The Most Common Injuries and Illnesses Faced By Mount Everest Climbers
The summit of Mount Everest is often perceived as the ultimate achievement amongst mountaineers. Yet, journeying to the top of the world’s highest mountain is not without its perils. How hazardous is it exactly? Let’s delve into the most common injuries and illnesses that climbers face on Mount Everest.
One of the primary threats facing climbers on Mount Everest is altitude sickness. This is a spectrum of ailments that can occur when a person ascends heights rapidly without giving the body sufficient time to adapt to the drop in oxygen levels.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
AMS is the mildest and most common form of altitude sickness. Its symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms tend to appear within hours of reaching high altitude and tend to dissipate as the body acclimatizes.
High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
Unacclimatized climbers can also suffer from HAPE, characterized by a buildup of fluid in the lungs, which can lead to severe breathing difficulties. Other symptoms include a persistent harsh cough, chest tightness or congestion, and decreased physical performance.
High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
The most severe high-altitude illness, HACE, involves a swelling of the brain tissue that can be life-threatening if left untreated. Symptoms include headache, loss of coordination, hallucinations, and confusion.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
In the unforgiving cold high up on Mount Everest, climbers are at a heightened risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops too low due to exposure to cold weather. Symptoms include shivering, drowsiness, confusion, weak pulse, and slowed breathing rate. Severe hypothermia can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
Extreme cold can also cause frostbite, which happens when skin and underlying tissues freeze. The risk of frostbite increases at high altitudes where the air is thinner and colder. Symptoms include numbness, blisters, and changes in skin color, from pale, yellowish, or blue to black.
In addition to illnesses, physical injuries like falls, fractures, dislocations, and sprains are also common.
Despite being well-equipped, climbers are at risk of falling due to avalanches, icefall, or simply losing their footing.
Fractures, Dislocations, and Sprains
Mount Everest climbers routinely carry oversized backpacks laden with supplies necessary for survival. The combination of this heavy load, treacherous terrain, and physical exhaustion often result in fractures, dislocations, and sprains.
Climbing the world’s highest peak is an incredible feat of human endurance. But the risks are real and planning for them is vital to ensure a climber’s survival. Understanding the common injuries and illnesses that afflict Mount Everest climbers is a significant first step in that direction.
Q: What is the highest cause of death on Mount Everest?
A: The majority of deaths on Mount Everest have been attributed to avalanches, falls, and exposure to harsh weather conditions.
Q: How can climbers prevent altitude sickness?
A: Climbers can reduce the risk of altitude sickness by ascending slowly, taking time to acclimatize to the altitude, staying hydrated, and immediately descending if symptoms of altitude sickness occur.
Q: What is the ‘death zone’ on Mount Everest?
A: The ‘death zone’ refers to areas above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) where the level of oxygen is not sufficient to sustain human life. It is in this zone where most deaths on Everest occur due to the lack of oxygen and the harsh conditions.
Q: Can frostbite be prevented when climbing Mount Everest?
A: Yes, climbers can minimize their risk for frostbite by wearing adequate weather-resistant clothing, keeping their skin dry, and avoiding extreme cold when possible.
Q: How dangerous are the physical injuries on Mount Everest?
A: Physical injuries on Mount Everest can vary from minor cuts or bruises to life-threatening conditions like fractures or internal injuries. Of course, the dangerous environment exacerbates these injuries, making them harder to treat and increasing their severity.