Is it the oxygen regs? Or the oxygen itself?

As ongoing reports filtered back in 2018 about regulators ‘exploding’ on Everest at over 8,000 meters, on a system that has otherwise been tried and tested for years, it begs the question as to what has happened. A lone remark in the Alan Arnette comments section from Tom Holzel that resonated mentioned:

“Also check for water in the oxygen. When the high pressure oxygen is metered out, its temperature drops radically and ice can form and clog the valve.” 

With humidity and cloud, higher altitudes and thus less lower densities, colder temperatures as climbers ascend higher, there were some unique circumstances all happening at once. Yet the regulators themselves have so far been seen as the problem, while the whole system needs a review.

With no local regulations on any part of a climbers oxygen system, from the ageing titanium tanks still floating around, to mismatched regs, hoses and masks, found with some operators, ultimately the quality control lies in the partnership with the designers, manufacturers and the refillers of oxygen.

Ultimately it is the the guiding companies and the guides themselves responsibility is to know enough to go through and double check the systems – yet in this instance, with the problems arising suddenly at over 8,000 meters, even that wouldn’t have helped.

In communications with Ted Atkins in 2018, a former RAF Engineer and head of TopOut Oxygeneering Ltd., before he sadly passed away, he questioned whether the regs are really at the heart of the problem? As he wrote to me:

“It later came out that there had been multiple other failings, different teams, different places. So this is not a good theory and never was? It has to be something which applies to all these systems, something new. That new thing would of course be the gas. Every cylinder is filled every year. To me and I think every other engineer, that is where I would look.” 

With Neil Greenwood from Summit oxygen in Nepal both last year and this spring of 2019, they are focused on fixing the regulators. As if Everest doesn’t have enough challenges, having the one thing that helps us the most on our way to the summit now suspect, it is certainly one worth fixing.

For more on Ted Atkins thoughts on changes needed:

The oxygen of mountaineering