How important is experience at high altitude?

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

Jon Krakauer

How important is experience at high altitude?
Question: Hi Jon,

Enjoyed the Outside account of the Everest climb; certainly it conveyed the difficulty of climbing at high altitude, and the combination of bad luck and little mistakes that led to the tragic deaths.

My question: In the article you made a point of mentioning that you had little experience at high altitude compared to the guides and some of the other clients, yet you also have considerable experience in the mountains, and with hard, technical climbing. In retrospect, do you feel that experience at altitude is as important as you thought at the time of your trip, and would the results have turned out differently if you had followed your "climbing wisdom" instead of following the guides' directions?

Related question: Would you go on another guided expedition, or would you just do the research and deal with the unknown elements in your own way, and with your own team?


Dennis Roscetti
[email protected]

Jon: Dear Dennis,

After what I experienced in the Himalayas, I am more convinced than ever that one should gain some experience at high altitude before attempting Everest — and the more time you can log at altitude beforehand, the better.

No matter how much technical experience one has, there is no substitute for Himalayan experience. I should never have gone to Everest without first climbing on one of the easier 8,000-meter peaks — Cho Oyu, say, or Gasherbrum II.

I doubt very much that I'll ever go on another guided climb.

N E X T   Q U E S T I O N

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