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May 21, 1997

In recent years there has been a tremendous influx of climbers  -- some paying as much as $70,000 to professional guides -- attempting to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The cost has been much more than financial: within the last year alone more than a dozen climbers have perished. For those seeking a surprisingly authentic encounter with the world's tallest peak but unwilling to risk the above sorts of prices, NOVA's Alive on Everest: The Story of Humans at Altitude Web site is well worth a visit. The purpose of this site is to track the mental and physical states of a team of four seasoned climbers during this next week as they brave the "Death Zone" (the portion of the mountain between 26,000 feet and its peak at 29,028); the live cybercast is expected to be so immediate that computer users will be able to hear the panting of climbers on their final approach to the summit. A PBS-funded venture, the Web site is a prelude to a documentary to be broadcast next winter.

tent2 picture Visitors to the site can monitor the progress of the climbers and discover the hazardous alpine world the climbers have chosen to explore. Have a look (in QTVR imagery) at the climbers' base camp and the Khumbu Icefall, a dangerous glacial slope strewn with house-sized blocks of ice and yawning crevasses that climbers must negotiate on their way up the mountain. Listen to a RealAudio interview with climber David Breashers, who has already scaled Everest three times. Or take the Stroop Test, a neuro-behavioral exam that climbers take prior to expeditions to help predict how susceptible they might be to "summit fever" -- a mysterious malady that may have had a role in the deaths last week of five climbers on Everest's challenging north face. (The NOVA climbers were able to file a Web-site report on the disaster almost instantaneously after picking up radio conversations from the north side of the mountain.)

In the coming week there will be live RealAudio feeds as the team members enter the frosty no-go zone and try for the summit. Will they make it? Will they succumb to summit fever? Count on this site to keep you posted.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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