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Five facts you never realised that you never knew about Mount Everest

Dr Melanie Windridge is a plasma physicist, writer and adventurer who climbed Mount Everest in 2018 while encouraging others to follow in her footsteps. During her expedition, she discovered first-hand a number of surprising facts about the mountain and the challenges that climbers face.

Everest Base Camp

 1. Rotating routines
Climbers operate by making a series of “rotations” up and down the slopes of Mount Everest. Climbing Everest is a bit like climbing a set of stairs, in that you go up and down numerous times. This is because Mount Everest is so high that our bodies receive less and less oxygen the further up we climb. So, we must go up a little way and then let our bodies adjust before going back down again to recover. The cycle then repeats itself several times over until we finally reach the top.

Avalance on the Lho La near mount Everest

2. Dying to succeed
The challenge of climbing to the very top of Mount Everest is not about tackling the height itself, it’s that you must do so while your body is dying due to the extreme altitudes involved. Mount Everest is a staggering 8,848m high. Humans cannot exist permanently above about 5,500 m because they cannot get enough oxygen to survive. As we climb higher and higher, our bodies start wasting away due to the lack of oxygen. When climbing Everest, you actually spend much of the time feeling tired and sick and in pain. Tempted to give it a go yourself?

3. Heating up
The heat from the sun on the surfaces of Mount Everest is intense due to the ice and snow reflecting it back at you as you climb. When clouds come in, and at night, however, temperatures can drop by 20-30° C. When climbing, it is essential to dress for the worst type of weather that could possibly occur, either during the day or at night. So you need lots of layers and warmth to cope with the colder temperatures at night and you have to bring them along with you as you travel. When I was on Everest, I often felt uncomfortably hot, rather than uncomfortably cold.

4. One for all and all for one
As a result of climbing teams needing to shuttle up and down to get enough oxygen, as well as the need to keep camps stocked higher up the mountain, support teams made up of Sherpa from the local regions are crucial. When Hillary and Tenzing first reached the summit of Everest in 1953, or even when Doug Scott and Dougal Haston made it to the top in 1975, an expedition comprising of 12 or 13 climbers and maybe 30 Sherpa was considered successful if just two people reached the top. It was considered a team effort where everyone played their part to get a small number of people to the summit in one piece. Only a small handful of climbers attempted to do the climb solo. Successful expeditions rely on a highly effective pyramid of support, provided by both the organisers and the Sherpas.

5. Science is key
Often, when we read or hear about a successful ascent of Mount Everest, we are told about the “strength of the human spirit” a great deal more than the science and technology that made it possible for the expedition to go ahead in the first place. Science and technology were key to the first summit of Everest back in 1953. A good understanding of human physiology and how to extend the body’s limits through enhanced nutrition, hydration, and additional oxygen supplies was what enabled Tenzing and Hillary to get to the top.

Dr Melanie Windridge


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