A few days ago, a reader sent a comment to a text of mine in Folha describing Everest as exaggerated, since it is not the most dangerous of the high mountains, despite the fact that this year it registered a record number of 17 deaths and provoked wide discussion about the limits (or lack thereof) to its ascent by the government of Nepal. And that it would be precisely this exaggeration for the instagrammable icon that would be leading so many first-class (or no) adventurers to clog up the accesses to the highest point on the planet, risking not only their lives but those of more experienced mountaineers. And the reader was right. So, let’s go to some numbers that help confirm his thesis.
Although it is, yes, the highest point on Earth with its 8,848 meters, the great star of the Himalayan range records much fewer deaths, proportionally, than its neighbors Anapurna (8,091 meters) and Kangchenjunga (8,586 meters) and K2 (8,611 meters). , located in the Karakoram mountain range in northern Pakistan. In relation to the number of mountaineers who reach their summits, the percentage of deaths in these three mountains is, respectively, 29.5%, 29.1% and 22.9%. On Everest, this ratio is 14.1%, according to the Statista website, which collected together with the specialized websites Himalayan Database and Mountain IQ fatality data from the 14 mountains in the world with more than 8,000 meters in altitude between the years 2018 and 2021.
Another reader, in the same text, commented that, after all, Everest and its neighbors are not even the highest points in the world. And that the title would be from the mountain Denali, in Alaska, the highest in North America, with 6,190 meters high. Hey? Like this?
Calm down, the reader has not gone crazy, nor is he denying geography. In fact, what he wanted to say is something as simple as it is real and part of the difference between altitude and height. Altitude is a measurement based on sea level. Height is what you record from the bottom to the top of something. In this case, a mountain.
Thus, as the mountaineer who wants to reach the base of Denali will have to face a climb of 5,500 meters, he will be facing the highest climb, even on a lower mountain. From Everest’s base camp to its summit, for example, it’s “only” 5,364 meters in a straight line, something that simply doesn’t exist on mountaineering routes, where gaining 30 meters can take hours in the most adverse conditions.
Only those who have had to give up the summit at this apparently ridiculous distance, equivalent to half a block in any city, know what each step of a few centimeters in thin air represents. Believe me, it’s frustration on a not infrequently mortal level — because the first impulse will always be to find a way to move forward, it will give, strength, there’s so little left… That’s when accidents happen. And if those few meters are above the so-called death zone, that is, above the 8,000 meters of altitude above the sea, it could very well be 300 or 3,000. You just can’t play around with those numbers.
And the explanation is, again, in the numbers. At sea level, the air contains about 21% oxygen. From 3,600 meters above sea level, this level drops by approximately 40%. And when the body reaches above 8,000 meters, then the lungs have to make do with an oxygen concentration of a mere 6.3%, far below the tolerable minimum of 19%. In addition to the constant fatigue, rapid heartbeat and headache caused by low oxygenation (in addition to the risk of frequent pulmonary edema), add to the extreme temperatures that, on the summit of Everest, can reach -60 degrees Celsius, causing severe gangrenous burns on the extremities such as fingers, nose and ears. I warned you that you can’t play with these numbers, didn’t I?
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