EXPLAINER: Why climbing Mt Everest without supplemental oxygen can be challenging

Mount Everest sits 29,032 feet (8,849 meters) above sea level, in the death zone

In Summary
  • So far at least 200 climbers have managed the summit the mountain without supplemental oxygen.
  • Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first people to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978.
The Everest
The Everest

How hard is it to climb the great Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen? In a case where dead men tell tales, more than 100 people who have attempted to and met their fate can narrate their ordeal.

Mount Everest sits 29,032 feet (8,849 meters) above sea level, in the death zone. Located in Nepal and Tibet, Asia, it is one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

Who has summit Everest without supplemental oxygen

So far at least 200 climbers have managed to summit the mountain without supplemental oxygen.

Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first people to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978.

To descend successfully, they had to climb quickly and spend as little time as possible at the summit.

Messner also holds the record for the first solo ascent of Everest without bottled oxygen, which he achieved in 1980.

Other people who have climbed Mount Everest without oxygen include Angrita Sherpa: A Nepalese mountaineer who climbed Everest 10 times without supplemental oxygen between 1983 and 1996.

Phu Dorjee Sherpa was the first Indian to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1984 and in 2022, David Goettler achieved the feat.

Melissa Arnot was the first American woman to climb to the summit of Everest and return alive without ever using oxygen.

Ecuadorian climber Carla Perez also did so without oxygen as well.

Perez and Arnot became the sixth and seventh women to ascend Everest without bottled oxygen, breaking a record set by New Zealand's Lydia Bradey in 1988.

National Geographic photographer and professional climber Cory Richards did the non-oxygen Everest climb on May 27, 2017. 

Recently, Lenka Poláčková became the first Slovak woman on the summit of Mt Everest (8848.86 m), without the use of bottled oxygen, 21.05.2024, 10:30 NPT.

How is it like climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen and why is it a challenge?

Climbing Everest without oxygen requires years of training, experience, and consistency.

As one climbs higher, the air becomes thinner.

Climbing the mountain without oxygen can likely cause hyperventilation and hyperkalemia.

At the peak, there is less oxygen, especially for the people who try to climb Everest without oxygen.

The more individuals who attempt to climb Mount Everest without using oxygen, the less oxygen will be available on the peak.

The death zone, which is a high-altitude region, is where many climbers succumb to the harsh effects of hypoxia, frostbite, exhaustion, and severe altitude sickness due to the lack of oxygen.

Besides being physically tried, climbers need to move diligently and swiftly to minimise their exposure to the deadly conditions.

The risks are magnified by the unforgiving terrain and unpredictable weather patterns.

To summit successfully, proper acclimatisation (the process or result of becoming accustomed to a new climate or new conditions), and adequate nutrition are essential components.

Exercising caution, sound judgment, and resilience is also required.

In the case that one gets stranded, it can prove nearly impossible to be rescued.

This is one of the reasons why the mountain holds a sombre reminder of climbers who passed away.

Helicopters cannot reach the peak and the only reliable landing area is Camp 2, located at 21,000 feet (6,400 meters).

The air density on the upper slopes means that helicopters generally are not able to operate.

Above a certain altitude, there are not enough air molecules for the rotors to create enough lift.

The highest helicopter rescue ever on Everest was at 25,590 feet (7,800 meters) in 2013, done in calm weather conditions.

Upon death, the high-altitude environment and extreme conditions on Everest pose significant obstacles to recovery operations.

It is highly inefficient, impractical, and dangerous to move frozen bodies, which can weigh over 300 pounds (136 kg).

At these altitudes and under unpredictable weather conditions, body recovery is a perilous task that demands specialised skills and equipment.

A number of people attempted to climb and died while trying to recover bodies on Everest.

The costs associated with body recovery missions on Everest can also be prohibitive, requiring substantial resources and expertise.

While some bodies have been identified and relocated for various reasons, the majority of fallen climbers remain on the mountain where they died.

Who has died in the mission to climb Everest?

Kenyan Banker Cheruoiyot Kiru was found dead on Thursday, a few metres below the summit of Mt Everest, according to Everest Today.

He had attempted to climb the mountain without supplemental oxygen.

Francys Arsentiev, known as Sleeping Beauty, passed away while attempting to summit in May 1998. 

She and her husband successfully ascended without supplemental oxygen, on the way down they, however, encountered difficulties.

She was weak from exhaustion, cold, and the effects of altitude sickness. Her body was eventually recovered nine years later, in 2007.

Asentiev's husband also lost his life during a desperate attempt to find and save his wife. His body was discovered during the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition.

Scott Fischer, an experienced American mountaineer and mountain guide, lost his life during the infamous 1996 Everest disaster.

He died on May 11, 1996, during a descent from the summit of Mount Everest. 

The fourth woman to reach the summit also became the first woman to die on the mountain.

Hannelore Schmat's  Everest expedition in 1979 became one of the most talked-about stories in the history of climbing due to its tragic outcome.

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