Hypoxia pp 225-236 | Cite as

Mountaineering in thin air

Patterns of death and of weather at high altitude
  • Raymond B. Huey
  • Xavier Eguskitza
  • Michael Dillon
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 502)


An 8000-m peak bring challenges of extremes of hypoxia and weather as well as the normal hazards of climbing itself. These challenges have taken a severe toll: 604 mountaineers have died on those great peaks since 1950. Little is known about whether mountain height, use of supplemental oxygen, or team size might influence rates of death or of success. However, such information may provide insights not only to our understanding of the limits of human performance, but also to mountaineers in making decisions on these peaks. We present several examples from a research program that is attempting to analyze factors that potentially influence success or death rates on the 8K peaks. (1) Apparent risk of death in the notorious Khumbu Icefall on Mt. Everest has declined dramatically in recent years. This decline could reflect improved route finding and technique, but might also reflect climate warming, which has caused the Khumbu glacier to shrink and slow in recent decades. (2) Risk of death during descent from an 8000-m peak increases with the height of the peak. (3) Risk of death during descent from the summit of Everest or of K2 is elevated for climbers not using supplemental oxygen. (4) We outline some new studies that are exploring how convective heat loss, which influences wind chill, changes with altitude as well as the incidence of storms: both factors will impact the probability success and death of Himalayan mountaineers.

Key words

Everest K2 supplemental oxygen wind chill convection 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raymond B. Huey
    • 1
  • Xavier Eguskitza
    • 2
  • Michael Dillon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.WorcesterUK

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