Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Diagnosis: Summit Fever

Mountaineering and pursuing adventure are doubtlessly extremely dangerous hobbies/life style choices yet people keep taking these risks over and over again. The saying Summit Fever is usually applied to mountaineering rather than polar expeditions, for example, but I think it applies to anything challenging really.

Every year climbers attempt Everest, K2, Denali, Hard Routes in the Alps etc etc; these all pose great risks to the climbers safety yet the danger seems worth while. This danger merely enables people to stand on top of the mountain and look at the vastness around them and say that they have done it. I'm not saying that I do not feel the same, I certainly do - it's just the fact that people question why. Non-adventurous people who may perhaps not have experienced such challenges don't seem to understand. My own experience is on a small scale; in sport, on Kilimanjaro, when cycling etc but it still applies to Everest summiteers in a similar way.

My summit of Kilimanjaro (me on the right); I was willing myself to the top!

When the chance of death comes in to the equation on more serious climbs and expeditions is when the label of Summit Fever is thrown around by the press. People, on the brink of death, push themselves, use all of their reserves and more to make it to the summit, make it to the pole, reach their target and objective. They might be deluded by exhaustion or altitude (often both in mountain summit terms) but they believe that they shouldn't turn around when perhaps medically they should. Many people question why this happens and why it is allowed to.

Once someone has set a life goal as big as climbing Mt Everest or reaching the South Pole they are likely to dedicate a lot of time and money to doing it. The thought that it may not happen when they are so so close to their objective is likely to be crushing and not possible when someone isn't thinking straight. Summit Fever is an extremely dangerous affliction which puts climbers/adventurers and guides at great risk of pain and even death. Often, however, the danger people put others in is unintentional - they might appear greedy in wanting a summit so bad but often this is likely to be down to the delusion brought upon by altitude and exhaustion.

My opinion is that whilst it is hard to prevent Summit Fever, or predict it, it is vital for an adventurer to keep a clear mind and maintain rational over proceedings. From what I've read and heard this is extremely hard particularly at extreme altitude; even at altitudes i've experienced below 6000m I've felt noticeably slower mentally and physically. I've always wondered how, or if, a person could train their mind to avoid summit fever and maintain this rational state but is it possible? Not everyone is so impacted by greed/desire/need but those who do experience summit fever may just naturally be that way.

Summit Fever comes about when the mind plays tricks on a person and forces them to believe that something that shouldn't or can't be obtained can be and make a person believe that a summit is reachable, ignoring threat of injury or death to them and others. People do make their own choices at the end of the day, a climb of Everest or K2 is undertaken knowing the dangers involved physically and mentally - I don't think criticism of climbers is deserved for experiencing Summit Fever except when it impacts the lives of those around them.

It's easy for me to speak of maintaining a rational mind but I'm sure it's incredibly hard. I've wanted to climb Everest for years, when the days comes that I'm 100m from the top with little Oxygen left in the tank, will I turn back when told???? I'm not entirely sure I could; money and effort will have to go in to even getting the chance to stand on the mountain. Fingers crossed I could summit successfully and safely instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...