Extreme Expeditions & Environments

Psychological, Social & Physical Processes & Effects

James Neill
Last updated:
27 Apr 2005

How do humans function psychologically, socially and physically on long, intense expeditions and in "extreme" natural or artificial environments and conditions?  Related topics include environmental psychology, wilderness medicine, extreme sports, effects of climate, weather, altitude, gravity, etc.

What's New?

  • Rockclimber envisions a history of climbing museum in Yosemite
    (Eric Bailey, 17 April, 2005, Los Angeles Times)

    Ken Yager has amassed 30+ years of personal climbing history on the towering granite Yosemite walls. He's ascended El Capitan more than 50 times and established  routes up other cliffs and spires. But his biggest mark may come on terra firma.  Yager is pushing for a museum to be built in Yosemite Valley (partly to house his amazing collection of artifacts) and to help depict the historical development of modern rock climbing.

  • Mealtime for Western Climbers at Mandara Hut, Maragnu Route, Mt KilimanjaroClimbers bribing to get on crowded Kilimanjaro
    (Paul Redfern, 28 February, 2005, allafrica.com)

    Accusations of overcrowding, protests about poor conditions for sherpas, and suspicions of corruption amongst Tanzanian officials are  undermining efforts by Western tour companies efforts to provide "gourmet" extreme expeditions up Mt Kilimanjaro.

  • The higher you go, the farther you see
    (Todd Balf, November, 1995, Fast Company, 1, 160)

    A writer takes on his toughest trip so far, the Tetons.  Venturing on Jackson Hole Mountain Guides' train-and-climb program for beginning mountaineers, Balf discovers a curious group, ranging from novice to experienced, including a few risk-happy business-types. The 3-day course included basic instruction on rock and ice that leads to a bid for Grand Teton's peak. Summit day might last anywhere from 16 to 24 hours.

  • Sherpa breaks record for Everest ascent by two hours
    (Channel NewsAsia, 21 May, 2004)
    50 years ago it took Hilary and Tenzing over seven weeks from Everest basecamp to become the first humans known to have scaled the highest peak on Earth.  Now, two vying Sherpas are doing it in under 12 hours...
    Two Sherpas have been vying to be quickest up Everest.  Now, Pemba Dorji Sherpa, 26, has broken the record for the fastest ascent of Mount Everest by more than two hours, reaching the summit just over eight hours after leaving base camp.  Last year Pemba had broken the record in a time of 12 hours 46 minutes.  Three days later Lakpa, powered only by fruit juice, sprinted to the top to set the new record.

    It took Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, more than seven weeks from base camp to the summit in 1953.  During 50th anniversary celebrations of that historic moment last year, Hillary pointed out that he and Tenzing had to forge their own route without the benefit of modern equipment, or of ropes and ladders already fixed in place.  "We had to do everything ourselves," said Hillary.  The record for ascending the world's tallest peak has been steadily chipped away, thanks to climbers being able to use ropes and ladders put in place by others.
  • Jed Williamson talks on mountaineering across the decades
    (Pitt News, 25 February, 2004)
    "Now, we didn't have the tools you have today," Williamson said. "The total of all our gear amounted to one ice tool today, about $300."  As editor of Accidents in North American Mountaineering since 1974, Williamson warned the crowd that bad preparation, not the mountain or the weather, causes deaths and accidents.  "There's no such thing as bad weather," Williamson said. "It's weather. It's what you get."
  • The man who fell to earth: Interview with Joe Simpson, author of mountaineering epic "Touching the Void" (Jasper Rees, The Age, 8 February, 2004)
    Could you remain friends with someone who left you for dead? Joe Simpson's escape from death as a young mountaineer in the Andes brought him fame as an author and has now been made into a film. This interview delves into Simpson's psyche and the ongoing effects of his miraculous escape in the mountains.

Recommended sites

  • Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments
    The most useful site on the web on the topic of human's psychological performance in extreme environments.  The SHPEE has an interdiscipinary focus in human performance
    • in the air
    • under water
    • on mountains and
    • in polar regions
  • "Human Performance in Extreme Environments": The SHPEE's journal, see table of past contents
  • Peter Suedfeld is world-renowned for his psychological research on human performance in extreme and unusual environments - read this article about Suedfeld's work.
  • Gary Steel's psychological research has focused on human behavior in extreme and unusual environments for over 10 years.
  • Wilderness Medical Society - explores health risks and safety issues in extreme situations such as:
    • mountains,
    • jungles,
    • deserts,
    • caves,
    • marine environments, and
    • space.
    The WMS focuses on medical topics including:
    • expedition and disaster medicine
    • dive medicine
    • search and rescue
    • altitude illness
    • cold- and heat-related illness
    • wilderness trauma, and
    • wild animal attacks
  • Jon Krakaeur's "Into the Wild" - A "cult" non-fiction book about Chris McCandless, a young adventurer who died in the Alaskan wilderness.
    In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die, and his search to discover the extremes of adventure, is the unforgettable story of "Into the Wild".