How do Climbers Sleep on Mount Everest?
In the world of mountain climbing, Mount Everest stands as a beacon, enticing mountaineers from all corners of the globe to ascend to its icy height. But getting to the summit of the world’s highest peak is a grueling, transformative adventure that requires meticulous preparation and superhuman tenacity. A significant part of that experience is learning to sleep at high altitudes. With most people only imagining how this would look like, this article sheds light on how climbers sleep on Mount Everest.
Navigating Through the Sparkling Darkness
Nightfall on Mount Everest is unparalleled, with the Himalayas sparkling under the silver glow of countless stars. But as beautiful as it is, climbing during these night hours is usually avoided due to lower temperatures and increased risks. Instead, climbers take these opportunities to rest and recharge for the journey ahead.
Tents: Portable Shelters at High Altitude
Tents are a lifeline in the wilderness of Everest, providing shelter from the harsh high-altitude weather. They are specially designed to withstand low temperatures and high winds encountered on Everest’s slopes. It is in these compact fabric bubbles, climbers sleep, clinging to the side of the icy precipice.
There are several established camps along the path to the top. It’s here at these places climbers set up their tents, creating temporary homes often shared with one or more climbers. Despite the uncomfortable and cramped quarters, these tents are an essential part of survival on Everest.
Bracing Against the Cold
Imagine trying to sleep in a place where temperatures can drop to -30°C (-22°F). It’s freezing one could say, but for Everest climbers, it’s another day on the expedition. Layering is crucial. Climbers typically sleep in thermal base layers, adding insulation layers and even their down suits when the temperatures get extremely severe.
The same layered technique is applied to sleep gear. A high-altitude sleeping bag designed to withstand extremely cold temperatures is vital for climbers. These are supplemented with insulated sleeping pads to provide both comfort against the hard ice and to insulate the sleeper from ground-based cold.
The Battle with High Altitude Sickness
A significant challenge of sleeping on Mount Everest isn’t the cold, but the thinning air. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) are real threats climbers face at such elevations. Symptoms can range from headaches and nausea to hallucinations, and in some severe cases, can lead to coma or death.
To combat these effects, climbers acclimate themselves in stages. This process involves climbing to a higher altitude during the day, then descending to sleep, allowing the body to adjust to the lower oxygen levels gradually. Residence at each camp can last a few days to weeks, allowing the body to adjust and acclimatize to the thinning air before moving higher.
1. Can you sleep comfortably on Mount Everest?
Comfort is relative when sleeping on Everest. Given the harsh and extreme environment, the key aim is survival rather than comfort. The body gradually adapts to the brutal conditions with acclimatization, but the notion of a comfortable sleep, as we generally understand it, is not feasible.
2. How much oxygen is available to climbers when they sleep on Everest?
In the “Death Zone” (above 26,000 feet), the atmospheric pressure is only a third of sea level, meaning climbers get a third of the oxygen they would usually breathe, making it incredibly difficult for them to sleep soundly.
3. Do climbers carry their tents while climbing?
Not all the way. Mount Everest has established camps at different heights. Sherpas or porters usually move tents and other supplies between these camps, providing climbers with appropriate shelter at the right altitudes.
4. What precautions are taken against possible avalanches while sleeping?
The positioning of tents is done cautiously, away from areas shown to be at risk of avalanches. Also, camps are strategically located on terrain less likely to be affected by avalanches.
5. How do climbers handle their human waste while sleeping on Everest?
Many climbers use a “wag bag,” a small portable toilet that allows climbers to pack out their human waste. The bags are then carried down the mountain for proper disposal, minimizing the impact on the environment.