15 August 2007

How to survive climbing Mount Everest

Cosmos Online
The best chance of success and survival at the world's highest peak, Mount Everest, is to be young, a new survey reveals. Experience offers little advantage and gender is irrelevant.
How to survive climbing Mount Everest

Peak fitness: Reaching the summit of Everest requires youth over experience. Credit: Richard Salisbury

SYDNEY: The best chance of success and survival at the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, is to be young, a new survey reveals. Experience offers little advantage and gender is irrelevant.

A team of biologists and statisticians from U.S. universities said their recent analysis of 15 years of mountaineering data may prove vital in decision making for prospective climbers.

“When evaluating whether to attempt Everest, mountaineers should have access to… their odds of summiting and death. On Everest, youth and vigour trump age and experience,” write experts led by Raymond Huey of the University of Washington in Seattle in the journal Biology Letters.

Death risk

Part of the Himalayan peaks of Nepal, Mount Everest rises over 8.4 km above sea level and has been ascended by over 2,000 individuals since New Zealander Edmund Hillary first reached its summit in 1953. The mountain has since then claimed the lives of more than 200 men and women.

For the past four decades, American writer and historian Elizabeth Hawley conducted rigorous interviews and collected data on a number of aspects of mountaineering on Mount Everest. Her archives were turned into a database in 2004. Now, Huey and his team have analysed her data collected between 1990 and 2005 and compiled figures on rates of death and success while climbing the mountain during the most popular season in spring.

Their results show that age is a better indicator than experience of what Everest might hold in store. After the age of 40, the chances of success drop off dramatically, said the researchers, and after 60, odds of death surge. The study also found that there is little variation between the chances of success and survival for the genders.

Only way to the top

The fact that both genders are equally matched for climbing Everest came as no surprise to health and exercise scientist Rod Snow of Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. “What goes into being successful on Mount Everest? It’s multi-factorial. It is a skilled activity, which involves all sorts of judgements. It is not a power sport.”

“The results appear to be sensible,” added James Paul Finn an exercise physiologist from Charles Darwin University in Australia’s Northern Territory. “[Respiration and immunity are] important to success on Mount Everest and after peak physical performance between 20 and 40 various health systems may weaken.”

Finn has one bit of advice for anyone considering climbing Everest: “The truth is the only way to the top is as part of a group. An individual is not going to be successful without a strong group.”


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