It is the most infamous of all mountains, but beyond that, Everest is a grand analogy for seemingly insurmountable obstacles in all walks of life.
Before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made it to the summit, every other attempt resulted in either surrender or death. Their successful ascent was a monumental feat and a first for mankind, but what about now?
More than 60 years after Hillary and Norgay reached the peak, thousands of others have made it to the top (albeit under very different circumstances) and hundreds have died trying. Critics of modern day Everest expeditions have said that today’s climbs are no big deal and some even say that Everest isn’t a climb at all, so what is it actually like to summit Everest? And how does the average person even go about it?
For answers to all the pressing questions on Everest, we turned to two people who have not only been there, but have devoted much of their lives to Everest.
Alan Arnette is a mountaineer, Alzheimer’s advocate and a leading authority on Everest. He has completed 36 major mountaineering expeditions since he began climbing at age 38 and has summited both K2 and Everest.
Dr. Eric Johnson is the associate medical director of the crisis response firm Global Rescue and a founding physician of Everest ER, the medical clinic located at Mt. Everest Basecamp. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Himalaya Rescue Association.
What to Expect
“An Everest climb is a test of mental toughness and physical strength,” said Alan Arnette, a mountaineer, Alzheimer’s advocate and leading authority on Everest. Arnette has completed 36 major mountaineering expeditions since he began climbing at age 38 and has summited both K2 and Everest.
“Most [Everest] expeditions take you away from home for two months; have long periods of waiting for your body to adjust to the high altitude or for suitable weather for climbing. Once you go for the summit, you have to be clear on why you are climbing, to keep going often in harsh conditions, where your mind screams ‘turn back’.”
“There are four main parts to an Everest climb,” said Arnette. To start, “most people take about 10 days to trek from the tiny airstrip at Lukla (9,400 feet) to Everest Base Camp at 17,500 feet, giving the body time to adjust to the altitude.”
After that, people continue their ascent up Everest, stopping at camps along the way and “eventually sleeping at 23,500 feet without supplemental oxygen,” he said. “Many teams today use nearby trekking peaks, for example Lobuche at 20,075 feet to reduce the number of climbs through the Khumbu Icefall.”
After the body has adjusted to the altitude, “climbers wait for a calm weather forecast for the five days it will take to go from base camp to the summit and back.” And then they attempt their summit.
“The final phase is the trek back out and the flight back to Kathmandu.”