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)
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+.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
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.
A wonderful article about the attempted recovery of a body in a deep cave
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]"
Sure, there's some very distant analogy, but it's really a different kettle of fish.
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.
where their mummified remains will stand for years to come as a grim reminder of their awesomeness.
Fixed that for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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 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.
I wonder how he's doing now.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course I agree completely that rescue attempts become more difficult when you throw in a bunch of type-A amateurs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So I stopped showing people those pictures :-/
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.
Printed media was also less willing to print an apology and/or attribution than websites, even when we specifically asked them to do so.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Note, I'm not talking about everyone that does it, just most people.
"Note, I'm not talking about everyone that does it, just most people."
You say that like being selfish is automatically and unquestionably a bad thing.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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
The attempt numbers you quote, 4102 attempts by 2700 individuals, was for 2008. A year with one fatality.
Those odds are quite different.
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.
(Perhaps 99.9999% if you include the Dalai Lama)
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%.
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.
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.
Last year there were 330 summits and 5 deaths, so roughly 1.5%
Thanks for the link O.P, it really made an impact on certain priorities and perspective.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
That's why I'm staying the heck away from it.
I respect lions, too.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It's an industry catering to reckless thrill-seekers.
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.
Actually, IIRC, most of our oceans are completely unexplored.
what is HN with all the passive aggressive insults of other people's comments?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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".
There's a reason we don't see more pictures of our dead heros.
"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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Going through live fire infiltration training cured me of any such sentiment.
What did you explore? Nothing, it's all documented, explored, exploited. Hell, it's a tourist attraction.
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.
Edit: I might actually use that as my short summary of the trip.
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.
So please don't downvote too much.
"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"
The one that most sticks in my mind is this talk on K2:
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:
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.
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.
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.
IMHO the ultimate tale of high mountain survival: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=KnRdFe5TXVkC
Some things I'll never understand in this world.
How about just running a marathon instead?
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/
These people arn't proving themselves, they're abandoning their humanity. It's not something to be celebrated.
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."
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.
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.
Do astronauts have a mental illness?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That said, maybe they can just climb smaller--but also beautiful--mountains? 6k? 7km? Why does it has to be 8.8km?
Because it's there.
How about just taking whatever drugs are necessary to stimulate the same neurotransmitter production?
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...).
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.
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?)
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!