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Everest Oxygen debrief: A buy for Poisk, a hold for Summit oxygen
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Mar 3, 2005 09: 39 EST
Last year, we ran a series on supplementary oxygen systems for Everest. The most common system on Everest is Poisk. Fairly reliable and lightweight, it was initially designed for fighter pilots.

A new system

But in 2003, Summit Oxygen introduced a new system, intended specifically for climbers. The system was used in 2003 with limited success by a UK Navy/Marines team. The setup was just a step away from what was traditional at the time. The normal Poisk system delivers oxygen to a climber via a facemask on a constant basis. The oxygen cylinder is opened up to a set flow and then piped to the mask, similar to turning on a sink faucet. The new system delivers oxygen through a nose pipe that sticks right into your nostrils, not on a constant basis, but on demand.

It seemed promising; you’d need less oxygen cylinders, which is more cost productive (although the price shot up shortly after we ran the articles), and you can lose the bulky mask, often responsible for fogging your goggles.

Old problems reinvented?

But, we wrote, the system is relatively new to the scene and does still have a few issues of its own. In fact, we received an email from a veteran climber soon after our first installment of “Everest oxygen week” concerning previous demand-based systems that have had reliability problems:

"Actually ‘demand’ systems have been used off and on for more than two decades in the mountains. Of late they had fallen out of favor because of reliability issues. Typically the problem with the ‘nose’ hose as well as ‘demand’ systems is that they tend to clog up and malfunction under severe conditions. Before you go out and buy stock in this company and promote it heavily I would suggest researching the historical problems with these types of systems - hopefully this one has worked out the kinks but skepticism is not always a bad thing. I've tried a "demand" system high up and it can be like pulling a golf ball through a garden hose once the ice inevitably builds up."

The 2003 track record

So we checked summit oxygen's track record from the 2003 UK Navy expedition. It turned out Dave Pearce was able to summit using the new system that year, but his climbing partner, Rich Cantrill had to turn around because of frostbite. “The 2003 year’s RN Everest expedition was able to showcase the prototype of the next year’s improved system,” said the creator.

So, we concluded: It is clear that while the system looks very promising, more case studies are needed. With that, the jury is still out on the old vs. the new.

The 2004 track record

So how did it go last year? Unfortunately, not very well. 2004 was a very successful year on Everest in terms of summits, due in part to an unusually extended weather window. May 26, Everest was summited for the 12th consecutive day, a record in Everest history. In addition, Everest had close to 300 summiteers that year, beating the 50th anniversary record of 275 summits in 1993. The success ratio hovered around 70-80%.

And yet, not a single instance of a summit made on the new oxygen system. There were rumors that the pipes had frozen. An entire team on the system, The Adventure Peaks, aborted their summit push. Although the system was reported to have sold out last year, ExWeb has not yet received one report of a successful summit made with it.

The Summit oxygen system is a good initiative. But until it can boast more than only one Everest summit to its record, you better stick to good old POISK. Just make sure you get the original bottles - and not the recycled versions refilled in India.

'Don't try this at home' - Image of a climber attempting to use his oxygen rig to help start his stove courtesy of Serac Adventure Films.

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