How long can a human survive at the summit of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen?

How long can a human survive at the summit of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen?

Surviving at the Summit of Mount Everest Without Supplemental Oxygen

Introduction to Mount Everest

Deep in the profound ranges of the Mahalangur Himal, nestled between the border of China and Nepal, resides the highest peak globally, Mount Everest. Ascending the mighty Mount Everest is a dream nurtured by many adventurers and mountaineers worldwide. Standing majestically at 8,848 meters above sea level, Everest isn’t just about its breathtaking beauty and novel height. It is also about the extreme challenges it poses, and one such challenge is surviving without supplemental oxygen.

Thin Air at the High Altitude

At Everest’s formidable height, the atmospheric pressure plummets to a third of the sea level, leading to an equal reduction in the oxygen amount available to breathe. Due to this dearth of oxygen, the majority of climbers rely on supplemental oxygen, especially above the ‘death zone’— altitudes higher than 8,000 meters.

The Death Zone & The Human Body

In the infamous death zone, the oxygen level isn’t sufficient to sustain human life. Prolonged exposure can lead to several health complications, including hypothermia, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Combined with dreadful weather conditions and treacherous terrains, these factors make the survival without supplemental oxygen an exceptional feat.

Surviving Without Supplemental Oxygen

Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler first achieved the humanly impossible task of reaching Everest’s summit without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Since then, only a handful of experienced climbers repeated this achievement. However, without supplemental oxygen, the time a climber can spend at the summit is severely limited.

The average time an individual can survive at Everest’s pinnacle without bottled oxygen varies depending on the person’s fitness level, acclimatization, and weather conditions. However, in most cases, survival would only be a matter of minutes to an hour. Any further exposure without oxygen support can result in severe cerebral and pulmonary edema, leading to a lapse into unconsciousness, and, in many cases, death.

For mountaineers who accomplish this astounding feat – reaching the summit without supplemental oxygen – the key lies in rapid ascents and descents. They must reach the summit and descend quickly to a lower altitude, where the oxygen levels are more favorable.

Adapting to the Altitude

The human body can adapt to high altitudes. The process, termed acclimatization, involves the body triggering several physiological adjustments to improve the oxygen supply to vital organs. However, despite all adaptations, the human body has limitations. Permanent life at altitudes such as Mount Everest’s summit, without any oxygen support, remains beyond our physiological bounds.

Conclusion: Everest’s Unforgiving Terrain

Between its extreme climate, formidable height, and thin air, Mount Everest demands utmost respect. Supplemental oxygen still remains a significant tool for climbers to navigate this harsh terrain and reach the Earth’s highest summit with relative safety. As human limits are pushed, the question is no longer ‘if’ but ‘how long’ a person can survive without supplemental oxygen at Mount Everest’s summit.


1. Why is it so hard to breathe at the summit of Mount Everest?

The difficulty breathing at the summit of Mount Everest is due to the low atmospheric pressure, which plummets to a third of that at sea level. This significant reduction means there is less oxygen available in the air to be inhaled and utilized by the body.

2. Has anyone ever climbed Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen?

Yes, some climbers have successfully climbed Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. The first successful expedition without supplemental oxygen was completed by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler in 1978.

3. What are the risks of climbing Mount Everest without using supplemental oxygen?

Not using supplemental oxygen in high altitudes can expose climbers to the risk of severe health complications like hypoxia, where the body tissue doesn’t get enough oxygen, in addition to acute mountain sickness, high altitude cerebral edema, and pulmonary edema.

4. How many people have died on Mount Everest?

As of the end of the 2019 climbing season, 311 people have died on Everest since 1922. Many of these deaths occurred because of falls, exposure, and health problems related to high-altitude climbing and cold.

5. Can you sleep at the top of Mount Everest?

To sleep at the top of Mount Everest would be highly dangerous due to the high-altitude illness like cerebral edema, where the brain swells due to lack of oxygen. With such inadequate oxygen supply, climbers would find it nearly impossible to sleep without special equipment and experienced guides.