Photo taken by Vanessa O’Brien (using a timer) on October 4, 2011 near the summit of Shishapangma, the world’s 14th highest mountain climbing from Tibet.
Photo taken by Vanessa O’Brien (using a timer) on October 4, 2011 near the summit of Shishapangma, the world’s 14th highest mountain climbing from Tibet.

Conquering Mountains, with Vanessa O’Brien

Photo Credit: Photo taken by Vanessa O’Brien (using a timer) on October 4, 2011 near the summit of Shishapangma, the world’s 14th highest mountain climbing from Tibet. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via http://vobonline.com/.

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About This Episode

Grab your jacket, strap on your crampons, and make sure to check your oxygen – we’re headed for the top. However, as you’ll hear, the summit is never the goal – it’s the round trip. On this episode of Playing with Science, hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice go on a mental expedition into the world of mountaineering with one of the best climber’s around – Vanessa O’Brien. Vanessa is a mountain climber and explorer who holds the Guinness World Record for completing the Seven Summits in 295 days, the fastest time a woman first achieved this goal. She also was the first American/British women to summit K2. Explore the differences in certain “Seven Summit” lists and which summit was the easiest to conquer. You’ll hear how you “learn” to become a mountain climber and Vanessa shares how each mountain teaches her different things about herself, nature, and more. You’ll learn if mountaineering teams have “positons” like those in football, baseball, etc. Ponder the risk-reward factor that sponsors must think about when sponsoring mountain climbers on expeditions. Find out how mountain climates are changing which impacts the way climbers attack expeditions. We also investigate the influx of tourism and how it’s dangerous for the local Sherpa communities. Vanessa also helps us understand why most of the danger isn’t on the way up but on the way down. Next, we add another member to our expedition – Alan Oram, D.O., one of only two registered mountaineering guides in the USA that is also a registered emergency medical physician. Alan shares details on some of the most common threats that happen during expeditions including Acute Mountain Sickness and hypoxia. Find out how much of Alan’s job is providing psychological help to his clients. You’ll also hear how Alan manages his own self-interests while also making sure everyone else on his team stays safe. We look at fitness preparation, both mentally and physically, and how it can vary depending on which peak you’re preparing to climb and how fear plays an important role that can be both good and bad. All that, plus, Vanessa and Alan tell us why they climb mountains, and it’s about more than just getting to the top. 

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Conquering Mountains, with Vanessa O’Brien.

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