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Summit Air: New system for breathing oxygen high on Mount Everest

Posted: Apr 01, 2011 05:33 am EDT

(Lindsay Elms) With a new climbing season about to begin on Mount Everest, mountaineers who reach the South Col will be able to breathe oxygen from a source other than bottled O2. A Vancouver based company, Summit Air, has developed a system where oxygen will be pumped up the mountain from a camp in the Western Cwm above the icefall.

Tests in Yukon

Over the last two winters Summit Air engineers have been working in the frozen wilderness of Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The reason for using this area is that it is the closest environment whereby they can experience the temperatures similar to those found in the Western Cwm and on the South Col of Mount Everest.

Although on summit day the climbers are hoping for warmer temperatures, they build up for the summit attempt by regularly moving up and down the mountain.

Temperatures during these 6 weeks can vary significantly. Several trips will be made up the mountain, each time going a bit higher to camp and then returning to base to re-cooperate.

This technique is known as acclimatizing and is essential for building strength and allowing for the lungs to adjust to the rarified atmosphere. With each successive trip the bodys blood supply will be able to take in more oxygen from the lungs.

Developed by NASA

Summit Air has used oxygen pipes developed by NASA and used by astronauts during their space-walks; however, with the aid of nano-technology they have developed a high pressure pipe that remains supple to -50 C but when punctured by a crampon will self-seal without oxygen leaking.

Once the pumping station has been set up at the first camp above the icefall, Sherpas will be utilized to carry several thousands of feet of pipeline up the mountain to the South Col.

Climbers wishing to use the system will pay for a special attachment hose and mask, and will have 24 hour access to breathable oxygen.

Recycling for green energy

Although climbers will still have to carry bottled oxygen on their summit bid there is no way to fill those bottles on the mountain once they are empty. Summit Air is hoping that the next step will be to fill those bottles at the South Col and therefore minimize the number of bottles carried up.

Guiding Outfitters are unanimously in favor of the system as it will decrease their reliance on bottled oxygen which is brought in from as far away as Russia and cant be refilled on-site.

Summit Air: "Our ultimate goal is to make the mountain safer"

It is seen as one of the first green programs to be initiated on the mountain. Summit Air spokesperson, Phyllis Withohtoo, has said that hopefully by next year they will be able to supply intermediary camps with oxygen from the same pipeline supplying the South Col.

Our ultimate goal is to make the mountain safer for climber by ensuring a continuous supply of oxygen for those both on their way to the summit and for the return trip. This should increase the ratio of successful ascents and decrease the rates of death.

Traditionally it is on the descent from the summit where most deaths occur due to exhaustion caused by hypoxia or oxygen deprivation.

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Over the last two winters Summit Air engineers have been working in the frozen wilderness of Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory of Canada.
Image by SummitAir courtesy SummitAir, SOURCE