This week’s post follows on neatly from last week’s, on what the data reveals about Everest summit success.
While I was busy posting that one, physicist Dr Melanie Windridge, who climbed Everest in 2018 was busy posting the following short educational video that describes five surprising facts about Everest in a way that manages to be fun, educational and accessible all in one.
I say ‘surprising’, but this depends on who you are. Some of the things revealed in the video (like the fact that it can be hot up there, and you go up and down, then up and down, then up and down again) are so integral to the whole experience of climbing a big Himalayan peak, that I had to pause for a moment before thinking, ‘yeah, actually that’s not so obvious is it’.
Dr Mel has written a book about the science of climbing Everest that will be published next year. After watching this video it’s gone straight on my reading list. It looks like it’s going to be extremely readable.
But first, here’s the video.
And here are the facts:
1 Climbers make rotations up and down Everest’s slopes
‘It’s a little like climbing your stairs,’ Melanie tells us in the video.
By which she means you go up and down several times. In the case of Everest, this is to help you acclimatise, rather than because you’re looking for something active to do during lockdown.
2 The challenge is not the height itself, but that you’re dying
A useful reminder if you’ve climbed 8,848m up and down your stairs during lockdown and believe that you’re now ready to climb Everest. Above 5,500m, your body is slowly dying and deprived of the oxygen it needs to survive and recover. The effect of altitude on the human body is the real challenge of climbing Everest.
3 Everest is hot!
Yes, indeed. The earth’s atmosphere is thinner and the sun is more intense at that altitude. The sun’s rays reflect off the whiteness of the snow. Meanwhile you’re dressed like Mr Blobby, ready for a sudden drop in temperature when the clouds close in. There are moments when you’re sweating like a pig in a sauna.
4 All climbers need support at that height
Reinhold Messner might disagree with this one, but not many other people who’ve climbed Everest will. Melanie reminds us that Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Doug Scott and Dougal Haston all had teams supporting them, as do more ordinary climbers like you and me.
5 Science was key to overcoming the challenge of Everest
Just as I plugged my book in last week’s post, Melanie is entitled to plug her own book with its scientific theme, while reminding us of some historical facts about Everest’s first ascent. Little was known about altitude in the early days, and many expeditions took scientists to help understand about nutrition, hydration and breathing extra oxygen.
As you can see, Melanie filmed the video while doing what quite a lot of other people have been doing during lockdown: climbing up and down the stairs hundreds of times. I’m presuming that she shot the video somewhere towards the beginning of this process, while she was still able to talk.
In her case, she was raising money for Community Action Nepal (CAN), the charity set up by mountaineering legend Doug Scott CBE to build schools and strengthen rural communities throughout the mountain areas of Nepal.
You may have been saddened to read in The Times a few weeks ago that the legendary figure who was the first Briton to climb Everest by a demanding new route on the South-West Face, and once crawled down a mountain in Pakistan with a pair of broken legs, was diagnosed with terminal cancer on the very day that Britain went into COVID-19 lockdown.
If you couldn’t get behind the
firewall to read the article about Doug Scott’s last great
climb, here it is 👇 https://t.co/OiwCzCoIGv
Mark Horrell 🌋 (@markhorrell) August
This is an appropriate time to remember that, like Sir Edmund Hillary, Doug Scott has worked tirelessly to give back to the people who helped him to make his name. For many years, he’s been a familiar figure at mountaineering lectures in London, where he often appears during the interval to auction photographs that have been signed by pretty much every famous Himalayan climber of the 20th century. I will miss these interludes.
If they can give Sir Ian Botham a knighthood for being one of our country’s greatest cricketers and raising big sums for leukaemia, they should certainly give Doug Scott CBE a knighthood for being one our greatest climbers and doing more than most to alleviate poverty.
To celebrate the 45th anniversary of Sir Doug’s Everest ascent, CAN are inviting people to climb up and down their stairs and make a donation to charity. Like the true gentleman he is, you’ll be relieved to know that he isn’t asking you to climb the height of Everest. You only have to climb the stairs 20 times.
But you don’t even have to do that. Many people have been hit hard by COVID-19. Some of the hardest hit are those in Nepal who earn their living by tourism, in the very mountain communities where CAN operates. If you can spare a few rupees for a donation then I’m certain it will be appreciated and spent wisely.