Monday, 6 May 2013

Climbing


Routes

Because Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world, it has attracted considerable attention and climbing attempts. A set of climbing routes has been established, and the risks in climbing are well-known.Mt. Everest has two main climbing routes, the southeast ridge from Nepal and the north ridge from Tibet, as well as many other less frequently climbed routes.Of the two main routes, the southeast ridge is technically easier and is the more frequently used route. It was the route used by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and the first recognized of fifteen routes to the top by 1996. This was, however, a route decision dictated more by politics than by design as the Chinese border was closed to the western world in the 1950s after the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet.Most attempts are made during May before the summer monsoon season. As the monsoon season approaches, a change in the jet stream at this time pushes it northward, thereby reducing the average wind speeds high on the mountain. While attempts are sometimes made after the monsoons in September and October, when the jet stream is again temporarily pushed northward, the additional snow deposited by the monsoons and the less stable weather patterns (tail end of the monsoon) makes climbing extremely difficult.



Southeast ridge



The ascent via the southeast ridge begins with a trek to Base Camp at 5,380 m (17,700 ft) on the south side of Everest in Nepal. Expeditions usually fly into Lukla (2,860 m) from Kathmandu and pass through Namche Bazaar. Climbers then hike to Base Camp, which usually takes six to eight days, allowing for proper altitude acclimatization in order to prevent altitude sickness.[59] Climbing equipment and supplies are carried by yaks, dzopkyos (yak-cow hybrids) and human porters to Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier. When Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest in 1953, the British expedition that they were part of (over 400 climbers, porters and sherpas at that point) started from the Kathmandu Valley, as there were no roads further east at that time.Climbers will spend a couple of weeks in Base Camp, acclimatizing to the altitude. During that time, Sherpas and some expedition climbers will set up ropes and ladders in the treacherous Khumbu Icefall. Seracs, crevasses and shifting blocks of ice make the icefall one of the most dangerous sections of the route. Many climbers and Sherpas have been killed in this section. To reduce the hazard, climbers will usually begin their ascent well before dawn, when the freezing temperatures glue ice blocks in place. Above the icefall is Camp I at 6,065 metres (19,900 ft).From Camp I, climbers make their way up the Western Cwm to the base of the Lhotse face, where Camp II or Advanced Base Camp (ABC) is established at 6,500 m (21,300 ft). The Western Cwm is a flat, gently rising glacial valley, marked by huge lateral crevasses in the centre, which prevent direct access to the upper reaches of the Cwm. Climbers are forced to cross on the far right near the base of Nuptse to a small passageway known as the "Nuptse corner". The Western Cwm is also called the "Valley of Silence" as the topography of the area generally cuts off wind from the climbing route. The high altitude and a clear, windless day can make the Western Cwm unbearably hot for climbers.From ABC, climbers ascend the Lhotse face on fixed ropes up to Camp III, located on a small ledge at 7,470 m (24,500 ft). From there, it is another 500 meters to Camp IV on the South Col at 7,920 m (26,000 ft). From Camp III to Camp IV, climbers are faced with two additional challenges: The Geneva Spur and The Yellow Band. The Geneva Spur is an anvil shaped rib of black rock named by the 1952 Swiss expedition. Fixed ropes assist climbers in scrambling over this snow covered rock band. The Yellow Band is a section of interlayered marble, phyllite, and semischist, which also requires about 100 meters of rope for traversing it.On the South Col, climbers enter the death zone. Climbers typically only have a maximum of two or three days that they can endure at this altitude for making summit bids. Clear weather and low winds are critical factors in deciding whether to make a summit attempt. If weather does not cooperate within these short few days, climbers are forced to descend, many all the way back down to Base Camp.From Camp IV, climbers will begin their summit push around midnight with hopes of reaching the summit (still another 1,000 meters above) within 10 to 12 hours. Climbers will first reach "The Balcony" at 8,400 m (27,600 ft), a small platform where they can rest and gaze at peaks to the south and east in the early light of dawn. Continuing up the ridge, climbers are then faced with a series of imposing rock steps which usually forces them to the east into waist-deep snow, a serious avalanche hazard. At 8,750 m (28,700 ft), a small table-sized dome of ice and snow marks the South Summit.From the South Summit, climbers follow the knife-edge southeast ridge along what is known as the "Cornice traverse", where snow clings to intermittent rock. This is the most exposed section of the climb as a misstep to the left would send one 2,400 m (8,000 ft) down the southwest face, while to the immediate right is the 3,050 m (10,000 ft) Kangshung face. At the end of this traverse is an imposing 12 m (40 ft) rock wall called the "Hillary Step" at 8,760 m (28,740 ft).Hillary and Tenzing were the first climbers to ascend this step and they did it with primitive ice climbing equipment and ropes. Nowadays, climbers will ascend this step using fixed ropes previously set up by Sherpas. Once above the step, it is a comparatively easy climb to the top on moderately angled snow slopes—though the exposure on the ridge is extreme, especially while traversing large cornices of snow. With increasing numbers of people climbing the mountain in recent years, the Step has frequently become a bottleneck, with climbers forced to wait significant amounts of time for their turn on the ropes, leading to problems in getting climbers efficiently up and down the mountain. After the Hillary Step, climbers also must traverse a loose and rocky section that has a large entanglement of fixed ropes that can be troublesome in bad weather. Climbers will typically spend less than half an hour at the summit to allow time to descend to Camp IV before darkness sets in, to avoid serious problems with afternoon weather, or because supplemental oxygen tanks run out.

North ridge


The north ridge route begins from the north side of Everest in Tibet. Expeditions trek to the Rongbuk Glacier, setting up base camp at 5,180 m (16,990 ft) on a gravel plain just below the glacier. To reach Camp II, climbers ascend the medial moraine of the east Rongbuk Glacier up to the base of Changtse at around 6,100 m (20,000 ft). Camp III (ABC—Advanced Base Camp) is situated below the North Col at 6,500 m (21,300 ft). To reach Camp IV on the north col, climbers ascend the glacier to the foot of the col where fixed ropes are used to reach the North Col at 7,010 m (23,000 ft). From the North Col, climbers ascend the rocky north ridge to set up Camp V at around 7,775 m (25,500 ft). The route crosses the North Face in a diagonal climb to the base of the Yellow Band reaching the site of Camp VI at 8,230 m (27,000 ft). From Camp VI, climbers will make their final summit push. Climbers face a treacherous traverse from the base of the First Step: ascending from 8,501 metres (27,890 ft) to 8,534 m (28,000 ft), to the crux of the climb, the Second Step: ascending from 8,577 metres (28,140 ft) to 8,626 m (28,300 ft). (The Second Step includes a climbing aid called the "Chinese ladder", a metal ladder placed semi-permanently in 1975 by a party of Chinese climbers. It has been almost continuously in place since, and ladders have been used by virtually all climbers on the route.) Once above the Second Step the inconsequential Third Step is clambered over: ascending from 8,690 m (28,510 ft) to 8,800 m (28,870 ft). Once above these steps, the summit pyramid is climbed by a snow slope of 50 degrees, to the final summit ridge along which the top is reached.


Death zone



At the higher regions of Mount Everest, climbers seeking the summit typically spend substantial time within the death zone (altitudes higher than 8,000 metres (26,000 ft)), and face significant challenges to survival. Temperatures can dip to very low levels, resulting in frostbite of any body part exposed to the air. Since temperatures are so low, snow is well-frozen in certain areas and death or injury by slipping and falling can occur. High winds at these altitudes on Everest are also a potential threat to climbers.
Another significant threat to climbers is low atmospheric pressure. The atmospheric pressure at the top of Everest is about a third of sea level pressure or 0.333 standard atmospheres (337 mbar), resulting in the availability of only about a third as much oxygen to breathe.Debilitating effects of the death zone are so great that it takes most climbers up to 12 hours to walk the distance of 1.72 kilometres (1.07 mi)) from South Col to the summit.[63] Achieving even this level of performance requires prolonged altitude acclimatization, which takes 40–60 days for a typical expedition. A sea-level dweller exposed to the atmospheric conditions at the altitude above 28,000 feet (8,500 m) without acclimatization would likely lose consciousness within 2 to 3 minutes.In May 2007, the Caudwell Xtreme Everest undertook a medical study of oxygen levels in human blood at extreme altitude. Over 200 volunteers climbed to Everest Base Camp where various medical tests were performed to examine blood oxygen levels. A small team also performed tests on the way to the summit.Even at base camp, the low partial pressure of oxygen had direct effect on blood oxygen saturation levels. At sea level, blood oxygen saturation is generally 98–99%. At base camp, blood saturation fell to between 85–87%. Blood samples taken at the summit indicated very low oxygen levels in the blood. A side effect of low blood oxygen is a vastly increased breathing rate, often 80–90 breaths per minute as opposed to a more typical 20–30. Exhaustion can occur merely attempting to breathe.Lack of oxygen, exhaustion, extreme cold, and climbing hazards all contribute to the death toll. An injured person who cannot walk is in serious trouble, since rescue by helicopter is generally impractical and carrying the person off the mountain is very risky. People who die during the climb are typically left behind. About 150 bodies have never been recovered. It is not uncommon to find corpses near the standard climbing routes.

Supplemental oxygen



Most expeditions use oxygen masks and tanks above 8,000 m (26,000 ft). Everest can be climbed without supplementary oxygen, but only by the most accomplished mountaineers and at increased risk. Humans do not think clearly with low oxygen, and the combination of extreme weather, low temperatures, and steep slopes often require quick, accurate decisions.The use of bottled oxygen to ascend Mount Everest has been controversial. It was first used on the 1922 British Mount Everest Expedition by George Finch and Geoffrey Bruce who climbed up to 7,800 m (25,600 ft) at a spectacular speed of 1000 vertical feet per hour (vf/h). Pinned down by a fierce storm, they escaped death by breathing oxygen from a jury-rigged set-up during the night. The next day they climbed to 8,100 m (26,600 ft) at 900 vf/h—nearly three times as fast as non-oxygen users. Yet the use of oxygen was considered so unsportsmanlike that none of the rest of the Alpine world recognized this high ascent rate.[citation needed] George Mallory himself described the use of such oxygen as unsportsmanlike, but he later concluded that it would be impossible for him to summit without it and consequently used it on his final attempt in 1924. When Tenzing and Hillary made the first successful summit in 1953, they used bottled oxygen, with the expedition's physiologist Griffith Pugh referring to the oxygen debate as a "futile controversy", noting that oxygen "greatly increases subjective appreciation of the surroundings, which after all is one of the chief reasons for climbing."For the next twenty-five years, bottled oxygen was considered standard for any successful summit.Reinhold Messner was the first climber to break the bottled oxygen tradition and in 1978, with Peter Habeler, made the first successful climb without it. Although critics alleged that he sucked mini-bottles of oxygen—a claim that Messner denied—Messner silenced them when he summited the mountain solo, without supplemental oxygen or any porters or climbing partners, on the more difficult northwest route, in 1980. Once the climbing community was satisfied that the mountain could be climbed without supplemental oxygen, many purists then took the next logical step of insisting that's how it should be climbed.The aftermath of the 1996 disaster further intensified the debate. Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (1997) expressed the author's personal criticisms of the use of bottled oxygen. Krakauer wrote that the use of bottled oxygen allowed otherwise unqualified climbers to attempt to summit, leading to dangerous situations and more deaths. The 10–11 May 1996 disaster was partially caused by the sheer number of climbers (34 on that day) attempting to ascend, causing bottlenecks at the Hillary Step and delaying many climbers, most of whom summitted after the usual 2 p.m. turnaround time. He proposed banning bottled oxygen except for emergency cases, arguing that this would both decrease the growing pollution on Everest—many bottles have accumulated on its slopes—and keep marginally qualified climbers off the mountain.The 1996 disaster also introduced the issue of the guide's role in using bottled oxygen.Guide Anatoli Boukreev's decision not to use bottled oxygen was sharply criticized by Jon Krakauer. Boukreev's supporters (who include G. Weston DeWalt, who co-wrote The Climb) state that using bottled oxygen gives a false sense of security. Krakauer and his supporters point out that, without bottled oxygen, Boukreev could not directly help his clients descend.They state that Boukreev said that he was going down with client Martin Adams, but just below the South Summit, Boukreev determined that Adams was doing fine on the descent and so descended at a faster pace, leaving Adams behind. Adams states in The Climb: "For me, it was business as usual, Anatoli's going by, and I had no problems with that."