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How to survive on Everest

Picture of Melanie Windridge on Everest

Humans are not designed to survive above 8,000 metres (26,246 feet). Yet, despite this indisputable scientific fact, people have managed to climb to the highest point on Earth, the summit of Mount Everest, at a staggering 8,848 metres (29,028 feet).

Dr Melanie Windridge, plasma physicist and adventurer, reached the summit of Mount Everest in May 2018 and is well aware of the wonders of science that have helped climbers like her survive on Everest. In particular, research into why the human body starts to shut down at high altitude and what can be done to strengthen it and allow climbers to push through the barrier to achieve a successful ascent to the top of Mount Everest.

The reason why higher altitudes affect us so intensely lies in the science around air pressure and oxygen. As we climb higher the air pressure around us reduces. There is less oxygen present in every lungful of air we breathe in once we start to get a lot higher than sea level. We all know that oxygen is vital for our bodily functions and for survival, making the fact that we get less of it as we move higher up a real concern. The body has to adapt in order to use less oxygen to function normally.

An enhanced understanding of human physiology, acclimatisation and nutrition at high altitudes was instrumental in the successful British ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people ever to stand on its summit. They were ably supported by their expedition climbing teammates, as well as the sterling work of physiologist Griffith Pugh and other eminent scientists.

Following the 1953 successful ascent, our scientific knowledge, technological know-how and understanding of physiology at high altitude have improved even further. When Melanie climbed Mount Everest in 2018, she enlisted the support of volunteer doctors, Carlo Canepa and Suvash “Dawa” Dawadi. They helped her learn more about the dangers of altitude sickness and how associated ailments and physical challenges affect the bodies of climbers on the world’s highest mountain.

Dr Melanie Windridge


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