Explorers Connect

How To.....Climb Mount Everest

How-toJames Hipkiss

It hasnt lost any of its allure. Thousands have now climbed it, many have died there. But its still the greatest and most sought after summit on earth. The mountain has this enduring pull and it is hard to imagine it will ever diminish, no matter how many people die on the slopes, or how tarnished the reputation of the peak becomes.

So, what is the reality of mounting an Everest bid? How much does it cost? How technically difficult is it? SUMMIT FOR SALE Lets start out by assuming you are likely to attempt the classic (and commonly guided) routes via the South Col (from Nepal) or the Tibetan side via the North Ridge. If you are thinking about trying the eastern (Kanshung) face you most certainly dont need to read this brief intro. As far as the costs are concerned, it is possible to do Everest in two ways. As part of a full service expedition, ie you get all accommodation, food, Sherpa services, oxygen and climbing support as a member of a fully fledged commercial team. Or as an unserviced or basic package where you are buying onto a permit but must sort out your own arrangements and camps on the mountain. As of 2012 the cost of the basic package are around about 12,000 to 15,000 from most of the US and UK Everest operators.

But then you have to realize that there is a mountain of gear and costs to add to that to make the climb realistic. A fair estimate of the equipment costs for an Everest expedition would be somewhere in the region of 5,000 on specialist clothing and a great deal more (possibly the same again) if you are having to buy your own tents and camping hardware. A fitted down suit which is essential for altitude could easily cost 800 alone. Hiring oxygen equipment could cost you 1,000. The fully serviced packages for trips of 60 to 70 days range from 21,000 at the cheap end to more than 30,000 for the deluxe companies. Some offer quite a high level of experience with really good food and high class medical attention. The Sherpa teams for these high profile companies are absolutely top notch and will greatly increase your chances of making it to the top. The western guides are first rate too, and some have summitted Everest many many times and taken dozens of clients to the top in safety. There is no doubt that your experience will be safer and with a greater chance of success if you can afford the full package. Going alone by buying onto a permit is kind of a half way measure which can lead to conflict and problems on the peak. Independent climbers have been known to squat in the unoccupied tents of other teams, and the question of using fixed ropes (when you havent paid for them to be established) often crops up.

Also, of course, who is going to arrange a rescue or medical attention if you get sick? All of those things have to be carefully arranged in advance. Having said that, there are dozens of indie climbers who have summited by buying into this type of deal, so it is a real option if money really is tight. A look on the internet will throw up the names of the many companies and individuals operating on Everest. But the best recommendation is from summiteers themselves. Talk to as many people as you can to get personal tips on who are currently the best operators out there. What qualifications will an Everest operator look for? The media perception that anyone can sign up for an Everest expedition if they have enough cash is thankfully wide of the mark. Whilst Everest operators are competing against each other for clients, the last thing they want is the adverse publicity of a fatality or a messy rescue for a client who really shouldn't be there.

Most operators will need to be satisfied that a client has altitude experience up to about 6000 metres at the very least. Knocking off a few trekking peaks in Nepal like Pokalde or Island Peak would be a very good start. You need to be able to demonstrate a solid amount of snow and ice experience (so you can handle yourself with ice axe and crampons), preferably in the Alps, and some operators recommend that clients have experience on another 8000 metre peak. Cho Oyu is becoming the favourite warm up peak for Everest but its an expensive way to go about it and beyond the reach of most to do two 8000 metre peaks in a span of a few years. Aconcangua in Chile is another excellent warm up summit to go for. Much cheaper than most Himalayan ventures, it is a serious, cold and windy climb which will get you experience at the seven thousand metre level (6962m). Having that plus, say, Mont Blanc and a couple of Nepal trekking peaks under your belt, would be enough to get you onto the Everest client list for any of the current operators. In terms of the actual skills needed for a guided attempt on Everest - well to be honest they are relatively basic. To be able to move comfortably and safely in crampons on steep, icy, terrain is a must. Knowing the basics of ice axe arrest in the case of a fall, and a working knowledge of knots such as the figure of eight is important. Moving in crampons on rocky terrain is a huge feature of the North side route where there is a lot of exposed rock. Both of the commonly guided routes have their crux points; the Hillary step on the South Side and the Second Step on the North.

Both represent a significant physical climbing challenge at 8500 metres and accidents or even fatalities are not uncommon at both of those obstacles. For the vast majority of their time on the mountain, most clients will be moving up and down fixed ropes, so having experience of moving with jumars is advisable. Those on fully serviced expeditions are likely to go through the whole climb without once having to put up a tent as the high camps will normally be established by the hard working Sherpa teams. MIND GAMES If the technical side of things are relatively simple then the mind games are not. The sheer length of an Everest expedition is a battle in its own right. Imagine ten weeks away from home, away from family and friends, and subjected to constant (frozen) life above 5500 metres. Not an easy ride, and one which eats away at the morale of most climbers. You lose weight, you feel sick most of the time. Its hard to eat. Altitude related coughs and bronchial infections start to take their toll. Many cannot take this mental pressure and become homesick or simply begin to dwell excessively on the risks ahead. There is another feature of the climb that eats away at many climbers; although you may be guided by a reputable company, the higher you get on the mountain, the more you are effectively on your own.

Some people even reject the whole concept of being guided above 8000 metres and point out that clients have to have a responsibility to themselves in the event that things get stormy or that guides are distracted by other problems. The events described in Jon Krakauers book Into Thin Air are a good example of how quickly things can get out of control at this altitude. So, the plain fact is that this is a risky place. Much more so than most Everest clients imagine for the safety net of Sherpa and western guide support can easily fall away if things start getting roughparticularly on a summit day. Being mentally prepared to take responsibility for your own actions is a big part of the trip. The psychology of the climb is rarely discussed but I believe it is important. The sense that Everest is a once in a lifetime opportunity encourages climbers to take risks that they wouldn't take on any other climb, and the mind warping effects of extreme altitude are also likely to make logical thought difficult. I myself became quite obsessed with reaching the top to complete my documentary , pushing myself into an environment where I really had little experience.

But at the same time I think I had a realistic fix on what it would take to get back down. I understood that the summit is the half way point---something which many climbers realize too late, only to become stranded on the descent as they run out of steam before reaching the top camp. Make sure that the summit is your half way point and you cant go wrong. PRESERVE THE PEAK With so many hundred of climbers visiting Everest each year it is more important than ever that rubbish and empty oxygen bottles are portaged out. Put pressure on your leader to carry all the expedition rubbish down from base camp and look for opportunities to do your part in keeping Everest as clean as possible. It is also really important to remember that for the Sherpa people Everest is a sacred place. Many important rituals are carried out to propitiate the godsparticularly the Puja ceremony which it is vital for all clients to participate in. Put your camera down at that point and get involved. Its your best and earliest chance to really get to know your Sherpa team. Happy climbing! Written by Matt Dickinson Matt is the author of 'The Death Zone' Dickinsons book reads like a thriller, pacy and exciting, giving a good flavour of the sublime misery of climbing at extreme altitude. It is a real page turner...fresh and vivid.

The Guardian A very likeable book....his account, The Death Zone, is amiable and entertaining...his excitement at being there is infectious...The Death Zone is a good book. Times Literary Supplement Gripping. Sunday Times A damn fine read. Maxim Matt Dickinsons new book series Mortal Chaos is published by Oxford University Press in Feb 2012.

More information at www.mattdickinson.com The content of the website is for information only and the views of the posts do not reflect that of Explorers Connect. These How To guides are for information and do not replace rigorous preparation for any expedition.