7 Survival Rules

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:

  • Avalanches
  • Falling rocks
  • Crevasse falls
  • Other falls (including getting hit by falling climber)
  • Severe exhaustion/dehydration
  • Whiteout
  • Hurricane at 8600 m / 27000 ft
  • Lost tents
  • Frostnip
  • AMS
  • Pneumonia
  • Tropical and all kinds of other infections
  • To the above; witnessing accidents and deaths of other climbers.

The 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 can't count on anyone in a dangerous situation. It's very healthy to take control of your own gear, oxygen and climbing decisions. To turn around allows for new attempts. It's 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. It's 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 it's 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 can't think and you can't 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 can't 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. It's too late for everything.

Don't get yourself into it. Check the weather forecasts, see that you understand them, take them seriously and don't 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.

3. Use the ropes.

Don't 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. Don't climb together with large numbers of climbers on one rope.

Don't 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". It's 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.

In 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.That's why experience with altitude is so important prior to an Everest climb.

6. Know your gear, oxygen and alpine medicine.

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 - it's also the key to survival.

7. Avalanche.

Whilst 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, don't climb the icefall too late in the day, and - well - keep your fingers crossed.