MAKING IT TO THE TOP

woman looking at mount everest

Mount Everest, the holly mountain, very top of the world, place that already took 180 men’s and women’s lives. It claims one life every 10 ascents, yet the odds are nothing for the ones with the desire to climb it. It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas, between Chinese and Nepalese borders with the precise point running across the summit. Nowadays Mount Everest is accessible for almost anyone, as long as you have money to pay for it, you do not need to have a huge experience. Stories about climbers learning how to put on their crampons at the start of their Everest journey, are not unheard of. Expedition companies offer team leaders, guides and a Sherpa support team, you can even hire a cook for Camp II to greatly improve the quality of your experience. But neither modern equipment nor professional expertise can cancel out the challenge and the inherent difficulties.

Sherpas

Sherpas (easterners) are local clan people who work as porters for mountaineering expeditions. Due to their dedication to their work and more importantly superior physiological adaptations to high altitudes, Sherpas are integral to the success of Everest expeditions. They also hold a number of impressive Everest records, including: quickest ascents and descents, youngest climber to reach the summit, or most time spent on top.


Gear

To climb Everest you will need quite a comprehensive list of gear and supplies to take with you. Shoes, cloths, climbing tools, camp supplies or electronic equipment are just few examples. A lot of specialized gear can be quite expensive and will require regular maintenance, so if you’re spending your money on one of guided expeditions, you should carefully check to see what they’ll provide, and don’t forget to test all of your gear before the trip.


Physical Condition

You must be in excellent physical condition to climb the Everest. Saying this you do not need to be an Olympian. I saw in my life Everest conquerors who could not do 10 pull-ups or run faster than my 15 year old nephew. But even if you are the fittest man or woman in the world, it doesn’t guarantee you the success in summiting the Everest. It seems that adaptation to high altitude depends more on genetics than physical shape, and many times people who are relatively less fit than the others, can cope much better with high altitudes. If you are generally very fit, your priority would be climbing conditioning: backpack-loaded uphill hiking and acclimatizing to higher altitudes. Smaller mountain trips are the best solution. For someone not having much to do with fitness or any sport, strength conditioning, cardiovascular training, including both: aerobic and anaerobic drills, and flexibility training are a must.


How Long Does It Take To Climb ?

Mount_Everest_05

Most trips to the top of the Everest take approximately two and a half months, that’s of course from home and back.You will need to spend several days buying supplies and arranging visas. Acclimatising is another must which can not be rushed. Ascend too fast and you can die from altitude sickness. The Base Camp itself is located at high altitude (5,300m), so the journey there must be gradual, usually taking one to two weeks. Once you get to the base camp, it is often six weeks or more before climbers acclimatise and actually go for the summit. Even camping at the base camp can be tough to cope with thinner air. People develop headaches and painful hacking coughs, and they can find it difficult to sleep and eat. Assuming that you will be climbing in very good weather conditions and with bottled oxygen, from the base camp to the top and back, trip could take from 4 to 5 days.


The Journey

In total, there are 15 different route variations to the top of Everest. The most popular are The North Ridge Route and The South Col Route, with the second one being more popular and relatively safer. South Col Route was climbed 1140 times with 80 fatalities which accounts to 7%. Khumbu Ice-fall, Lhotse Face and Western Cwm are here one of the most dangerous parts of the trip. North East claimed 62 lives in its 655 summits, making fatality rate of 9% and at the same time being more dangerous choice. Most deaths on this side, comes from avalanches on the unstable snow slopes. Relatively, the safest is the South Pillar (route 7), first climbed in 1980 by Polish super-alpinists Jerzy Kukuczka and Andrzej Czok. In total of 17 expeditions, it claimed only one fatality and it was from the Lhotse Face while descending the standard SE Ridge route. The south pillar leads through the difficult rock barriers and for this reason most expeditions choose the SE Ridge lower down. Now, after nine day trip to the base-camp and five weeks of acclimatising to the altitude, we will take a very quick hike all the way to the top of Mount Everest.


Base Camp. Height: 5364m

Khumbu_Icefall_2

From here we must pass through the Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous part of the Southeast Ridge route. To minimise the risk of ice shifting, which is worse with the rising sun and mid day hit, we are starting at 3 am. Even with all precautions, shifting ice, deep crevasses and avalanches make this section extremely deadly. You will need to cross this area twice with the aid of ropes and ladders.


Camp 1. Height: 6065m. Time: 3 – 6 hours

Western_Cwm_1

After spent night at camp 1, we continue through glacial valley known as the Western Cwm. Little wind and intense sunlight in the valley means that the main challenge here is the heat. Beware of falling into hidden crevasses, many climbers have  fallen and lost their lives in this manner. So remember to clip to the fixed ropes.


Camp 2. Height: 6490m. Time: 2 – 3 hours

Lhotse_Face_2

A night spent on rocky patch at camp 2, and we have to move farther. Getting from the camp 2 to 3 means ascending Lhotse Face, shear wall of 1200 meters of ice that can be defeated only by using fixed ropes. This part of the road has seen its fair share of fatalities as well. The thin air might cloud your thinking, so it’s crucial to concentrate here, one slip and you are gone.


Camp 3. Height: 7470m . Time: 3 – 7 hours

Geneva_Spur_6

From camp three, it will take 1-3 hours to get to Yellow Band and 1-2 hours to Geneva Spur. Here, we must use ropes again to get across and to ascend to the camp four. This part is steep but not very high and not so difficult from technical point of view. The biggest fear is…you are entering “The Death Zone”. The thin air might make you feel like you are completely drunk, so you might have to put on your oxygen masks here.


Camp 4. Height: 8016 m. Time: 3 – 6 hours

The_South_Col

Camp four is also called “The South Col” (South pass) and it will be the last major camp before you make your summit attempt. The weather at The South Col is always temporary, so we can’t spend too much time here (8-12 hours). We are going to start climbing late in the night so we can safely descend from the top in the day time.


Balcony. Height: 8440 m. Time: 3 – 6 hours

balcony_mount_everest_1

“Balcony” is our next stop which is the platform where we rest for 20-30 minutes, change to new oxygen bottles, and than proceed to South Summit.


South Summit . Hight: 8690m. Time: 3 – 5 hours

The_Hillary_Step_1

One hour away from South Summit, we have to face “The Hillary Step”. It’s sharp,very steep and can be climbed only with fixed ropes. All this combined with decreased levels of oxygen and low temperatures, makes this part the most challenging 1 hour accent of the whole journey.


Mount Everest Summit. Hight: 8850m. Time: 1 – 2 hours

Mount_Everest_Summit_11

Here you are, one of the few. Here, the world is at your feet with the view reaching the Tibetan Plateau towards the other himalayan  peaks of Cho Oyu, Makalu and Kanchenjunga. Just don’t forget to take those pictures, and make sure you are on them too. But this is not the end of your journey, climbing up is usually an easy part, now you will have to descent to the base camp. 10 to 14 of even more dangerous hours.


Dangers

 

Weather

Frost bites, hypothermia or sun burns are all caused due to extreme, very dangerous weather conditions. Temperatures at the higher parts are typically around 36 degrees C below zero in the winter and can plummet to as low as 60 degrees C below. During the warmest part of the summer, temperatures can rise to minus 18 with monsoon storms and hurricane winds  making climbing impossible. During April and May, the jet stream shifts and offers relatively good weather for the most of expeditions.

Avalanches & Traps

Avalanches have claimed many lives. Carrying extra weight like tents, ropes, oxygen cylinders, food packaging and camping stoves, can even add to this danger. Fierce storms may trap or blind climbers while shifting glaciers can open suddenly creating deep crevasses which are often hidden by snow.

Oxygen

One of the major challenges posed by Everest is lack of oxygen. The Death Zone starts at the hight of 7600m and its debilitating effects are so great that it takes most climbers up to 10-12 hours to walk the distance of 1.72 kilometres. Even at lower elevations many people experience headaches and shortness of breath. These symptoms are even more extreme at higher elevation and may also include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia and/or irritability.

Equipment

Using bottled oxygen helps but doesn’t completely eliminate the effects. Atmospheric pressure levels at the summit are a third of what they are at sea level. Brain can swell and blood vessels start to leak causing hallucinations, disorientation and even loss of consciousness (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). Shortness of breath, chest tightness as well as coughing, and bloody sputum when fluid accumulates in the lungs (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). Both conditions are life threatening and will be only treated with drugs if decent is not possible. Embolisms caused by thickening of blood can also occur in response to high altitude.


Cost

A fully guided trip up the Mount Everest from the south side will cost you around 40,000£, and that excludes personal gear which can cost another 10,000£. North side is somewhat less expensive with 25,000£. These prices include permits issued by the Nepalese government to climb the Everest. Permit itself costs 45,000£ for a party of seven. Individual permit comes up to 16,000£. There’re also many companies offering cheaper trips just to the Mount Everest’s base camp, many of them often throw in, two or three climbs to the smaller summits, just over 5000 meters. You can enjoy the whole pleasure for just under 3000£.


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