Recently my attention has been drawn to the strange fact that smoking is an aid to mountain-climbing. I first reported on the phenomenon back in December:
Cigarettes as an aid to climbing
Report, November 21 1922
Captain GJ Finch, who took part in the Mount Everest expedition, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, London, last evening on the equipment for high climbing, testified to the comfort of cigarette smoking at very high altitude. He said that he and two other members of the expedition camped at 25,000ft for over 26 hours and all that time they used no oxygen.
About half an hour after arrival he noticed in a very marked fashion that unless he kept his mind on the question of breathing, making it a voluntary process instead of an involuntary one, he suffered from lack of air. He had 30 cigarettes with him, and as a measure of desperation he lit one. After deeply inhaling the smoke he and his companions found they could take their mind off the question of breathing altogether … The effect of a cigarette lasted at least three hours, and when the supply of cigarettes was exhausted they had recourse to oxygen, which enabled them to have their first sleep at this great altitude.
George Mallory (below) was another climber who smoked: see Robert Graves’ tale of Mallory’s Pipe. As was Andrew Irvine, with whom Mallory attempted to climb Everest in 1928 (and probably succeeded, although he didn’t get back down) .
Last night in the Smoky Drinky Bar, more smoking climbers (or climbing smokers) came to light. Reinhold Messner, who climbed Everest without the aid of oxygen, was said to have been a smoker at the time of the ascent (although no evidence for this was produced). But mountaineer Joe Brown (below) most certainly was a smoker:
On their summit push Joe gave us some insight into the character of George Band. Joe had taken five cigarettes up with him, and smoked them all inside their tiny 2-man tent at 8200m. “Imagine being up there, exhausted, and having to share a tent with somebody smoking?”
So also was Herbert Tichy (below):
Herbert Tichy after the first ascent of Cho Oyu. His hands were so badly frostbitten that he even had to have help to enjoy a smoke (Photo: Herbert Tichy, taken from the book Himalaya, 1968)
As also was Michel Croz (1828 – 1865), Chamonix guide known for his first ascent of the Matterhorn :
Croz did not survive his successful attempt on the Matterhorn.
So it seems that there’s a long history of mountaineering smokers. But antismokers can’t get their heads around it:
How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft with tobacco tar coating their extremely delicate and highly important lung tissues?
This is like asking: How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft carrying heavy oxygen tanks that would have impeded their climbing?
Clearly the benefits of carrying oxygen tanks outweighed the costs attached to carrying them. Equally clearly, the benefits of smoking must have also outweighed any costs. But antismoking zealots are unable to believe this, convinced as they are that smoking is always harmful, in all contexts, everywhere.