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Why Climbers Die On Mount Everest 417

Science Daily reports that researchers have conducted the first detailed analysis of deaths during expeditions to the summit of Mt. Everest. They found that most deaths occur during descents from the summit in the so-called "death zone" above 8,000 meters, and also identified factors that appear to be associated with a greater risk of death, particularly symptoms of high-altitude cerebral edema. The big surprise that the data indicate those deaths aren't primarily from avalanches or falling ice, as had long been believed.
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Why Climbers Die On Mount Everest

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  • Diving? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by markass530 ( 870112 ) <markass530@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:08PM (#26114649) Homepage
    Is this related to the same health problems associated with diving (I.E The bends?)
    • Re:Diving? (Score:5, Informative)

      by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <megazzt@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:11PM (#26114679) Homepage
      Nope... bends is caused by nitrogen bubbles forming in your bloodstream, due to diving or rising too quickly.
    • Re:Diving? (Score:5, Informative)

      by snl2587 ( 1177409 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:14PM (#26114707)

      Not exactly. The bends come from fast decompression leading to gas bubbles within the body while the cerebral edema is an excess accumulation of water in the brain which comes from a leakage of fluid from capillaries (among other causes).

    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:33PM (#26114843)
      You get the bends when reducing pressure causes bubbling due to your tissue having more disolved gases than it can hold. Just like a soft drink fizzes when you reduce pressure, the dissolved gases come out of the liquid.

      Thus, you can only get the bends going up.

      • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:51PM (#26114971) Homepage

        well, most Everest deaths do occur in the "death zone" (above 8,000 meters), so even though it happens on the descent, the pathology that would ultimately kill them (cerebral edema) could have began during their ascent to the summit, and there could simply be a delay between the onset of the disease and the actual time of death.

        but the article doesn't really say what induces the leakage of blood vessels which causes cerebral edema. so it could be the altitude, or it could be the extreme cold, or it could be a combination of the two.

        • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:55PM (#26115861)

          It's the reduced pressure. That's why it's called leakage. :)

        • by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:22PM (#26116051) Homepage
          I think it's because they are in the "death zone".

          If that were to be avoided.... Hmmmmm....

          Yep, that's my recommendation. Avoid the "death zone".
        • by Analogy Man ( 601298 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:37AM (#26116503)
          Really the climbing at that altitude is an abuse of the human body. The people doing so are managing risk and doing a bit of personal extrapolation to sense whether with the current environmental conditions and how they feel will allow for a summit attempt.
          So it only makes sense that errors in this estimation process are going to be revealed in the later half (i.e. the descent).
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Ash Vince ( 602485 )

            So it only makes sense that errors in this estimation process are going to be revealed in the later half (i.e. the descent).

            Partly, but there is another factor that comes to my mind as an experienced non-ice climber: Descending is actually harder then ascending.

            While downclimbing your head is at the wrong end so you cannot fully see where you are going. You have to place each crampon in the ice blindly then try and shift your weight to it and see how it feels. This is damn hard work and extremely scary. When I am was leading outdoors in the Alps last year (on solid rock) I went up something that scared me shitless simply because

        • by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @07:42AM (#26118511) Homepage

          It could also be that when weather conditions or problems with their equipment, themselves or their fellow climbers turn hazardous and become the sort of conditions which can easily kill you most people may well have decided to turn around and begin their descent. Thus most people would be descending during the periods when they're most likely to die.

      • by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:32PM (#26115313)

        it's the "opposite" effect going on. At high pressures extra gas adds to your fluids, just like bubbles added to really cold pop under pressure. Warm it up and take off the pressure and you get fizz... only inside your brain which is generally not good.
        In this case, the air pressure is so low the membranes that hold liquid don't work properly to hold it in... It's probably like a mild version of vacuum degassing used in manufacturing... in addition to the lack of oxygen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by quenda ( 644621 )
      Actually, it's more like sky-diving than scuba-diving.

      Its a little-know fact that most sky-diving fatalities occur within metres of the finish.

  • surprise? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Not for anyone who watched "Into thin air".

    • Not for anyone who watched "Into thin air".

      Or Vertical Limit.

    • Re:surprise? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by niktemadur ( 793971 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:54AM (#26117145)

      Holy cow, I previewed my post and it came out huge, but I can't take anything out, it's my Cliff Notes version of "Into Thin Air", quite relevant to the topic at hand.

      Not for anyone who watched "Into thin air".

      Although I've never seen the movie, I highly recommend the book by John Krakauer.

      A pretty good climber and professional journalist, Krakauer was commissioned by National Geographic to write an article about attempting the summit of Everest, embedded into a group composed of a few world-class climbers, the Sherpa support team and a bunch of wealthy tourists, including a socialite or two.

      Krakauer relates some lethally incompetent things that went on up there, try this one on for size - there were three or four teams camping in the North Col, final camp for the summit assault and already above the "death zone". A member of the Taiwanese team came out of his tent wearing nothing but socks, to take a dump on the icy edge of the very high and steep Lhotse Face. Images of shit cascading down a Himalayan ice face aside, it's not only bad form (there can always be climbers making their way up) but also dangerous as hell. Well the dumb bastard slipped and tumbled over a thousand meters to his death, buck-naked except for his socks, on the frozen roof of the world. You can't make stuff like this up, seriously.

      Just a couple of hundred meters from the summit via the Lhotse route, there's a small but nasty vertical wall called The Hillary Step, which can only be climbed one person at a time. On the way up, Krakauer saw to his dismay that there was a bottleneck here, taking a few hours for everybody to make it past this final obstacle, time already against them. Once on the summit, the teams lingered in a daze even as the monsoon clouds were looming large.

      On the way back, the bottleneck was reversed, now there was a line to climb down the Hillary Step. By the time everybody had passed, it was already too late - the sun was setting, the canned oxygen supply was running out, the storm was already there and temperatures were plummeting, textbook description of a worst-case scenario.

      Every breath and step a battle that took every ounce of effort and concentration, Krakauer staggered down in zero-visibility conditions, passing some dying or dead comrades along the way, finally reaching the North Col at around midnight.

      Here's the thing - even with optimal visibility and mellow temperatures, severe fatigue (that inner reserve of energy was depleted in the final push for the summit) and lack of oxygen will impair the ability to think, reason, move and react in a place where any misstep can be fatal. Many climbers have passed dead colleagues on the way down and that information does not compute in their brains at the moment, personal survival overrides any other concern, only later do horror and regret coalesce and sink their hooks.

      Anyway, Krakauer collapsed in his tent and managed to sleep even while fighting for breath in the "death zone", finally awaking to tragedy unfolding around him, I believe it was eighteen people who died on the mountain that time.

      Well that's more or less how I remember "Into Thin Air". Give it a shot, it managed to be gripping even as I already knew the story.

      Finally, a great climbing movie and true story, done as a documentary with dramatizations, is "Touching The Void", in which two British guys climb a South American peak. On the way down (surprise surprise), one of them falls to certain death, off a cliff and into a crevasse - only he survives. Alone and with a shattered leg, he must drag his way back down the mountain before his distraught teammate abandons base camp, or be truly left for dead.

      • Re:surprise? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by grolaw ( 670747 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:14AM (#26117717) Journal

        I climb. The highest peak I've climbed is 18,700 ft (Pico de Orizaba) and it was only -32 f at the summit (I've had 2 ascents) at the coldest.

        High altitude Pulmonary or Cerebral edema has been a major killer of excellent climbers - and you can climb to the same altitude a dozen times and show no signs - and die on the 13th.

        Nanda Devi Unsoeld - Willie's only daughter and Crag's sister died on the mountain she was named for in 1976. I'd met her in the Tetons in the early 1970s. She had climbed many peaks higher than her namesake - but passed away from High Altitude Pulmonary Edema while stuck at altitude due to a storm.

        Everest is 29,205 ft - Denali is the highest peak in the western hemisphere at 20,320 ft - but more people die from football injuries every year than climbing.

        As for Krakauer - he revels in writing about death - I despise his writing. He made his name writing about the death of Christopher McCandless - a man who thought he could overwinter Alaska in a converted school-bus. That's a tragedy - not "news." and the book, Into the Wild is as corrupt a bit of "if it bleeds, it leads" journalism as exists.

        I find Krakauer cheesy and a glorifier of death - a sick puppy where I come from.

        • by jlehtira ( 655619 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @06:15AM (#26118029) Journal

          It just occurred to me that air pressure depends on two things, altitude AND weather :). Usually during storms the air pressure would drop significantly even on the sea level, and similar could be expected on the mountain. Maybe that time altitude + storm meant lower air pressure than her previous higher altitudes in good weather?

          I climb and study meteorology. You've given me a very nice question to think about :). What you say about edemas is probably very true, but maybe this is an additional reason to take storms extremely seriously?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ComaVN ( 325750 )

          Denali is the highest peak in the western hemisphere at 20,320 ft

          Aconcagua (Argentina) is higher, and so are quite a lot of other Andes peaks.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by doti ( 966971 )

          more people die from football injuries every year than climbing

          Yeah, and more people die from crossing a street than from being electrocuted.

          That's a common mistake while manipulating numbers for statistics. There are A LOT more people playing football than climbing. The number is only relevant as a percentage.

  • Damn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aaron alderman ( 1136207 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:10PM (#26114669) Homepage
    That would suck balls. You manage to get all the way to the top only to die on the way down.

    Still, on the list of ways to kick the bucket, beats slipping in the shower any day.

    • Re:Damn (Score:5, Interesting)

      by HiVizDiver ( 640486 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:35PM (#26114861)
      Maybe, maybe not. Very often climber's bodies are left on Everest because it's too dangerous to retrieve them. I guess that it's no big deal if you die up there, you're not using the body anymore, so who cares what happens to it. But its gotta suck for your family.
      • Re:Damn (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ragethehotey ( 1304253 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:24PM (#26115249)
        How selfish do you have to be to care about something like the retrieval of your body if you die doing something that is known to be this dangerous?
      • Re:Damn (Score:5, Insightful)

        by piltdownman84 ( 853358 ) <piltdownman84@m[ ]com ['ac.' in gap]> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:59PM (#26116277)

        Very often climber's bodies are left on Everest because it's too dangerous to retrieve them

        I'd rather my dead body be up there than on the mountain in a hole in the ground getting eaten by worms.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        A few years ago there was a Korean expedition to specifically remove the body of another Korean climber who died. These 6 climbers moved the body 100 yards in 5 hours then gave up.

        Moving a body is too hard.

    • Re:Damn (Score:5, Funny)

      by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:46PM (#26114921) Journal

      This depends on who you were in the shower with and what you were doing at the time.

      The low temperature and lack of oxygen preclude any such interesting developments on top of Mt. Everest.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is Slashdot. You were alone in the shower, and whatever you were doing I don't want to think about.

    • Re:Damn (Score:5, Funny)

      by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:14PM (#26115155)

      Could be worse. You could make it all they way to the bottom and then die.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      "White Limbo" by Lincoln Hall is about a 1984 Everest expedition where there were problems with very severe frostbite and cerebral edema. They all survived by alternatively going down as quickly as possible, turning back early when things looked risky and one climber kept his damaged hands frozen outside his sleeping bag so that he could still hold an ice axe and make it down alive at the cost of his hands.

      He also wrote "Alive in the death zone" after his 2006 expedition when he was thought dead and left o

  • News flash... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:11PM (#26114675)

    They found that most deaths occur during descents from the summit in the so-called "death zone" above 8,000 meters.

    Um. If the chance of dying increases with time in the "death zone", and descents happen toward the end of your time in said zone, then duh. News flash: Chance of death increases proportional to time without adequate O2.

    • That was exactly my thought as well. Death's on Everest is due to oxygen deprivation. next up death's while walking the Marinara Trench.

    • by beav007 ( 746004 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:33PM (#26114841) Journal
      The reason that nobody Rs TFA is because the answers are so bleeding obvious.

      It has nothing to do with O2 - the deaths are caused by Yetis.

      Like many guard dogs, they will happily let you onto the property. They just don't let you back out again.
    • Re:News flash... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by niktemadur ( 793971 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:44AM (#26117609)

      Chance of death increases proportional to time without adequate O2.

      Reading this, the greatest of all mountain climbers, Reinhold Messner, comes to mind. Back in the early eighties, Messner astonished the mountaneering community by achieving the unthinkable - climbing Everest solo with no oxygen.

      The fact that he bypassed Nepal and did it from the far steeper and more difficult northern, Tibetan side, was impressive enough.
      But whereas basically all expeditions are during the fair weather months of April and May, this crazy, crazy dude did it in August, during the full blast of storm season.

      Nobody has even attempted to repeat the feat in the almost thirty years since.

      Initially, I thought that the guy had a full fledged death wish, but on second thought, there's a great method to his madness - one of the biggest logistical problems in a conventional climb is to haul enough oxygen tanks up there, for a huge team composed of western climbers and Sherpa guides, then the prolonged time it takes to do that also implies hauling enough food and drink, etcetera, not a pretty sight.

      Reinhold Messner was freed from those constraints. His support team consisted of a woman named Nena Olguin... and that was it. All he had to do was haul enough supplies for a few days. As it turned out, he was back at base camp only three days after he set out. He was in the "death zone" for only a day or two, no more.

      On an unrelated but fascinating note, Messner, who's climbed the world's top twenty peaks without the aid of oxygen, also acquired a bit of a reputation in mountaneering circles after a Sherpa "introduced him to the pleasures of smoking hashish at extreme altitudes". Take that with a grain of salt and make of it what you will, but like I said, that is one crazy, crazy dude.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:14PM (#26114709) Homepage Journal
    There seem to be a lot of people who really shouldn't climb it because they aren't nearly as well trained as they think they are, and yet climb it anway..... Thats gotta rank up there for reasons why people die up there.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:28PM (#26114803)

      Go read the book 'High Crimes [amazon.com]'. It's a really amazing book about the greed, desperation and , simply put, evil that surrounds everest. Picture oxygen tanks stolen when a group makes its last ascent, knife fights, torn tents, etc..

  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:15PM (#26114715) Homepage Journal

    Climbers die on the way down. It's more dangerous, you're more fatigued and your guard is down. You also tend to ignore clear signs of physical harm.

  • Because it's cold?
    • by GrpA ( 691294 )

      I got to say, I thought that the title was rather obvious too... I guess this is probably important information I need to know in case I ever climb Mount Everest though...

      Perhaps they will top this with their next research assignment, "Top causes of death on Mount Kilimanjaro (presently believed to be heavy metal poisoning while driving back to the airport.)


  • Hypoxia (Score:5, Informative)

    by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:15PM (#26114719) Homepage

    The higher you climb, the harder your lungs have to work to extract enough oxygen from the air in order to keep you alive. If you don't get enough oxygen, you don't die immediately. Your brain starts becoming less and less efficient, since it cannot produce energy anaerobically, like the rest of your body can.

    Of course, this process is invisible to most people. Its comparable to how your brain isn't fully awake if you get woken up suddenly and feeling confused at the simplest tasks. Hypoxia also affects divers.

    The leakage of fluid from the vessels in the brain is caused by the same hypoxia, since the blood vessels need energy as well.

    The only solution is for climbers to take their own oxygen, or for someone to invent a mobile and low powered oxygen concentrator.

    • Re:Hypoxia (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:44PM (#26115377) Homepage

      hrmm... while the Wikipedia article on cerebral edema supports your statement that HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) is caused by hypoxia, the actual HACE article [wikipedia.org] suggests that HACE is a severe form of altitude sickness [wikipedia.org], for which the only cure is to descend to a lower altitude (an oxygen supply can help to stabilize a patient, but it isn't a cure). from the Wiki article on altitude sickness:

      The cause of altitude sickness is still not understood. It occurs in low atmospheric pressure conditions but not necessarily in low oxygen conditions at sea level pressure. Although treatable to some extent by the administration of oxygen, most of the symptoms do not appear to be caused by low oxygen, but rather by the low CO2 levels causing a rise in blood pH, alkalosis. The percentage of oxygen in air remains essentially constant with altitude at 21 percent, but the air pressure (and therefore the number of oxygen molecules) drops as altitude increases. Altitude sickness usually does not affect persons traveling in aircraft because modern aircraft passenger compartments are pressurized.

      also, don't most Everest climbers use oxygen when they try to summit? i'd be interested in seeing how many deaths were caused by inadequate oxygen supplies, or whether oxygen tanks actually have any effect on one's chances of contracting cerebral edema. and if the Wikipedia HACE article is indeed correct about high altitude cerebral edema usually occurring after a week or more at high altitude, then it would seem that acclimatization does not help prevent HACE.

      however, the altitude sickness article seems to give a different take on the etiology of high altitude cerebral edema:

      It is currently believed, however, that HACE is caused by local vasodilation of cerebral blood vessels in response to hypoxia, resulting in greater blood flow and, consequently, greater capillary pressures. On the other hand, HAPE may be due to general vasoconstriction in the pulmonary circulation (normally a response to regional ventilation-perfusion mismatches) which, with constant or increased cardiac output, also leads to increases in capillary pressures. For those suffering HACE, dexamethasone may provide temporary relief from symptoms in order to keep descending under their own power.

      though i'm not sure why a hypertensive like dexamethasone would be prescribed if HACE were the result of increased capillary pressure and vasoconstriction. seems like it would make more sense to prescribe a hypotensive like clonidine. lowering your blood pressure would help to alleviate capillary pressure and slow the spread of edema, though it would probably make you more tired & reduce your strength, so this would only be appropriate for stabilizing a patient if they're going to be carried down.

  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:17PM (#26114737) Journal

    People exhaust themselves climbing up, but most when they do realize they are in trouble will turn back...or perhaps they realize they have enough and push on to get up there, but don't leave enough in reserve to come back down. Also there's a false sense of achievement - "I made it to the summit!" - but while making it back down alive is actually more improtant it may be anticlimactic and not as big a motivator when you're spent after the effort of reaching the top.

    • by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:21PM (#26115615) Journal

      I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume most readers have never climbed about 10,000 ft. I haven't been up any 8,000 meter peaks myself but my few times about 14,000 ft have taught me that the big danger isn't so much the direct low 02 pressure (pulmonary edema, cerebral edema) but the intense urge to just sit and "rest for a while". The body's ability to generate heat is hampered by the lack of O2, add to that a very cold environment, strong winds, and someone deciding to sit and rest and they may never get up again. Fatigue on top of a complete loss of motivation and disorientation is the big killer. Hypothermia alone will lead you to this state; low O2 combined with it is a doubled threat. Even if you don't lie down you make mistakes with gear, improperly tie knots, put crampons on wrong, etc.

      Most accidents happen on the way down regardless of the altitude. It is when people are their most fatigued, let their guard down, have gravity tugging them away from the slope, and are rushing to beat sundown. When you reach the summit people forget they are only 50% done. As the old saying goes, "Summitting is optional, descending is mandatory."

      As far as the sherpa vs nonsherpa death rate I'd say you have to take into account that sherpas grow up and live at high altitudes. They also are frequently used for many expeditions so they are in very good shape physically and are well trained. Compare that to someone who may have only been to high altitude a few times in their life and who's last major climbing trip may have been years ago. Sherpas, unlike the other climbers, aren't there expecting to summit. They frequently are manning camps, laying fixed lines at lower altitudes, setting up higher camps, etc. They don't have summit fever and if told to turn around will do so (remember, the clients on Everest can be paying $65,000 [alpineascents.com] to be there). They can still get altitude sickness though. I have read about sherpas going to, say, coastal India for a while and then getting altitude sickness apon returning to high altitude.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drew ( 2081 )

        "Summitting is optional, descending is mandatory."

        More than anything else, I think that this is the key. I've climbed a couple of 14,000 foot peaks and a number of 13,000 foot peaks. On the way up, if you know something is wrong, you can turn back. Some people get "summit fever" and ignore the impending problems. I've been guilty of this myself once or twice, and have gotten lucky. Others just don't recognize them because they don't have enough experience. However, intelligent and experienced climbers

  • by neuromanc3r ( 1119631 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:17PM (#26114743)
    That's why! [smbc-comics.com]
  • I thought that "Lack of Oxygen to the Brain" was the root cause and standard 'Definition of Death'?
    (Of course, I am excluding those who blow themselves up with high explosives, fall to their deaths from great heights [or any who may ride thermonuclear bombs as they fall to earth] ...and any other such instantaneous trauma deaths.)
  • by Exatron ( 124633 ) <Exatron AT hotmail DOT com> on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:44PM (#26114909) Homepage
    It's just a name, like the Forbidden Zone or the Zone of no Return. All the zones have names like that on the Mountain of Terror
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now what serious climber really believed those were the primary causes?

  • A chance of death or not, climbing Everest is still #1 on my list of things to do before I die.

  • by MikeV ( 7307 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:50PM (#26114959)

    I have never seen anyone claim that the primary cause of death on Everest is avalanche or falling ice - I'm not sure where that fiction came from. It is common knowledge that the primary cause of death up there is directly related with complications from being in the dead zone, combined with the complications of frequent blizzards that hamper the attempts to get out of the dead zone. Climbers run out of oxygen and also get lost. Some have to be left behind by others because all are under distress and unable to help the straggler. It's a very deadly place to go and is foolish in that one in ten end up dying up there.

  • when it came to cheaters in sports, they'll do things like dope with epo

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erythropoietin [wikipedia.org]

    and blood bank: inject their own previously extracted, concentrated red blood cells back into themselves before the run/ bike (with the subsequent increase in clot risk, of course)

    of course, why can't climbers do this as well? take all of the illegal things they do in sports and apply it legally. of course, they are raising their risk of death with some of these body modifications, but at a lower, controlled risk than that from climbing a mountain without any body preparation at all

    regardless, any climber should spend time running marathons in the high alps or the high sierra to increase red blood cell production naturally, if you are not genetically a sherpa

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lena_10326 ( 1100441 )
      Nit pick. Doping in sports isn't illegal if you're referring to the law (at least in USA). The most common, steroids and EPO, are not illegal compounds.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The problem with the so-called dead zone is that there isn't enough air pressure to force oxygen into your blood, across the lung cells. You can have all the red blood cells you want, but if they can't get oxygen in, you have a problem.
      The ValSalva Maneuver is a way of coping with this, to some extent: you suck in air and then compress your lungs like you're a kid trying to make your face red. That increases the air pressure.

      There are different kinds of hypoxia. One is not having enough red blood cells (

  • genius (Score:4, Funny)

    by binaryseraph ( 955557 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @08:56PM (#26115017)
    Hmm why do climbers die on everest? wweellll jeeez, its a giant mound of rock and ice that humans are not designed to be climbing on naturally. Thanks for the clarification science!
  • by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:18PM (#26115205)

    One of my friends went to hike Everest... he didn't make it very far up. Eating food from some of the natives made him very sick (projectiles from both ends), and he was drug off to a hospital. He didn't die, but it was a possibility in his condition.

    THAT would suck... travel half-way around the world, to be taken down by tourist food.

  • by computerchimp ( 994187 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:16PM (#26115597)
    Gun violence and cancer are the 2 killers on Everest. How could they miss this?
  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:45PM (#26115787)

    You can read the actual research for yourself in British Medical Journal:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec11_1/a2654 [bmj.com]

  • by blitziod ( 591194 ) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @11:39PM (#26116139)
    because it's there!
  • by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @01:43AM (#26116785) Homepage

    I have mixed feelings on the Everest thing. I guess I can understand people wanting to test their limits, and push themselves. And the isolation and harsh environment can be intruiging.

    However, the stories of loved ones, wifes and children, left behind when someone screws up and dies, really make these acts seem selfish at times. (Stories such as the adventurer calling the loved ones on the satellite phone before their inevitable deaths make for good drama, but don't change the fact that it's horribly unnecessary risk for someone with a family...)

    If I'm were well enough off to have $65,000 to plunk into a hobby, I think one of my main goals in life would be to stay *alive* and enjoy it :) ("Okay, I made it, I'm succesful; now let's not screw it up and die!")

    I have somewhat more sympathy for folks like Steve Fosset who took fairly calculated risks with a lot of safety measures included (and ironically didn't die doing anything particularly dangerous), and potentially pushed some technological research in his quests.

    To wax philisophical for a moment, perhaps it's because there aren't a lot of life-risking activities that can greatly advanced mankind these days, as in the days of the explorers. Maybe the same mentality of Columbus (or insert-your-favorite-explorer-here), just doesn't have a satisfying role in today's society, where all the exploring is pretty much done, so these people find these substitue quests to pacify them. ("Deep space astronaut" might be a good calling for these folks, but there's not exactly a lot of openings.)

    Or perhaps I just personally don't see the lure of mountain climbing; it's likely other folks I admire, such as more modern transatlantic sailing adventurers (e.g. Joshua Solcum) could be considered to be in the same class, achieving things that tested their limits, but in the end didn't really advance mankind, other than providng some great tales. (See "Sailing around the world alone.")

    (Even more off-topic, for a bizarre story about business/financial/PR pressures for a sailing circumnavigation, and the ensuing cheating and resulting insanity, check out Deep Water [imdb.com]. A fascinating story, and good documentary on it.)

    To each his own, I guess. Intentionally risking hypoxia doesn't sound like that much of a kick to me (although I hear hypoxia is fun, for the few minutes before you die).

    • A climber's answer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jlehtira ( 655619 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @07:14AM (#26118343) Journal

      A climber intentionally risks many other things, like falling into a crevasse on a glacier, getting caught in a storm on a mountain, etc. I climb, and for me it's very satisfying to manage these risks by making good decisions and surviving in good health from something that is serious business. It's an adventure, and even when it's not a large step for the mankind, it's a kind of personal exploration. Doesn't matter so much if other people charted the glaciers and summits before me, I'm still learning very much about the planet we live on.

      The risk management is not unlike driving a car. While driving fast there's a significant risk of death which we manage. People drive cars even when many die while doing just that. Of course it's much more satisfying to do something a bit less mundane in tremendous surroundings. I don't know why, but after my first trip to Himalayas I've had this calling.. It's not something that existed before that, though.

      You probably shouldn't equate climbing with the Everest so much. People who go to Everest are the types who want to climb the highest mountains - as if that was the superior achievement. And Everest is relatively easy too, it's only challenging because of the height. Most climbers are happier on lower hills. Most climbers never risk hypoxia. And some climbers still climb mountains that have never been climbed by anyone.

      Climbing today might not advance the humanity as a whole very much, but advances still happen. At least the equipment used in climbing and professions who use ropes has developed a great deal during the last decades. It's actually so fast that during my three years of climbing, I'm already seeing technological advances. Also, thanks to the climbers, there's a lot of science done on which knots are the best in saving lives, and which others occasionally fail. This might not get you excited, but it does that to me ;).

  • This is *not* news. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:49AM (#26117909)

    This isn't news at all. Mount Everrest actually is a mountain for sissies, technically speaking. The standard route to the summit is more of an extended hike than an actual climb compared to 'real' mountains such as the Cerro Torre. At sea level it would be a more like a walk in the park, literaly.

    The difficult part with Everest is taking your time to aclimatise - which can take up to half a year. Which most people don't do. Others take O2 with them. Yet O2 only means you won't die inmediately in the death zone if your gear doesn't fail, it doesn't mean making the summit is a sure bet. Most people die on Everest because the lack of O2 gets to their brain and they start doing stupid things. Meaning more stupid things than going up there unprepared in the first place. That's why the standard route is littred with corpses.

    If it were a real mountain that required actual high-profile tech-climbing skills, we'd have much less idiots dying up there, simply because they couldn't reach the death-zone.

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