8000 Meter Peaks

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 Skills necessary for Mt. Everest

Many ask what if they want to attempt to climb Everest one day. An answer by Eric Simonson:

Many people aspire to climb Mt. Everest.  I understand this well,  because I was one of them.  It took me three tries (27,000 feet in 1982, 28,750 feet in 1987, summit in 1991) to finally make it.  Since then I have been two more times to within one hundred yards of the top (South Summit, 28,750 feet in 1997 and 1998).  I know that making the top is not a sure thing, and that you have to be both good and lucky to pull it off.

If you are going to spend the time and money to go to Everest, you need to give yourself the best possible chance of making the summit.  This means joining a good group and doing the necessary preparations and training so that you can be a functional asset to the party and be able to take care of yourself up high.

I suggest that everyone seriously considering Mt. Everest first set his or her sights on Cho Oyu.  This is a great climb, the sixth highest mountain in the world.  Climbing Cho Oyu will familiarize you with the rigors of climbing into the death zone.  You will spend at least one night at 24,500 feet and you will learn to use your oxygen system under these circumstances.  There is no better practice for Mt. Everest than to go to over 8000 meters on a mountain such as Cho Oyu.

Before going to Cho Oyu, you need to have proved yourself to be a strong and competent member of a party on at least one, and preferably several, intermediate altitude mountains like Denali or Aconcagua.  The experience gained on these mountains is crucial for a safe and successful experience on Cho Oyu.

Prior to going to Mt. McKinley or Aconcagua, you should have climbed on Mt. Rainier, the Mexico volcanoes, the Ecuador volcanoes, or other similar training climbs.  On these trips you should have developed your snow, ice, rope handling, glacier travel, and other skills.

Obviously, good physical conditioning is essential to be successful at high altitude.  Exceptional conditioning alone, however, will not take the place of experience in the mountains.  You must be capable of climbing confidently on moderately difficult terrain.  In particular, good cramponing skills are crucial.  On Mt. Everest, you must have the ability and confidence to ascend and descend unroped on moderately steep (up to 40 degree) ice, at high altitude and in difficult conditions (bad visibility, wearing a pack, high wind, etc), where a slip will result in a fatal fall.

For persons interested in trying high altitude climbing in the future, I suggest a trip to a mountain such as Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet) as a good starting point to see if they are able to acclimatize normally  (some people just don't do well at high altitude, no matter how well conditioned they are).  Another alternative is an Everest or Cho Oyu trek, again exposing the prospective climber to altitude in excess of 20,000 feet.  It is better to find out early in your high altitude career whether this sport really works for you!

Eric Simonson



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