Climbing to heights more than 8,000 m above sea level is as much a scientific as a physical challenge; in the first decades of the twentieth century, even after extensive experiments with barometric chambers and at lower altitudes in the Alps and Andes, it was not clear whether human beings could survive at such heights. In the years prior to the successful summiting of Everest in 1953, physiologists, doctors and other biomedical scientists organised and participated in mountaineering expeditions to try to understand, and predict, the effects of high altitude on the human body and design technology – from oxygen systems to ration packs – to enable human bodies to climb into what was colloquially known as the ‘death zone’. In the decades after the summit, a series of scientifically informed expeditions returned to the High Himalaya to continue researching questions of physical and psychological adaptation to this extreme environment. This chapter will outline the major biomedical questions raised – and in some cases answered – by these international expeditions; it demonstrates how these apparently marginal spaces and the literal frontier of human survival were reframed into crucial sites for making scientific truth; how they were leveraged to highlight the difference between White bodies and those of Native and Indigenous peoples; and how these scientists managed to justify their apparently niche, expensive and often dangerous research practices.
|Title of host publication||Rethinking Geographical Explorations in Extreme Environments|
|Subtitle of host publication||From the Arctic to the Mountaintops |
|Editors||Marco Armiero, Roberta Biasillo, Stefano Morosini|
|Number of pages||18|
|Publication status||Published - 14 Jul 2022|
|Name||Routledge Explorations in Environmental Studies|