Being Everest Ready

Being Forever Everest Ready

Don’t climb Mount Everest but forever be Everest Ready!” What did I mean by that response when a capable mentee expressed their keenness to summit the tallest mountain on Earth?

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The Background
The Letter
1234Thrill Seeking & Pushing Limits
1234Longevity and Healthspan
1234Impact on the Planet
1234What Next?
Parting Message

The Background [top]

A few years ago, a wonderful gentleman I had the privilege of mentoring expressed his interest in climbing to the top of Mount Everest. Instead of encouraging him to do something I was quite sure he could be ready for within a few months, I encouraged him not to do so. Let us go through my response to him (reworded slightly).

The Letter [top]

Dear …

I think you would agree that your ultimate goal might be to be capable of doing an easy trek anywhere in the world when you are 90+ years old.

With that in mind, let us consider a few themes.

Risk-Reward [top]

We would like the long-term reward (trekking at 90+) …

…without the shorter-term risk (e.g., injuries from either running a full marathon or an Everest climb)

…and definitely without the fat tail risk (of death) from an Everest climb. The tails of the probability distribution of negative outcomes from the proposed activity are fat because the risk of death is not small for those attempting to summit. Would you do something with a 1%-2% probability of death? Those are the hard statistics and they’re unrelated to physical fitness! The risk of death associated with summiting Mt Everest is significantly higher than the risk of death from motorcycling in Mumbai!

Even if not death while climbing, there is the very real possibility of a longer horizon risk that something negative happens during the trek, e.g. the loss of a limb, and even once you return home you are kept off your path of staying fit throughout your life thereafter.

Internal-External [top]

I would like you to think about how much the climb to the top of Everest is about the physical challenge to your mind versus doing something that the media has hyped up to make you and other consumers feel like it’s something worth doing.

I ask this because of the importance of setting goals that are worthwhile goals. Do understand that I understand fully that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. And, along with everyone having the freedom to choose what makes them happy, a choice one way or the other usually does not make someone good or bad.

Let us also understand that if we are ever to judge someone, then it should be based on their choices, not their abilities, and definitely not on the non-genetic endowments they received – like inheritance!

Also, would you do it if you found out that it’s not anywhere close to the toughest to climb but just the highest? (See this and pay attention also to the likelihood of death mentioned for each mountain.)

The litmus test is to ask yourself, “If I was to climb Everest but could not tell anyone that I was going to, and that I would not tell anyone else about it even afterward, would I do it then?

Similarly, ask yourself, “If I were to run a full marathon, on a Sunday morning after training for it alone, with almost no support and not as part of an event, with no one knowing, would I do it then?

Thrill Seeking & Pushing Limits [top]

The romantic feelings associated with doing something extreme, which has non-trivial risks associated with it, have always excited humans. I think it would be great if, instead of looking for a one-off event, you build this into your daily life. When I think about why I have no desire whatsoever to do a bungee jump, go scuba diving, visit a wild game reserve, or climb a crazy mountain, it is simply because I know they are simply about giving myself a thrill, and some of them might include the need to be even fitter. Perhaps it is because my daily life includes activities with enough of a need to be alert and handle physical danger that these other “thrilling activities” are not on my list of top-10-things-I-want-to-do. I would like to do them, but if someone tells me that I will never ever do them, it would leave me not the least bit perturbed. I reiterate – this is not to say that someone who wants to do all of those activities is a lesser human being. I just think it’s wise to consider all the motivations, implications, consequences, and alternatives.

Time-Optimization [top]

It costs about US$ 45,000 to do an Everest summit climb. That’s not at all an obstacle for you. However, what is a real obstacle is finding the time to train to reach a level of readiness for it such that the 2% risk of death is reduced to, say, 0.2%. This time required is not just for the physical fitness readiness which, having seen people who have done it, I don’t think is at all beyond your ability. You also require time to invest in emotional training along with the mental (knowledge base) training and learning the requisite physical skills that will keep you safe and get you success.

Longevity and Healthspan [top]

The oldest healthy people on the planet are typically not ultra-athletes, and not Everest summiteers. So, we know that none of these endurance events drive a long Healthspan in a sufficient manner. Could one participate in an ultra-endurance event and also reach 110? Sure, why not. But, clearly, the details of things other than having participated in an endurance event or two (or two hundred) matter. And, we also know that you can live a healthy, pain-free, socially productive life to 100+ without ever participating in an endurance event.

Impact on the Planet [top]

I think this one is very clear. Just about any extra person going up is harmful to the planet. This is true even for flying to Kenya to visit the Mara to see animals that don’t give a damn whether you see them or not. Or for going halfway across the world to Switzerland every February to ski.

Leadership [top]

Where and how do you see the Everest journey fit into the necessity to live your life such that you are leading by example? I would like you to map that out too in your thought process.

What Next? [top]

The difference in scale: I would not consciously do anything with a significant risk of death. It is for that reason that I have no interest in going to the top of Everest. The risk of death from running a marathon is close to zero, in comparison. You must understand the difference in scale when it comes to the risk differences between these two activities.

A more worthwhile goal: In terms of return, I would definitely want to be fit enough to climb to the top of Everest at any time of the year. Now THAT is a worthwhile goal. To keep oneself fit so that with just 4 weeks’ advance notice you could do something as tough as summiting Everest. Or with 2 weeks’ advance notice do something half as tough. Or with a 1-week advance notice do something with ¼ the level of difficulty. Are you getting what I am driving at?

The final decision: In the end, if you do decide that you want to keep the option alive then, besides speaking with anyone else whom you know who has done it, I can introduce you to my friends who have gone to the top of Everest and back. And, then, we can lay out a plan to work towards the goal, if you still want to get there.

The important thing is that no final decision needs to be made right now, other than to be fit for life. Don’t climb Mount Everest but forever be Everest Ready!

[the letter ended here]

Parting Message [top]

Asking the right questions is the first step to a better life. One of those questions is “where do I want to get to in life?“. What is your Mount Everest?

If everything you do is consistent with your core beliefs and desires, then a long and healthy life of joy is pretty much guaranteed to be yours. If you want to be guided in detail, you know how to reach me, and if you found this useful, please do share it with others.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

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