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October 12, 2005

Climbing a Triassic Mount Everest: Into Thinner Air

JAMA. 2005;294(14):1758-1762. doi:10.1001/jama.294.14.1761-b

To the Editor: At a height of 8850 m, Mount Everest has long been a magnet to Himalayan mountaineers, and its summit has been reached 2251 times through 2004.1 Because 130 of those ascents were made without supplemental oxygen,1 contemporary humans are undoubtedly capable of climbing higher than 8850 m without supplemental oxygen, if a higher summit were available. The upper limit for mountaineers has probably varied over time because atmospheric oxygen concentrations (currently 20.9%) have changed drastically over the past 570 million years.2 We simulated how these oxygen shifts would have affected the maximum altitude reachable by hypothetical “paleo-mountaineers.”

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