The Technology it Takes to Climb Mount Everest

By Rob Clymo on at

More people might be climbing the 8,848 metres that make up Mount Everest in the Himalayas, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier. However, for anyone who decides to make the trip to Nepal in order to attempt it, the good news is that the kit you’ll want to take with you is getting a lot better. It’s a fact that Rupert Jones-Warner knows only too well.

In May 2018, Jones-Warner is going to attempt a variation on the theme and aims to be the first European, and youngest ever climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest twice, on two routes, consecutively. That’s a big ask, but the Brit from decidedly mountain-free Chichester is readier for that than he has been for the relentless round of fundraising he’s had to go through to get the project underway.

Rupert Jones-Warner

Time served

In fact, Rupert has already had a go at the mountaineering challenge, back in April of 2015. Six weeks into the expedition, having reached 7,000 metres, the Nepalese earthquake struck. The convulsions tragically caused 22 fatalities on the mountain and he was forced to abandon the pursuit. Now he’s back, and sounds keen to get stuck in…

“I’m going to be raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust,” he says. “The expedition is costing £55,000, which is a lot of money, but it’s a two-month thing. So far I’ve got £40,000 and I’m trying to find the last £15,000 in the next week or so, which is tough. Raising those sums is actually, I’d say, about 80% of the challenge. I’m more stressed about it. Once I get to the mountain I can relax and just focus on getting from A to B each day. It’s a tough slog.”

Helping hands

Rupert says he’s got some great sponsors on board already, including Fentimans Tonic, so is rather bizarrely going to be taking their botanically brewed Ginger Beer to the top of the summit. He’s also going to be capturing it for posterity and sending video and image updates back to Strava, the athletes website. However, it’s the kit he’s taking for the expedition that will really help get him to the top and back.

“I’m taking a Garmin watch with a heart rate monitor and also GoPros to film it. I’m also taking a Sony Alpha 7 to take photos. I’m really interested in documenting it all and trying to make something interesting. I’ll be sending all this back to Strava, and also using my phone for stuff too. Then they’ll be loading all of that stuff up onto Instagram and their social media networks.”

Hardware havoc

And what, one wonders, will he be packing to keep the elements at bay? “Well in some ways you have to prepare for anything and everything,” reckons Rupert. “Obviously further down the mountain it’s less cold, and higher up the mountain you have a lot more kit. Lower down, the thing I’d definitely have is an extra thick down jacket in my day sack, along with thicker gloves and a good head torch, plus a spare. Petzl or Black Diamond are pretty good.”

Presumably the downside to packing lots of kit is that batteries that are pretty susceptible to the elements? “Exactly,” he agrees. “Things like GoPros are great, but as soon as you get up to altitude and it starts getting cold then the life in those batteries is just sucked right out. So video recording times are reduced to just a few minutes. You’ve also got to keep it inside your clothing, as close to your skin as possible.”

Wearable gear

“It’s the same with my camera,” adds Rupert. “I think the real issues are going to be that as you get higher up you have to keep everything inside your down suit. It’ll need to be tucked away, along with spare batteries, inside next to your skin to avoid everything freezing. That’s actually one of the main challenges I’m going to have, because if I want to get my camera out then I’m going to have these massive down mitts on. If I take those off then there’s the potential for frostbite.”

What’s more, the issue with anything and everything he carries is weight. “You’ve got to try and keep the camera warm enough so it’s working,” Rupert points out. “So I’m a bit worried about that actually. It’s not going to be the easiest really. Everything has to be next to your skin, the camera, the batteries, your water, just to stop it freezing. I’m going to be like one of those wheeler dealers with everything hanging on the inside of my jacket.”

Rupert is going up alongside two teams, although he’s the only one doing the double ascent. “In theory, I summit the south side, come back down, jump in a helicopter, go around to the north side and join up with the second team and go straight for the second summit. It’s certainly going to be a cocktail of both the physical and psychological. A lot of it is about nutrition, knowing when to push and when not to push, as well as resting as much as you can inbetween.”

Huel for fuel

Central to this is going to be Huel, a brand of meal replacement powders. “At altitude your body can’t digest food as food,” says Rupert. “So I’m taking liquid food to try and re-energise the body. I think the second summit is going to be far more mental than physical and I don’t know what state I’ll be in when I get back from the first summit.”

Presumably he doesn’t just buy a tent from GoOutdoors to get the right sort of cover against the elements either? “Well, they’re often just North Face top-of-the-range heavy duty things,” adds the explorer. “But they just look like any other tent, although they are thicker. There are four camps, so at base camp you’ll have a tent each, camp one it’ll probably be two to a tent, then as you get to camp four we’ll probably be three to a tent.”

Losing fluids

It must be a bit of a faff going to the toilet too, right? “It is yes,” he laughs. “Unfortunately, altitude does funny things to your body, so the way you end up is not ideal either. To be honest, as you get higher up, you’re just so dehydrated. You can’t get enough liquids in, so you don’t actually piss that much.”

“They say that at altitude things weigh five times more than they do at sea level,” adds Rupert. “So on summit day, it’ll be an eighteen hour day, and most of us will just take 1litre of water, which is ridiculous really, but it’s because of the weight. We’ll see, but I’m sure I’d ideally like to carry more than 1litre.”

Common ground

Considering the fact that Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay only reached the top of Mount Everest back in 1953 the numbers climbing the rock are growing inexorably year on year.

Is this fact detracting from his attempt somewhat? “In some ways it is,” he ponders. “Though 20 years ago people wouldn’t have dreamt of doing a double ascent. Just to get to the top of Everest is an amazing thing, but everything has moved forwards. You’ve got better weather monitoring systems, better oxygen systems… it’s allowing more people to climb. The formula is there now.”

You’ll be able to follow Rupert’s progress on Strava, the social network for athletes, where he will be logging all his activity - follow him here.