All fourteen of the world’s mountains that rise above the mystical 8000 metre altitude are located in Asia. Ten lie along the Himalayan range, from Kanchenjunga in eastern India, stretching west through Nepal and Tibet and finally to Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. The remaining four are found approximately 100kms north of Nanga Parbat in the Karakorum range on the border of Pakistan and China.
Known as the ‘death zone’, the 8000 metre altitude places extraordinary demands on the human body. With an atmospheric pressure approximately one third of that at sea level, the body is literally starved of oxygen. Given the multi month nature of high altitude expeditions, this lack of oxygen has serious physical and cognitive impacts. Hearts race at up to 200 beats per minute for hours on end, the air is extremely dry and very cold, causing throat infections and perpetual coughing, the brain is starved of oxygen and must operate in a virtual fog with constant headaches. And all of this whilst climbing mountains that reach to heights at which jet aircraft cruise.
With basecamps located around the 4000 to 5000 metre mark, ascents of up to, or more than, four vertical kilometres are required. Climbers must acclimatise for weeks on end, just so that they may ascend briefly into these altitudes to steal a few precious minutes on a lofty summit.
Climbing an 8000er is a major undertaking, putting one’s life at serious risk and requiring exceptional motivation, fitness, teamwork, skill, perseverance and patience. Generally an expedition to an 8000 metre peak will take a minimum of two months duration. Andrew Lock is attempting to become the first Australian to climb all fourteen of the world’s 8000ers. To quantify the scale of the project to climb all fourteen ‘8000ers’, 12 men have stood on the moon and, until recently, just 12 men had climbed all the 8000ers. A good friend of Andrew’s became the 13th in July 2007 and Andrew plans to be the 14th. So far, no women have yet completed the project, although several have died trying.
An overview of Andrew’s climbs on the 8000 metre peaks follows. Read on to experience life at the world’s highest altitudes.