Jan 8, 2009 | 1
It's no secret that scaling Mount Everest tests the limits of human survival; more than 200 people have died trying to reach its summit. Today we have new information about just how seriously climbers push their bodies on the world's highest peak: Those who manage to stay alive do so on an amount of oxygen that is so minute it would only be seen, at sea level, in people who were in cardiac arrest or dead.
Four doctors from University College London (U.C.L.) trekked up to Everest's 29,029-foot (8,848-meter) summit. They then descended to 27,559 feet (8,400 meters), where it was warmer and more sheltered from the high winds. There, they drew one another's blood and handed it off to a sherpa named Pafang, who took it down to a blood-gas analyzing machine at 20,997 feet (6,400 meters) to measure the oxygen levels in it.
Dec 10, 2008 | 3
As difficult as it is to scale Mount Everest, coming back down from the world’s tallest peak is far more deadly, a new study shows.
Some 192 of the 212 deaths on the Himalayan mountain that occurred between 1921 and 2006 were above base camp, according to research in this week’s online edition of the British Medical Journal. Among climbers who died after scaling higher than 8,000 meters (26, 246 feet) above sea level, 56 percent succumbed on their descent from Everest’s 8,850-meter (29,000-foot) summit, and another 17 percent died after turning back. Just 15 percent died on the way up or before leaving their final camp.
Most of the deaths were among climbers – not sherpas who are native to the high altitude and have previously been found to have broader arteries and capillaries to deliver oxygen to their blood. While the sherpas who died did so more often at low altitudes — from falls or avalanches — for the climbers, the thin mountain air near the top proved fatal. They died mostly because the lack of oxygen caused blood vessels in their brains to leak fluid into the surrounding tissue, causing a fatal swelling called cerebral edema.
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