The Everest Death Zone I Oxford Open Learning

    The Death Zone

    The Everest Death Zone

    How Did The Death Zone Get Its Name?

    As the Everest climbing season gains momentum, you may hear the term “Death Zone” mentioned in articles and news reports about extreme high-altitude mountaineering.

    At 29,029 feet, Mount Everest stands as the world’s highest mountain, with its final 4029 feet referred to as the Death Zone. The reason for this designation is that above 25,000 feet, our bodies struggle to adjust to the altitude, and the lungs fail to process sufficient oxygen, which in turn causes cells to begin to die.


    The effects of extreme high altitude on the lungs can be devastating: issues arise with hypoxia (oxygen deficiency), causing soaring pulse rates, blood clots (due to blood thickening), and increased stroke risk. In severe cases, this situation can progress to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), believed to occur when blood vessels constrict, raising pressure in the lungs. This results in fluid leaking from blood vessels into lung tissue and, in extreme cases, air sacs. This life-threatening condition, colloquially termed “fluid on the lung,” restricts respiratory function and can lead to drowning in one’s own fluid.

    High-altitude hypoxia can elevate the resting heart rate to 140 beats per minute, a condition known as tachycardia, which may precipitate sudden cardiac arrest. The eye is also vulnerable and can suffer from high altitude retinal hemorrhages.(HARH) which looks like red splotches in the eye. It doesn’t look great but isn’t life threatening. According to experts, however, it can affect vision.

    And More…

    The digestive system slows is suppressed at high altitude and blood is diverted away and used to increase the bodies cardiopulmonary reserves. This can lead to nausea and vomiting. The brain is also affected at High Altitude by a condition known as high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). This is where hypoxia causes the brain to swell and this can lead to ataxia, fatigue and a decreasing level of consciousness.

    Records Of The Death Zone

    Experts suggest that climbers do not spend more than 20 hours in the Death Zone, with 48 hours being the absolute maximum for most people, even with supplementary Oxygen. Babu Chiri Sherpa holds the record for the time spent in the death zone without supplementary Oxygen and this is 21 hours. Pemba Gyalje is the record holder for being in the death zone with Oxygen and this is 90 hours.

    Considering the risks and perils of entering the Death Zone, one may wonder why climbers undertake such challenges. The famous answer to this question, of course, is “Because it’s there!”


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