Mountaineers should be banned from climbing Everest using oxygen, because they are “diminishing the adventure” and “achieving nothing”, actor Brian Blessed said today.
The keen adventurer has tried to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak three times, all without oxygen, and plans to try again once more in the next two years.
Famed for his early role in police drama Z-Cars in the 1960s, followed by years of landmark acting roles including cult comedy The Black Adder and film Flash Gordon, Blessed’s other passion is adventure – he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and became the oldest man to reach the magnetic North Pole on foot.
He tried three times to reach the summit of Everest without oxygen – in 1991, 1993 and 1996 – but did not manage to achieve the feat.
Now 76, he is planning to try again one more time over the next two years, again without oxygen, and said that 60 years after Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the summit, people should be reaching it without oxygen.
“I don’t think there should be any expeditions to the mountain unless they are climbing it without oxygen – 29,035 ft is just high enough to be climbed without oxygen.
“It’s achieving nothing in the development of human will and human achievement and in the spirit of adventure. It’s all vanity.
“Hillary and Tenzing were going into the unknown mentally, and then this baton was taken up in 1978 by Messner, and Habeler (Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, who became the first people to reach the summit without supplementary oxygen).
“But going up there with lots of oxygen, with everything carried by wonderful sherpas, I don’t have a lot of respect for it, not in this day and age.
“We need to be brave. You’re diminishing the adventure with oxygen.”
Blessed said he is “determined” to return to Everest in the next two years and to reach its summit.
“I am determined to go back in the next two years, back to Everest, for the sake of golden oldies, for what they say is impossible to be possible.
“I feel that if I can go up there as an old man it would be a new development, something new.”
Blessed said people did not appreciate how dangerous an Everest ascent could be - describing needing weeks of acclimatisation, and the difficulties of conquering the various stages of the climb.
He said winds buffeted him “like the Flying Scotsman”, his blood “thickened to the consistency of glue”, and at night sleeping bags “become like cement” because of the cold.
“I arrived in Everest in 1990, the northern side, a very fit 16 stone 5, at tremendous fitness.
“On my first expedition on the northern side I got to 27,000ft. We weren’t allowed to go any higher than that, and we didn’t anticipate we would get that high.
“I lost 27 million brain cells, I came back ten-and-a-half stone, lost all my muscles and it took me six months to recover.”
On one of his trips, the actor was forced to turn back to help a dying climber back down the mountain, he said.
He said a trip to Everest would take 15-20 weeks, with time allowed for proper acclimatisation and the body to adjust to the constant changes the higher climbers go, but people were not showing enough respect for how dangerous it could be.
“You must be able to get to 22, 23, 24,000ft without it if necessary but frequently people don’t, they use oxygen all the time.
“The so-called easy side, the south side, is incredibly dangerous because of the weather conditions, lack of atmospheric pressure, lack of oxygen etc.
“The sherpas put all the tents up, they put the rope ladders up the ice field and then they grab the bloody clients and all the heavy stuff and they give them oxygen, tonnes of oxygen and they go up there .
“Their feet are placed in one thing after the other before a straight line up the ropes like a bloody zombie.
“And if the weather gets bad and anybody misbehaves, they die.
“Even with the most modern gear, if Everest decides to be malignant, you’re f***ed.
“People are going up there who aren’t qualified, to a certain extent I think they sh*t on the mountain. I think they sh*t on adventure, it’s not true adventure.
“I can’t put a better word to it, they are crapping on the mountain, they are insulting it, and just for their own egos.”
But asked what his own motivation is, the actor put his reasons down to a love of the planet, and of adventure.
“A love of life, I love mountains, I love the earth.
“I love adventure, she is a beautiful mountain, and I think she will allow me to go on to her summit as a very old man.”