Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Older climbers face uphill battle on Mount Everest

In this era of not surrendering to age, some claim that 60 is the new 40. But new research shows that 60 year olds cannot keep up with 40 year olds on Mount Everest and suffer a sharply higher chance of dying if they do reach the summit.

The study shows that among 2,211 climbers during the spring seasons from 1990 through 2005, the overall chances of reaching Everest's summit were nearly 31 percent, but they dropped to 13 percent for climbers in their 60s. The overall chances of dying on the mountain were 1.5 percent, but they more than tripled to 5 percent for climbers 60 and older.

The researchers did not find any gender differences.

"Before we did this analysis, we didn't know whether age would be important. Younger climbers have a physical advantage but probably have less experience than older climbers," said Raymond Huey, a University of Washington biology professor. "We used to refer to this advantage of age as the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar effect. As he got older, his physical skills declined but he was so smart and experienced that he was able to compensate and still play professional basketball at the highest levels.

"Unfortunately for older climbers, that effect does not apply on the world's highest mountain," said Huey, lead author of a paper describing the research published online Aug. 15 in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters. The Royal Society is the United Kingdom's national science academy.

Other authors are Richard Salisbury, a database analyst and mountaineering historian in Ann Arbor, Mich., and statisticians Jane-Ling Wang and Meng Mao at the University of California, Davis.

The findings run counter to the notion published in a medical journal in 2000 that people in their 60s could safely climb peaks of about 26,300 feet. Mount Everest is about 29,030 feet.

"I think they were overstating the safety factor. I think it's much more risky," Huey said.

Huey suspects there are two possible reasons why fewer climbers older than 40 reach the summit and successfully make it down again – declining physical capacities and a higher degree of caution that causes them to stop short of their goal of reaching the summit.

"By the time you are 50 or 60, you've probably been banged up once or twice. You know it hurts, and you've seen consequences of losing fingers or toes to frostbite," Huey said. "So older climbers are probably more cautious, but I can't determine whether it's greater caution, reduced fitness or a combination of the two that explains the lower success rate for older climbers."

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, consisted of a statistical analysis of climbers since 1990, looking at the influence of age and gender on success and death rates. Much of the data come from Elizabeth Hawley, who chronicled climbing expeditions in the Himalayas and for four decades conducted interviews that provided a large historical archive of mountaineering information.

The analysis found virtually no difference between men and women on Everest – there are many fewer women climbers, but their rates of reaching the summit and of dying are very similar to those for men.

But age differences were stark. Those at least 60 years old who started up the mountain had a death rate at least three times higher than younger climbers. For those who actually reached the summit, 25 percent died before completing the descent, compared with 2.2 percent for younger climbers. However, because the sample of older climbers is relatively small, the actual difference could be exaggerated or understated, Huey said.

Many more people in general are trying to climb Everest than, say, 30 years ago – there are reports that just this spring more than 600 people reached the summit. The first two climbers to scale Everest, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, were 33 and 39 when they succeeded in 1953. For many years, only about 20 percent of the climbers were older than 40, and those older than 60 were very rare. But the scientists found that in recent years nearly half of all climbers are at least 40, and one of every 30 is at least 60 years old. Until now, these older climbers had no way of knowing about how age correlates with their chances of success and death.

Huey believes it is likely more older climbers are now attempting to climb Everest because guided expeditions are readily available and because many older climbers have sufficient disposable income to pay for those guided trips.

"Older people are usually healthier now than they were 50 years ago," he said. "Many fewer people smoke and health care is better, so increasingly older people are participating in a variety of sports."

But, as the researchers concluded in their paper, "On Everest, youth and vigor trump age and experience."

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>