), is generally regarded as the most physically difficult and technically challenging.

If you liked the article you must also read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_Thin_Air by Jon Krakauer

For those interested in mountaineering, I highly, highly recommend listening to Chris Warner's talk on summitting K2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zkC9IMQmYA

A very very gripping talk by someone who's climbed Everest (and K2, a more dangerous ascent) multiple times. I saw this in person (Chris is the founder of the chain of climbing gyms I used to frequent) and it's even more gripping in person.

According to wikipedia, Everest is no where near the most dangerous. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-thousander

Of 14 8km+ summits, it appears that Everest's death rate is only 5.7%, while Annapurna leads at 42.85% (!)

This weighs against the commercialization of Everest trend theory, I think.

For a gripping first hand account of the danger and sheer lunacy of today's Mount Everest, I highly recommend "Into Thin Air", by Jon Krakauer


I second the recommendation, I read that a few years ago and it is an incredible story. Krakauer tells it as one who was gripped by Everest fever, fascinated by the mountain itself but also the colourful personalities drawn to the most serious level of high altitude mountaineering-- but also a man who has seen his friends succumb to the madness of obsession, and ultimately death. It was hard for me to put down; a compelling read for anyone interested in travel or the outdoors.

If you enjoyed that you've probably also read "Touching The Void".

IMHO the ultimate tale of high mountain survival: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=KnRdFe5TXVkC

Yep. I saw the Everest IMax movie, and thought "Wow, that seems spectacular. Maybe if I'm able someday I'll try it." Then I read "Into Thin Air" and immediately changed my mind. Great read.

Is it ego or the "human spirit" that makes people try the summit anyway?

Some things I'll never understand in this world.

How about just running a marathon instead?

I am just a recreational climber but my motivation is a mix of overcoming myself and enjoying beauty of nature.

The challenge in climbing is very real (not that dissimilar to startup) - you have to plan ahead, check conditions, execute well and know when to bail out. Sometimes I say that climbing is the real thing and business is just for fun - when you screw in business you probably won't die. But noone wants to die in the mountains either.

The beautiful thing about mountains is that it does not matter who you are back in civil life. There is no difference if you have fame or money back home. It is up to your skill, training and determination.

And of course when getting to mountain by yourself the connection and enjoyment is much better than by cable car.

Great article on types of experiences by climbers: http://kellycordes.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/the-fun-scale/

Depends on the person. The original climbers probably went for things like extreme personal challenge, or fame. I'm sure there are climbers now as well (now that climbing Everest has been commoditized a bit) who do it for the novelty.

I'm going to go with mental illness.

These people arn't proving themselves, they're abandoning their humanity. It's not something to be celebrated.

That's a pretty harsh characterization of their motivation. I'm guessing when you're standing on the top of that summit you establish a connection with nature that you can't get from simply running a marathon. I'd absolutely celebrate anybody who achieves that. The world needs more people who are willing to step so far out of their comfort zone to achieve seemingly impossible things.

> I'm guessing when you're standing on the top of that summit you establish a connection with nature that you can't get from simply running a marathon.

I don't claim to know anything about their motivation, but the accounts I've read are somewhat different than the romantic image you seem to have. For example, I submit this:

"The only food I'd been able to force down over the preceding three days was a bowl of Ramen soup and a handful of peanut M&M's. Weeks of violent coughing had left me with two separated ribs, making it excruciatingly painful to breathe. Twenty-nine thousand twenty-eight feet up in the troposphere, there was so little oxygen reaching my brain that my mental capacity was that of a slow child. Under the circumstances, I was incapable of feeling much of anything except cold and tired."

Source: http://outsideonline.com/outside/destinations/199609/travel-...

establish a connection with nature that you can't get from simply running a marathon

That's bullshit talk. What does that even mean?

I think mental illness is much more appropriate, because you can "connect with" nature just as well by climbing smaller mountains. No, these people are attracted to Everest specifically because it's so extraordinarily difficult there's a 2% chance they won't come off it alive, or possibly lose body parts.

There's something wrong with you if you're willing to risk your life that easily.

What does connecting with nature even mean? It would seem that at the peak there'd be relatively little of what I call "nature".

Seems like if you'd like to connect with nature in an extreme way go on a safari or to a rain forest, or even just Yosemite. You may be able to brag, "I survived Yosemite", but it seems a tad more sincere.

Are your numbers correct? If so that's a 98% chance you come out fine.

Do astronauts have a mental illness?

More evidence that we have trouble thinking about probability as applied to our daily lives.

That's a 2% chance over a four day period. I don't know if that number is accurate- it's from the article, if you've read it- but even though it looks small, it's actually huge.

For comparison, in the US 6860 people die per day, and we have a population of 312 million. That means over a 4 day period, you have about a .009% chance of dying; that's a 200,000% increase. And keep in mind that's the death rate for EVERYONE in the U.S., including 90 year-olds riddled with cancer. I don't even want to think about the percentage difference in death rate using the Mt. Everest cohort, which tend to be younger, healthy males.

I can't think of a single activity that's riskier, except for actively trying to kill yourself, which by the way, only has a 5% probability of death.

I'd be willing to assume a lot more personal risk to be the first person to do something like land on Mars or summit Everest, especially if it's not even clear that it can be done, than to be the 50th. Even more so if there is some compelling scientific benefit to going (which, thanks to robotics, there really isn't anymore, at least for brief boot/flag-planting visits).

There are extremely limited cases where it would be worth sacrificing someone's life to accomplish something (jumping on a grenade to save a bunch of other people, perhaps where acting saves other people). I could see people willingly sacrificing themselves for sufficiently otherwise unobtainable knowledge, but it would be immoral if not voluntary.

It's probably also worth noting that the first man to successfully scale Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, has publicly voiced his disgust with those who leave their fellow climbers to die on the mountain.

I think it's ok to leave dead bodies on the mountain to make your ascent, but not ok to leave someone who could possibly be saved. Taking any substantial risks to the living to recover bodies is completely unacceptable -- Everest is as good a grave as any.

I wouldn't take the 4% risk of death from climbing Everest at all just to be #50 in a single climbing season, though. I'd be willing to accept a 50% risk of death to be the first person on Mars.

> Taking any substantial risks to the living to recover bodies is completely unacceptable

Why? This is a cultural conclusion that can be debated and modified. People are already risking their lives just by being on Everest, so it can't just be risking life == bad.

Bringing up Mars in this discussion makes me think of Olympus Mons. The same kinds of folks attracted and willing to risk their life on being the 1000th person to reach the top of Mt. Everest may be even more attracted to being the first person to scale the tallest mountain in the star system.

Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it's 'crazy', an 'illness', or even remotely illogical.

Of course, I wouldn't know what to characterize it other than sheer sense of adventure. I can totally understand going for the highest achievement one can pull off, and it certainly might seem like lunacy to many.

As far as the Sherpas go, they are born into the mountains. It's their world. They scale the mountains because that's what they know how to do best. It's their way of life (just like your way of life might be being an entrepreneur).

There is a certain beauty in mountain climbing that I doubt any marathon can compete with.

That said, maybe they can just climb smaller--but also beautiful--mountains? 6k? 7km? Why does it has to be 8.8km?

Because Everest is on the tick list that non-climbers recognize and because a lot of the lower mountains are much, much harder and nobody will guide them. There is a reason Gasherbrum IV has only been climbed four times (five if you count the 1985 Kurtyka-Schauer route, which is still regarded as one of the most impressive alpine climbs ever), Gasherbrum III has been climbed twice, Khunyang Chhish twice, Bainthha Brakk twice, Latok I. There are lots of other "obscure" remote peaks with one or zero ascents that are way harder, more adventurous, and serious than Everest. Climbing Everest solo post-monsoon by a new route in 1980, or from the north as a party of two without carrying ropes or sleeping gear in 1986 is absolutely impressive. Trudging up the normal route with support does not count as climbing to anyone who climbs.

Messner's solo ascent is generally considered to be the last time a climber was truly alone on the mountain.

Why does it has to be 8.8km?

Because it's there.

How about just running a marathon instead?

How about just taking whatever drugs are necessary to stimulate the same neurotransmitter production?

I'm a big fan of inexpensive hobbies that allow me to keep both feet at sea level.


It's unclear whether you're in favor of recreational drug use for this purpose.

I was referring to nothing more recreational than hiking and guitar playing, trust me.

Climbing has the benefit of making you look good.

I keep hearing how startup founders are often "scratching an itch." I think the climber's itch is different in primarily beginning and ending in personal gratification.

If you are looking for a challenge climbing Everest might be only a little cheaper that doing a startup (about $65K it appears: http://outside-blog.away.com/blog/2009/12/how-much-does-it-c...).

"A National Geographic climber originally on Everest to document Brian Blessed's (ultimately botched) attempt at summiting"

On QI recently, they said on Brian Blessed's closest approach, he abandoned his climb and turned back to help an injured climber. In the context of this essay about bodies it's not on to call that a "botched" attempt.

Read this absolutely fantastic article: Into thin air by John Krakauer. http://outsideonline.com/outside/destinations/199609/199609_...

How far is materials technology from being able to keep people warm there?

Materials isn't the problem. No amount of warm clothes make you feel warm when your body is losing oxygen.

The losing more oxygen than you can breathe part is only in the death zone, the last <3,000 feet, from what I can tell.

Apart from that, I'm less wondering about feeling warm and more wondering about avoiding severe frostbite (or is that already mostly a thing of the past?)

Some friends and I are climbing some of the tallest mountains in the world (including Everest) to raise money for cancer research. I must say that these pictures certainly scare me a bit, but I really believe in our cause. We are starting our quest this January, in south America where we will climb Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the western and southern hemisphere, and the tallest outside Asia.

We would love some donations from HN community www.climb4coloncancer.org

We are also looking for cancer survivors interested in joining and sponsors. Email us if interested!


Is it possible to donate you so that you don't climb?

My friend's dad and also one of the original members of our organization died of cancer. They both asked to have their ashes brought to Everest and I think this is a worthy pursuit. We are tryingto raise 100k by climbing 100k feet, so we will go through a lot of hard work. We would love your support.

I did not mean to be mean. I was trying to say I would feel uneasy donating to a cause which may put other people in danger.

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