Friday, January 27, 2017

What's Hiking Mt. Everest REALLY Like? A Look Into The Dark Side Of The Mountain

Have you ever had a dream that you were trapped on top of a huge mountain with no food or water, doomed to die a cold miserable death? No? Am I the only one? I'm sure I'm not alone here, there must be someone else... oh I know; Mt Everest hikers!

Okay, I know what your thinking; only mad men would dream about dying at the top of Mt. Everest and yet, some of the most passionate hikers in the world wouldn't want to end their journey any other way. I mean they probably wouldn't want the whole suffering part and if they're still pretty young with a long life ahead of them they'd probably want to live a couple more years but for experienced adventurers with an ever dwindling ability to physically hike, it would be more than an honor to be taken by the pinnacle of trekking experiences that is the summit of Mt. Everest.

Mt. Everest is known as the tallest mountain in the world, towering a massive 29,035 ft high, more than ten times the height of the tallest building in the world. To scale this abnormal giant is to walk the tightrope of life and death. Either you perish along with the other 200 fallen heros or you survive the treacherous unknown and be praised as a trekking god (although probably with a pretty scarred mind).

Let's look at the facts:

Mt Everest is a death trap through-and-through.

As stated before, over at least 200 people have died on the hike for one reason or another. Although this is sad, their stories are interesting none-the-less and some have even been rewarded for their bravery in films such as Everest, which keys the unforgettable Disaster of 1996 in which 8 people died after being caught in a devastating blizzard at the summit of Mt. Everest. These bodies serve as landmarks to Everest hikers, allowing their guides to navigate the mountain easier.

Unfortunately, most of these bodies will never be recovered due to the challenge of transporting them down the mountain. The higher the elevation the more bodies you'll find and the less oxygen you'll breathe. Oxygen levels slowly plummet as you climb the mountain due to less air pressure. At the summit, the oxygen level is 1/3 the level of sea level. Time is of the essence and for this reason, recovering bodies is an impossibility.
Because of the extreme cold (temperatures often plunge to -30F), bodies can be preserved with little decay for years to come. They become as stiff as a rock and eventually fuse to the ground itself. They literally become a part of the mountain.

You will find the majority of the bodies in the 'Death Zone', a term used to describe the area between the last camp and the summit, the final frontier. It starts at about 26,000 ft. and takes an average of 8-16 hours to reach the summit, about a half mile hike. This part wouldn't be so dangerous if everything actually went as planned but it rarely does. Sudden blizzards, avalanches, ice boulders, high winds, and exhaustion are common yet unpredictable occurrences on this slope of death.

To the summit and beyond.

When you arrive at the top of the 29,035 ft. summit, the world around you changes. The mountains untouched by man seem so bright from the sun's unobscured energy, you are standing above the clouds, and for the first time ever you are face-to-face with the edge of the world. You are close to the stars and you can see the curvature of the Earth. You are in a place where life is restricted by nature and yet you've transcended the laws of nature and decided to stand there anyways. You underwent much suffering in order to experience this moment and now it just feels too good to be true. Your life is complete and you can live the rest of your days with a feeling of accomplishment and contentment. That is if you can make it down.

That's right, you still have to climb down the mountain. What, did you think a helicopter was going to pick you up and fly you to safety? Well, they can't do that because you're higher then the altitude a helicopter can fly. You're still in danger and if you want to make it back with all your limbs intact you'd better start moving. The view is only beautiful until the local blizzard comes around.

Scaling down the mountain is just as dangerous as the climb up, sometimes even more dangerous. For anyone that has trekked a steep icy mountain understands this completely. The downward direction of movement can easily cause a climber to slip and when you slip in the death zone you're likely to continue to slide faster and faster, gaining momentum until you're completely out of control and slide right off the edge of the mountain! Many people have died this way and it's a constant possibility in the back of an Everest hiker's mind.

But let's say by some miracle you make it back to base camp without any problems. You've inched your way back over The Knife Ridge, revisited all the dead bodies in the death zone, and walked the 11,335 ft. of impending doom. The possibility of death was in your mind the entire time but luckily you made it out and can live to see another day. But it's not always that easy.

The aftermath can go from rewarding to life-destroying in an instant.

In the movies and novels, you hear things like; "he told his kids of the time he hiked Mt. Everest and how beautiful it was", but in reality there are rarely happily-ever-afters.

While it's true that some people are truly built for the hike, most are not. Some super-hikers even possess the ability to summit the mountain completely solo and without using any oxygen tanks. In 1980, a man named Reinhold Messner did just that! But for the majority of hikers, this is simply not possible.

Frostbite can deliver devastating consequences. Limb damage and even limb loss are more common than you'd think.

Fingers, toes, and noses are common body parts to lose when frostbite from Mt. Everest strikes.
If you're lucky enough to avoid severe frostbite you're still very likely to lose a fair amount of muscle mass due to prolonged exposure to high altitudes. And if enough muscle mass is lost it can cause crippling and an inability to operate heavy machinery. It can take a long time to recover from this so it's important to plan ahead when attempting to climb the alpine giant that is Mt. Everest.

So you think you have what it takes to be an Everest summiteer? It's a task rarely accomplished, but a trekker's fantasy to achieve. "Explore the unseen or die trying"; that's the attitude of a truly passionate adventurer and the attitude that will get you to the top of Mt. Everest!

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