Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Mount Everest and Team No Limits

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mount Everest and Team No Limits

Don't ask me why, but I have a strange interest in the yearly expeditions to summit Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. I hate mountain climbing and have no desire to do it myself, but the mystery and intrigue of Everest is undeniable.

There are really only 2 weeks during the entire year when climbers can attempt to summit (reach the top) of the mountain. Those two weeks are the first two weeks in May. The reason is because the weather is simply too unstable during the rest of the year, and climbers run into weather problems even within those two weeks. Climbers have to get to "base camp" a few weeks before the attempt in order to begin acclimating to the altitude. Basically, there is no oxygen up there and your body has to get used to that, it takes weeks. Climbers begin at base camp and then make their way to 4 camps up the mountain. After camp 4, the final summit is attempted. Once you get to camp 4, not good things start happening. Camp 4 is above 25,000 feet, which is called the "death zone" because your body will never acclimate. All body systems, including the digestive system, shut down in order to continue to breathe.

Only in the last decade has Everest became overly populated by "amateur" climbers who have a passion to reach the summit. This sometimes annoys the pro climbers, because they feel the mystery and spirit of the mountain has become compromised by any amateur climber with enough money to hire a "sherpa" or pro guide to get them to the top. Even with money and a guide, getting to the top is no easy matter. Every year people die on Everest. As of this year, there have been 2249 successful summits and 186 deaths. That means that for every 12 people who make it to the top, one dies. Absolutely incredible.

The reasons for so many deaths are numerous, but the one that I find interesting is that when people successfully make it to the top, they spend too much time up there. Apparently, when you summit, you basically have to do the Chevy Chase impersonation of looking at the grand canyon from the movie Vacation. In other words, you say "this is awesome" and then you get out of there. When you stay too long, your body is unable to make the trip back down the summit safely to camp 4. More people die coming down than going up.

The other interesting thing is that because your body is barely able to breathe and walk at that altitude, it is impossible to carry anything other than what you brought. Because of that, there are perfectly frozen corpses, over 120 of them, that can be easily seen of past attempts that failed. They are perfectly preserved in the below zero temperature and they will remain on the slopes of Everest forever.

So, with that positive note, this year I am watching an expedition that has been named "Team No Limits." One of the 4 members, Larry Rigsby, is a doctor in Signal Mountain, TN, which is very close to Nashville. Thanks to the beauty of technology, these guys are blogging their journey. They are approaching base camp today and will begin the acclimating process through the next couple of weeks. If you would like to track their progress, you can check it out at Team No Limits website.

**update** Everest has taken another life this year. A climber not part of the Team No Limits has lost his life on the mountain.


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