So what effect does this mountain have on your body?
Sean Swarner: When you’re above 26,000 feet, your brain doesn’t function well and your body is deteriorating. Simple tasks like tying your shoelaces can take up to half an hour up there! You really have to push yourself.
Nick Heil: Altitude is the biggest danger facing climbers on Everest. It’s so debilitating and it’s what makes people so fascinated with it as a place. You’re making decisions based on very compromised mental facilities and it’s easy to make mistakes.
Frostbite is really common up there and this is partly due to summit fever, where your feet may be cold and numb but you sort of expect that, so you don’t realise just how much damage is going on. People march on regardless and end up losing toes.
The equipment has gotten so good now, that it’s probably becoming more the exception than the rule, but it’s still a huge risk.
“You know what they say, man. It’s not the altitude, it’s the altitude.” Scott Fischer in the film.
“Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747. Okay, once we get above here, above the South Col, our bodies will be literally dying. And I mean literally dying. It’s not called the Death Zone for nothing.” Rob Hall in the film.
So your brain is essentially shutting down?
Nick Heil: I was once interviewing a writer for my book and she had climbed Mount Everest all the way to the summit. She kept handwritten notes all the way up and when she got back down, she reviewed them. She said that the quality of her handwriting deteriorated as she climbed up the mountain and the lucidity of her thoughts also. It was only when she got back down to base camp and was looking at this in a slightly more oxygenated environment, when she noticed just how bad it was.
“Your brain, at a chemical level, is another thing you have to take into account. They were having to make moral choices at 28,000 feet, an area where the body does not function.” Jake Gyllenhaal on Everest to Outside Magazine.
So why do people climb Mount Everest then?
After all, not only is it mentally and physically exhausting, but you could lose your toes!
Sean Swarner: For me, the reason for this entire expedition was to provide some sort of hope and inspiration. To encourage people to believe in themselves, to follow their dreams, and to go after their life goals, whatever they may be. I was hoping to encourage people to become active members of life.
“I’m climbing Mount Everest…because I can…because to be able to climb that high and see that kind of beauty that nobody ever sees, it’d be a crime not to.” Doug Hansen.
“You my friends are following in the very footsteps of history.” Rob Hall in the film.