In May, Joby Ogwyn will attempt the first wingsuit flight off Everest's summit. While the stunt comes with a host of risks – Ogwyn will descend more than 10,000 vertical feet at speeds of up to 150 mph – the biggest gamble is still Everest itself.
"You've got to get to the top before you can jump," says Ogwyn. "The climb is the key to everything." He first summited Everest in 1999, at age 24, and again in 2008, and says the notorious peak is selective who it allows up. Avalanche exposure, crevasse falls, rock falls, and altitude illnesses account for a handful of deaths every year, with a recent high of 10 fatalities in 2012.
The "death zone" – altitude above 8,000 meters or 26,000 feet – is responsible for the majority of deaths and complications on Everest. "The oxygen level is so low, only one-third of sea level, that humans can't adjust," says high-altitude specialist Peter Hackett, MD. "Trying to operate in the death zone is a huge struggle. Every breath is a struggle."
It is from that space that Ogwyn plans to leap from the summit (29,029 feet), and navigate a wingsuit flight that he expects will last for several minutes. He believes that if his motor skills remain intact enough for him to summit, then he should be able to jump off. His goal is to steer clear of summit fever, the term for climbers who spend every last drop of energy getting to the top and don't save anything for the way down. "A lot of people are so greedy for the summit, that they're still up there right now," he says.
The Discovery Channel will air his attempt live. Follow Ogwyn's quest at everestjumplive.com