Fear nothing except fear itself. Still, there are some if's and but's to
this golden rule. The following are some of the mishaps that we have
faced during our 4 years of Everest attempts:
- Falling rocks
- Crevasse falls
- Other falls (including getting hit by falling climber)
- Severe exhaustion/dehydration
- Hurricane at 8600 m / 27000 ft
- Lost tents
- Tropical and all kinds of other infections
- To the above; witnessing accidents and deaths of other climbers.
death percentage on Everest is currently around 5%. You can do a lot to
minimize the statistics for yourself.
First from all, no mountain is safe. The Mount Blanc area suffers
50-60 deaths every year.
All mountains are unpredictable and sometimes terribly unforgiving to
negligence. Beware! Take control of your situation on Everest like on
any mountain; by being sensible and well prepared.
1. Always have the last
word on your safety.
Even if you join a commercial expedition, you canít count on
anyone in a dangerous situation. Itís very healthy to take control
of your own gear, oxygen and climbing decisions. To turn around allows
for new attempts. Itís wiser to fail than to die.
We turned around for 3 years on Everest. Surprisingly many excellent
Everest climbers have done the same. To try 3, 4 or even 5 times is more
common then you would imagine. And wise if the situation calls for it.
In fact, the more inexperienced the climbers, the more often will
they summit on their first attempt. Itís chance-taking due to
unawareness of the dangers and of course it's very hazardous. You might
get away once or twice with it, but itís nothing for the long-term
climber. Messners summit ratio in the Himalayas was 1:3.
2. Respect the weather.
Bad weather can turn an easy, sunny climb into a horrible, fatal
inferno. The change is often fast and unforgiving.
Suddenly, you are blind, the wind freeze the blood in your veins, you
canít think and you canít find your way anywhere! Instantly, you feel a
deadly fear whilst your mind keeps falling into a helpless dizziness.
You cant feel your fingers, you canít feel your toes - there is ice on
the white, dying tissue of your face and the roaring wind drowns your
fellow climbers' desperate yells for each other. Itís too late for
get yourself into it. Check the weather forecasts, see that you
understand them, take them seriously and donít allow yourself to get
false security in large numbers of climbers.
On prolonged climbs, bad weather might strike unexpectedly, contrary to
forecasts of fine conditions. The mountain creates its own weather,
impossible to predict well by todays models and especially without a
weather station on the summit. Trust forecasts for general weather
system predictions, but always keep an eye on the mountain. Place fixed
ropes everywhere possible. Bring a compass, provide for a security light
in camp. Minimize the risk any way you can.
Donít hurry, clip in everywhere. At technical parts,
fixed with old rope, clip in to several lines at once. Almost yearly
climbers die in the Himalayas due to old rope. Pull at the ropes before
clipping in. Check the screws and the ropes at all times. Donít climb
together with large numbers of climbers on one rope.
lean on the ropes too much. Use your crampons and legs on steep climbs
like the Lhotse wall.
For unroped sections it might be wise to tie in to each
other. Learn self-arrest techniques. Some climbers prefer not to tie in
with someone (if one falls the other will get pulled along). We find it
worth the chance to tie in anyway, providing you and your mate know self
arrest really well.
4. Drink plenty.
And we mean PLENTY. High altitude health problems like
headache, edema, frostbite, confusion and such are actually more often
related to dehydration then lack of oxygen. (See "Medical")
5. Know yourself.
A lot of strange feelings, reactions and symptoms occur
at altitude. For instance; going high causes your brain to lack oxygen.
A brain short on oxygen reacts by depression.
In the old ages, when people slept in four-poster beds
hung with thick velvety curtains, people lacked oxygen at night. Thats
why this time in history is called the "nightmare-age". Itís the same
phenomena. The brain reacts on oxygen depravation by nightmares at night
and bad moods during the day.
Going down instead floods your brain with oz and you
will get euphoric. This instead can cause psychosis.
dangerous situations, we all react differently. Some freeze, some panic,
some are rational. How will you react?
The knowledge of different situations at altitude - and your own
reactions to them - is important for your self-confidence and essential
for survival.Thatís why experience with altitude is so important prior
to an Everest climb.
How much oxygen will be needed for the attempt? How many
bottles is that? On what flow? What is your backup for os-failure? How
do you change the bottles?
What if the regulator clogs up with ice? What will you
do if you lose a crampon? How does it feel to become snow-blind? Why
does it happen? Why do people with hypothermia undress and neatly fold
away their clothes?
Seek knowledge in books and practice. Preparation is the
seed of success. On Everest - itís also the key to survival.
there are some ways to "read" the snow, and various digging techniques
for avalanche situations, there is really not much to do about it.
Avoid climbs following heavy snowfalls. Especially on
the Lhotse wall or the North wall. Climb swiftly past the dangerous
parts, donít climb the icefall too late in the day, and - well - keep
your fingers crossed.