The Economics of Everest

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Mikhail Perfilov / Getty Images

Prince Harry announced he would soon climb Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.

When Everest Base Camp opens for the spring climbing season in March, Prince Harry may be among the climbers hoping to conquer the world’s tallest mountain, according to The Telegraph. The 27-year-old prince trekked across the North Pole last year in an effort to raise money for Walking with the Wounded (WWTW), a U.K.-based charity that helps those who were injured while serving in the armed forces, and plans to join the WWTW Everest team.

Mollie Hughes, one of the WWTW expedition team’s members who is hoping to become the youngest British woman climber at 21 to summit Everest, confirmed that the prince will be one of the climbers. “He won’t be doing the full climb, as it will take a long time and it requires rigorous training, so I think he’ll be joining us at base camp,” Hughes told The Telegraph.  It can take up to 10 days just to reach base camp from the south on the Nepalese side, the route Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay used to first conquer Everest in 1953. Once there, climbers usually spend six weeks on the mountain acclimating to the thin air and doing practice climbs before making the five-day summit push.

(PHOTO: Sir Edmund Hillary: First Ascent of Mount Everest)

Climbing Everest is a bucket list item for many until they realize the great price involved—both monetarily and mentally. Because of the high cost, climbers usually range from the young, sponsored athlete to wealthy men in their late forties trying to battle personal demons, tackle insecurities, or otherwise satisfy some existential urges. I myself decided to tackle the world’s tallest mountain this year as a 30th birthday gift to myself. Like Prince Harry, I didn’t opt for a full climb of 29,029 feet, because I don’t have a deep interest in going past 26,000 feet, the so-called death zone where the fatality rate goes up exponentially. Otherwise I had a full Everest experience and can break down the financials in case Harry has inspired you to consider a climb.

You don’t want to step foot on one of the world’s deadliest mountains without being in the best shape of your life. When I began to train, I was already a marathon runner, but I still needed to hire a trainer twice a week for a year for squat routines and other almost vomit-inducing exercises. Not included in this estimate is the time that’s taken away from other things—you’ll be running three to four hours in 90 degree weather or climbing for six to eight hours in extreme conditions to prepare. In the months leading up, I became comfortable with the idea of working out two to three hours a day.

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Everest is not the place to skimp on the grade of your down jacket.  Buying a cheaper featherweight on your summit mittens might cost you a hand to frostbite. I never knew gloves could cost $300 or that I would own two pairs of them. The Arc’Teryx hard shells start at $600, and down suits run closer to $1,000.  I’m now also the proud owner of a pee funnel, a device women use to prevent frostnip on the lower body, which set me back $23. Before leaving you’ll also need to consult a doctor, who’ll prescribe you a chest of medicines from Diamox to anti-diarrhea remedies. I even carried around Viagra pills, which are known to help ease the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. Who knew that little blue pill could help save lives on Everest? Even though the average expedition will allow you 32 pounds of gear, it’s daunting how much each pound seems to cost.

The Climb—$35,000 to $100,000

An Everest climb starts at around $35,000 because mountain permits begin at $10,000 (the price varies based on the number in the expedition). In addition, a virtual village of Sherpas—porters, cooks, and guides—is required to get you to the top.  For the $100,000 price tag, outfitters such as Himalayan Experience or International Mountain Guides offer climbers their own Western guide and Sherpa, as well as the option of using bottled oxygen all the way to the top. These prices don’t include the $1,500 to $3,500 airplane ticket to get to Nepal, depending on whether you fly first class or coach.

Extras—$2,000 to $4,000
I came home to a cell phone bill of $1,800, and I didn’t make that many calls (this is with an international data package). I mostly listened to messages from my mother asking me to call if I was alive or dead. You’re also expected to tip your Sherpa $500 if you make it to the top.  A Sherpa takes home only $3,500 total for the climb. I treated mine to two yaks, which he named “Philip” and “Roth” after I introduced him to Philip Roth novels. You also have to purchase medical evacuation insurance, which starts at $500.

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But Everest shouldn’t be measured in dollars and cents. A study by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, shows that people derive greater satisfaction from experiences rather than investing in possessions.  When I reached my goal after hours of breathless climbing and weeks on the mountain, I fell to my knees with tears of happiness as I listened to Nina Simone’s version of Here Comes the Sun. I scattered the ashes of a loved one and then pulled out pictures of those close to me that I brought as insurance in case something happened. This was a perfect moment in my life and replays over and over again.

In fact, I never actually added up my Everest bills.  The mountain was where I figured out that I wanted to live my days as passionately as I can and to give as selflessly I can. The commitment I had to make to myself to achieve this climb spills over to my entire life and everyone in it. I’m fiercely loyal to my well-being, my career, and my relationships. Heck, I’m even devoted to my ex-boyfriends. I think Aleister Crowley said it best after a first attempt to climb K2: “I had done it myself and found not only that the pearl of great price was worth far more than I possessed, but also that the very peril and privations of the quest were themselves my dearest memories.”

Good luck, Harry.

Katherine “Katie” Tarbox serves as a senior editor for REALTOR Magazine and is the author of the international bestselling book A Girl’s Life Online. She’s an active marathon runner and climbed on two of the seven summits, Kilimanjaro and Everest. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Follow her @katherinetarbox or