8000m Frequently Asked Questions
on climbing 8000m mountains
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I receive many emails asking how to get started climbing or what do I need to do to climb Everest. So here are the most popular questions with my answers. This information is based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions!

Getting Started Building Skills Gaining Experience 8,000m Peaks Colorado 14'ers Everest

Getting Started :

Q: Where do I begin if I have no climbing experience at all?
A: This depends on where you live. If you live near mountains, get out there (with a buddy)! Community climbing sites such as 14ers.com and Summitpost.org have partner pages where you can find other climbers. Another way to get started is to join a climbing club. There are climbing clubs in almost every city around the world. These clubs usually welcome beginners and organize local or far away trips. Do a google search for climbing clubs and your state or city. Pete and Ed's Books have a listing of clubs. Check out the Yahoo listings. Finally, the American Alpine Club is an excellent resource. The only way to learn about climbing is to get out there!

Q: What are the various types of climbing?
A: There are three major areas: rock, ice and mountaineering. Rock includes climbing on boulders (called bouldering). For rock, you usually climb with a partner roped together and use special gear to secure the rope to the rock. My pages on climbing the Flat Irons covers this type. Ice is similar and includes frozen waterfalls and steep mountain sides. Please see my Ouray page for an example. Mountaineering usually means high altitude and snow. Most of my climbing is mountaineering, including Denali, Everest, Mont Blanc and others.

Q: Are there age limitations to climbing?
A: Not really. Rock is often done by people of all ages. Most big mountain climbers are in their mid 30's to late 40's due to the money involved. By the way, the youngest person to summit Everest was an eighth-grade student, 13, Jordan Romero from Little Bear California from the north side in May 2010 supplanting Ming Kipa Sherpa, the Nepalese girl who summited at 15, in 2003. The oldest was Japanese Miura Yiuchiro, age 80 on May 23, 2013. Tamae Watanabe of Japan is the oldest woman to summit at age 63 on May 16, 2002.

Q: How much time does climbing take?
A: Obviously it depends on what you are doing and where you live. A nearby rock climb is an afternoon, a 14er in Colorado or California can be a day or a week and an expedition to Alaska or Mexico can take a month. Everest is two months and an expedition to a remote place like K2 in Pakistan can take 3 months or more.

Q: Money? What does it take to get into this sport?
A: There are four areas to consider: time, travel, gear and guides. If you are a college student, then time is probably not a big issue. If you work full time, then there is always vacations, holidays and time off without pay. Travel can be as expensive or inexpensive as you desire. Most climbing areas have a great selection of low cost hostels. In Nepal, tea houses cost about $15 a night and the food is very inexpensive. Same for South America. Gear can range as shown in the next questions. Guides vary as well.

Q: What kind of gear do I need and how much does it cost?
A: The basics for rock are shoes, harness and helmet. A nice pair of rock climbing shoes cost less than $80, a harness - $35, the helmet - $40. Then you need the technical tools. A starter 'rack' of tools and the rope, about $300. Ice climbing requires boots and crampons that will run about $400 plus warm clothes. Alpine mountaineering is a big step. In addition to all the gear required for rock and ice, there is cold weather camping: down sleeping bags, down suits, large packs and more. These items can easily run over $2,500. Take a look at my gear page for a list of what I use. It is updated with my current gear I use in 2014. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.


Building Skills

Q: OK, I'm ready to get started. What first?
A: Get an experienced buddy who will teach you the basics or join a club. Climbing can be dangerous and deaths are common. The best way to start is with small mountains or easy rock climbs. There is a strong temptation to skip climbs to get harder and higher but If you want to do serious climbs like Rainier, Denali, Half Dome or any 8,000M peak; learning the basics will improve your summit chances. Also by not having the proper experience, you not only put your own life in danger, but that of a guide or teammate as well.

Q: What role does fitness or conditioning play in climbing?
A: While you do not need to be muscle bound, you do need to be in excellent shape to attempt the biggest mountains (over 8,000 meters). The most important areas are lungs, heart and muscles. It is interesting that if you look at the best climbers in the world, they are not particularly tall. They do not have huge arm muscles. They are thin and their bodies are well balanced. They also have great lung capacity.

Q: How do I get to that level of fitness?
A: The absolute best way is climbing! But most of us have jobs and cannot climb every day so a combination of climbing on the weekends and aggressive exercise during the week will get you there. Focus on building lung capacity and heart strength with aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, swimming or treadmills and ellipse machines. Build your core muscles (stomach and back) with sit-ups and medicine ball exercises. Work on your heart with interval training. And finally build some overall muscle strength with reasonable weight training. I have a suggested training plan on my Everest Training page.

Q: I can climb a 5.12 route, what role does that play in high altitude mountaineering?
A: First, congratulations! However for the normal routes on most of the world's largest mountains (except K2), extreme rock climbing is not required. Obviously you can find extreme routes on almost any mountain but this is mostly the domain of the professional climbers. I strongly believe that having good rock climbing skills and experience is a huge benefit for anyone on the large mountains. Knowing the basics of using your feet, making small moves, having three points of contact, etc. will make every climb more comfortable. Also having skills and experience moving on smooth rock with crampons is very important.
Gaining Experience

Q: What is the best way to get experience?
A: Go climb a mountain! If you are really new, take a climbing course through a professional guide service such as AAI, Jagged Globe or Adventure Consultants. If you are experienced but want to go higher or harder, link up with an experienced party or go with a commercial expedition. Here is a sample plan for someone with little or no climbing experience with a goal of climbing an 8,000 meter peak and eventually Everest. I have selected locations in the US, Europe and New Zealand. The 'Who' links will take you to a guide service in those areas. This plan should take several years if you did a major climb twice a year and started with zero experience. But there are climbers who have completed the 7 Summits in 12 months.
WHERE WHY WHO WHEN
Anywhere Basic climbing skills AAI, AC, IMG, local climbing club anytime
Anywhere Get experience, climbs lot's of local peaks if available Buddy, AAI, IMG anytime
Anywhere Rock Climbing Buddy, AAI, AC, IMG Spring, Summer, Fall
Ouray, Chamonix, Franz Joseph Glacier Ice Climbing Tower Guides, AAI, AC Winter
Rainier, Mont Blanc, Mt. Tasman Test yourself on a tough climb RMI, IMG, AC Spring, Summer
Aconcagua Experience at altitude and expedition life AC, IMG Dec - March
Denali Altitude and expedition experience Mountain Guides June, July
Cho Oyu High altitude experience AC, IMG Sept - Oct
Everest Because AC, IMG April - May


AC- Adventure Consultants , AAI - Alpine Ascents International , IMG - International Mountain Guides, RMI- Rainier Mountain Guides

Q: These are high mountains. What about altitude? Can you train for it?
A: Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.

Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American Lung Association this way:

The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.


You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes but there are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website. They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside Magazine posted an article in 2013 questioning their effectiveness.

Q: What about bottled oxygen?
A: Bottled supplemental oxygen is common on some 8,000M peaks especially Everest and Cho Oyu. The extra oxygen makes you warmer but only reduces the impact of the altitude by 3,000 feet. So at 27,000' your body stills feels like it is at 24,000'. The oxygen tanks look very similar to what you see scuba divers using in the ocean. Bottles are measured by how much oxygen they hold, usually 3 or 4 liters. A 3 liter bottle weighs about 5.7 pounds each. You use a oxygen mask and a regulator. The mask covers most of your face from your nose down. Climbers usually run the flow at 2 liters per minute meaning a 3 liter bottle will last about 6 hours. The flow can run up to 4 liters per minute thus lasting only 3 hours. Most climbers will need at least 4 bottles or maybe 19 hours of supplemental oxygen because sometime they will run the flow at 3 or 4 l/m. This does not including bottles for sleeping at C4 and spares. Almost everyone (including guides and Sherpas) uses oxygen above 7,700M or 25,500 feet. I used O's on Everest and Cho Oyu. It simply makes sense not to take any chances. At base camp on Everest there is 50% of the oxygen at sea level. At Camp 3, about 40% and at the summit, there is only 33% - it is like climbing stairs and holding two out of every three breaths.


8,000 meter Peaks, big mountains and Guides (see Selecting a Guide for more information on selecting a guide)

Q: What is an 8,000 meter peak?
A: There are only fourteen mountains higher than 8,000 meters or 26,250 feet on Earth. Nine are in the Himalaya Range in Nepal, one in Tibet and four in Pakistan.

Q: And other big mountains?
A: There are hundreds of 6,000 and 7,000 meters peaks around the world. The Alps in France, Switzerland and Italy have great climbs such as the Eiger and Mont Blanc. South America has Aconcagua, Cotopaxi and many volcanoes. North America has Denali, Rainier, Hood, Shasta, Washington and fifty six peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado and fifteen in California. Canada and New Zealand have some of the most spectacular climbs on the planet. Then there is Scotland with the famous Ben Nevis and other 4,000 foot peaks.

Q: What are the Seven Summits?
A: The tallest mountains on the seven continents. Dick Bass, a wealthy businessman, climbed all seven in the Eighties (guided by professional David Breashears) thus establishing the term. They are, in order of height: Everest - 29035 in Asia, Aconcagua - 22841 in South America, Denali - 20320 in North America, Kilimanjaro - 19563 in Africa, Elbrus - 18481 in Europe, Puncak Jaya - 16502 in Australia/Oceania and Vinson - 16066 in Antarctica.

Q: Do I really need to use a guide for a big climbing expedition?
A: It depends. For climbs within your ability, go with a buddy. I use guides on new climbs, to a place where I am not familiar with the area or where I need their expertise in logistics. While a few people climb 8,000 meter peaks such as Everest or Cho Oyu and 6,000m peaks such as Denali and Aconcagua without guides, you need to know what you are doing and have the time to arrange all the details. Consider your skills in the event that something goes wrong - are you self sufficient? What are your medical skills? HAPE and HACE are really possibilities - do you have the proper medicine and training to deal with it? In harsh weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill level carefully. You must bring a two-way radio and a sat phone in my opinion and have the frequency or number of the local rescue resources already programmed in. All of these mountains have brutal weather with cruel winds, driving snow and white-out conditions that can create a nightmare scenario.

Long expeditions are a maze of details. You would be absolutely amazed at the amount of gear, food and supplies it takes to climb a big hill. On Everest, we had literally tons of gear. It is a pity to stop your summit bid because you ran out of fuel for your stove or did not bring enough rope. Please see my Guide page and Guide Questions for more information.

Q: So, what is the story with Guides? Are they worth the price?
A: Tough question because it depends on you. If you have the experience and the time and the money to put together your own climb, you can save some money. However, this is rare for most people. Some people don't have the money to pay for a guide so organizing their own expedition is their only way to climb a big HIll. Then there are people who lack the experience and absolutely need a guide service. The sad reality is that if you use a guide and all goes well, you may question their value. The real value is demonstrated when something goes wrong. That is when the guide earns their fee and the best show their stuff

Q: How do I select a guide service?
A: References is the best answer. See how long they have been in business. Ask how new is their group gear. Ask about the food. But most important, ask who will be the lead guide on your trip. Talk to that person. Understand their philosophy. For example, is the guide there simply to climb that mountain and you happen to be along or will they turn around with you if you get in trouble? Ask about their most difficult client and how they handled that situation. And, of course, ask about their direct experience on this particular mountain. Do not be their first client! I have some questions everyone should ask before giving any Guide or Company your money.


14,000 foot Colorado Mountains

Q: What is a 14'er?
A: There are 54 mountains in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that are above 14,000 feet in height. They are contained in six different ranges all across the State. See my Fourteeners page for the listings

Q: And other mountains?
A: There are 155 mountains above 10,000 feet and 75 above 13,000 feet and serve up challenges as big as any 14'er.

Q: Do I need to use a guide for any of them?
A: Not for the the vast majority of the standard or normal routes. In fact many of these are easy Class 1 hikes with the only concern being altitude and weather. However always climb within your ability and get a buddy for rock climbing and difficult routes. If you are learning or inexperienced on technical routes (ice or rock climbing requiring ropes, harness, crampons, ice axes, etc.), then a guide or a very experienced partner is required.

Everest

Q: What does it take?
A: Experience, fitness and commitment. You must have experience to climb the highest mountain on Earth. In spite of the comments that anyone can climb Everest, it is not true. Fitness: you must be in the shape of your life. You cannot be overweight or have a lazy attitude towards the climb. The only way to know if you are in shape to climb Everest is your performance on other big mountains. Commitment: probably is the biggest element. You must be committed to your training, your experience and ... the climb. You will find that there are thousands of reasons to stop than to go on - in training, in the climb, in life.

Q: How much does it cost?
A: A car. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism will charge $10,000 per climber. The permit is about $5,000 on the north. There are three options for a climb: 1) organize your own expedition, 2) an 'unguided' commercial expedition and 3) a guided commercial expedition. The one on your on is obvious: you do everything including lining up Sherpas. There are companies in Katmandu that will help you. An unguided expedition is one where a company organizes all the logistics: food, group gear, transportation but does not provide guides. Several companies are offering more of these type trips to cater to the price sensitive or experienced climbers. The guided expedition is all of the previous but with full Sherpa support and usually Western Guides. These are 'full service' trips and are most appropriate for first time Everest climbers. The cost vary widely. On your own can be as low as $20K if you really skimp, unguided around $35K and guided from $50 to $65K. Then there are custom trips where you have your own western guide plus your own Sherpas. Expect to spend $100K for this trip.

Q: What about the Sherpas, what role did they play?
A: The Sherpas are incredible allies in climbing these big mountains. They fixed ropes, carry heavy loads and generally do the hard work. The cooks keep you fed at most of the camps. They melt snow and haul ice to the stoves at BC, C2 and C4. The dig out tent platforms and set up tents as well as take them down and off the mountain. It is summit night, however, where they really shine. They basically take over and make sure everyone is properly equipped for the summit bid. They checked crampons and harnesses. They help with oxygen and made sure the regulators are set correctly. And of course, they watched over each climber during the summit bid and help if there are problems. I saw all this on my climb with all Sherpas for all expeditions all the way from base camp up. If you climb Everest without Sherpa assistance, my hat is off to you

Q: I read that Everest is a "cake-walk" these days and anyone can summit if they want it bad enough. Exactly how tough is it?
A: It was tough. I summited in 2011. I submit that anyone who calls it a 'cake-walk' has never been there. The icefall proved to be dangerous and challenging. It was a long climb in the beginning but became easier as we acclimatized. The Lhotse Face was steep with hard ice and a long climb with loads. The traverse from C3 to C4 and the South Col were my biggest surprises. The Yellow Band was moderate rock climbing (at 24,000') and the Geneva Spur was much higher and steeper than I thought. The last section was 50' of 5.4 rock. Everest itself starts with a 60-80 degree slope with fixed lines. In bad weather, this would be difficult. Above the balcony, it is very long and tiring and can be exhausting. Bottom line is that Everest is one tough mountain with the length of time it takes, the logistics and the altitude