Sunday, 22 February 2015

Mother Goddess of the Universe

The earth's atmosphere is roughly 480 kilometers (300 miles) thick and has no definite ending point. Effectively, the atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner the further into space you travel, until it merges with outer space. However, roughly 80% of the earth's atmosphere lies within 16 kilometers (10 miles) of the earth's surface, and this is the point we are interested in today. The reason being is because the world's highest mountain, Mt Everest, towers 9 kilometers into the air, like a dominating fortress. The sheer colossal size of Mt Everest means that not only is it the highest mountain in the world, but it climbs 56% of the way to the earth's atmosphere. Basically, if you stood atop Mt Everest, you would be closer to entering the atmosphere than to walking along the beach. A rather exhilarating thought, indeed.

Mt Everest, also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal or Chomolungma in Tibet - meaning 'mother goddess of the universe' - is a monstrously high mountain, so high in-fact, that it is nearly impossible to stand at its peak and survive without the aid of breathing apparatus due to there being 66% less oxygen in each breath taken. The air at this height is as thin as a Victoria's Secret model. The mountain gained its western name from Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, who named the mountain in honor of the Welsh geographer and Royal Geographical Society member Sir George Everest (1790 - 1866). During his life Sir George Everest owned a house in Mussoorie, India, which still stands today. However, due to the Indian tourism department - the current owners - neglecting the house, it is now filled with bricks, stones and cow dung and when it snows or rains, the local cows and goats use it as a safe haven. Almost literally, each time it rains in Indian there is a goat stood in Sir George Everest's kitchen.

The mountain's official height is 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level; yet due to the earth's non-perfectly circular circumference, although it is the highest mountain on our planet, it is only the fifth furthest summit from the center of the earth at 6,382 km (3,966 miles). The peak that sits the furthest from the centre of the earth belongs to Chimborazo in Ecuador, which lies 6,384 km (3,967 miles) away. A mere 2 kilometers further away than that of the peak of Everest.

As one could imagine, climbing Everest is no small feat. There are many complications, obstacles and dangers that one could encounter along the way. In fact, an Everest summit attempt is so preposterously dangerous that simply by attempting to climb Everest you are subjecting yourself to a 1/60 chance of death. This statistic climbs the older you become, with climbers over 50 subjecting themselves to an average death rate of 1/4. The deadliest day ever recorded on Everest was 10th May 1996, where the mountain claimed eight lives in a 24 hour period - or one death every 3 hours.

Everest truly is a bizarre place. The summit of Everest marks the international borderline between China and Nepal, meaning that once you summit the mountain, you can quickly nip between the two countries. Due to the movement and grinding of the Indian and Asia tectonic plates, Everest grows roughly 0.25 inches each year, meaning that the later you leave the accent, the higher you will be. The wind at the summit has been clocked at over 200 mph; temperatures of -62c have been measured; and once a height of over 8,000 meters is reached an area known affectionately as the death zone is entered. The death zone - as you have undoubtedly already guessed - is synonymous with death. Of all the areas of Everest, it is the descents within the death zone that claim the most lives. Just like climbing a tree, it is not the climb up that proves most dangerous, but the climb down. Additionally, the death zone is so dangerous that if you die in this area, your body is left to freeze. You become known as one of the many that never left the mountain; one of the many bodies and souls that Everest has claimed as her own. Attempting to move a body at such an altitude is deemed suicide due to the highly inhospitable surroundings, and each climber knows and accepts these risks before they climb.  

Given the almost endless list of dangers: frightfully cold weather, powerful wind, death zone, physical stress, mental hardship, 1/60 or 1/4 chance of death and the forever upward spiraling cost, many people still choose to battle Everest each year. Although due to the costs incurred by a summit attempt, Everest has been nicknamed as the rich man's playground. For example:

- Climbing permit: $USD 11,000
- Insurance: $USD 15,000
- Guided expedition (if needed): $USD 30 - $100,000

Note that these are simply the basic climbing costs and do not include training, food, logistics, flights, accommodation, equipment etc. Yet given each of these obstacles and hoops that must be conquered and jumped through before any attempt is made; a summit attempt is deemed worthwhile for two reasons alone: the feeling of literally being on top of the world and the view.

The body of Hannelore Schmatz frozen in place. Hannelore died on Everest in 1979 aged 39.

The view from the top of the world.

Mt Everest, the highest mountain on our planet.

- Until the next Butterfly...