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with Stefan Nestler

Children on Everest? Irresponsible!

Windfahne-EverestA twelve-year-old boy on top of Everest? Professor Thomas Kuepper can only shake his head. The occupational health and sport physician at the University Hospital Aachen is an internationally recognized authority on high altitude medicine who is also advising the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA). I had asked him what he thinks about the American Tyler, aged eleven today, who – as reported in my blog – wants to climb Mount Everest next spring. “You should file a charge of child abuse”, Kuepper wrote back disgustedly.

No knowledge on treatment of children

Prof. Thomas Kuepper

Prof. Thomas Kuepper

I wanted to know whether there was scientific evidence about how children respond to high altitude: Is there a greater risk for them to suffer from high altitude sickness? Can there be long-term effects? “Basically, there is no difference between children and adults in terms of the symptoms and the incidence of altitude sickness and neither in terms of the time they need for acclimatization”, says the scientist. “However there is no knowledge of how to treat children if they suffer from the particularly severe forms of high altitude sickness.” In other words: If Tyler Armstrong suffers from a pulmonary or cerebral edema, he will probably be given the emergency medicine used for adults – although there has not been sufficient research to date on whether it makes sense for children, and if so, at what dosage.

Higher risk of frostbite

But high altitude sickness is not the only danger, Professor Kuepper writes to me. “Due to their different physiology and body proportions, children have less to set against environmental impacts. For example, there is a higher risk of hypothermia.” In my opinion, that should be reason enough for parents not to expose their children to extreme heights. Professor Kuepper says there are no ifs, ands or buts on this issue. For him the ascent of a twelve-year-old boy to the top of Mount Everest would be “utter nonsense and pure narcissism of the parents”.


11. August 2015 | 9:59