Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Biggest Worry, Greatest Fear, About Climbing Mt. Everest

Someone asked recently, "what are you most afraid of on this Everest expedition?" The answer came fairly easily, someone else's incompetance hurting me. There are several scenarios of someone's lack of skill hurint others I can imagine, that have happened to mountaineers that could possibly happen to me.

  1. Climbing unroped, a person above me falls into me and we both fall. Everest is "sewn up" with fixed ropes, so this is a very unlikely scenario, but as it becomes more crowded every year, the chance of getting hit by a falling person lingers. This is a major concern on less popular mountains, where significant portions of the route are not fixed with rope.
  2. Getting stuck in line at an exposed location. Having two ropes on the Hillary Step will help things move a little more quickly, but I expect to still spend some time waiting in line. If I wait, standing around, long enough, I could get frostbite, or worse.
  3. Failure of a fixed rope. Either a frayed rope breaks because too many people are on it, or an anchor pulls out. Both have happened, and it is standard practice on most other 8000 meter peaks to have only one person on each fixed rope section at a time, but images of Everest clearly show dozens of people on one section of rope.
  4. A bad weather forecast could mean I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. I started mountaineering in the days of waking up early and going for it, only to find out at treeline how bad it really was. Now we have predictions, generally very acurate, but there is still opportunity for error. 
  5. Food poisioning could hamper my ability to recover. 
  6. What I have not imagined. Frankly, some of our biggest errors are because it is the first time it happened. Apollo 1, Columbia, Challenger, and Everest 1996 are perfect examples of "it's never been a problem before" mentality.

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