At 8,430 meters above sea level, the high-altitude expedition team celebrates after setting up the world's highest operating automated weather station during National Geographic and Rolex's 2019 Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition to Mount Everest. Among them is Appalachian’s Dr. Baker Perry, third from right. Learn more at www.natgeo.com/everest. Photo by Mark Fisher, National Geographic

Professor sets record 27,657 feet above sea level

July 3, 2019

When humans reach certain altitudes, oxygen intake is reduced, brain function declines, the heart beats faster and the chance of frostbite greatly increases. For App State geography and planning professor Baker Perry, standing at 27,650 feet was magical.

“You realize you’re literally at the top of the world looking down on some of the highest peaks in the world,” Perry said. “It was pretty spectacular up there.”

From April to June, Perry and a team from National Geographic and Tribhuvan University in Nepal led a scientific expedition on the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. 

The six-person team installed the world’s highest operating weather station on Everest that will provide real-time information about mountain conditions and monitor upper regions of the atmosphere. 

The expedition was part of the National Geographic’s Life at the Extremes program, which aims to better understand change in earth’s most unique regions. The Everest expedition was the first Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition. 

“With Everest being the highest mountain in the world, it’s got some pretty extreme weather and environments that plants and animals live in,” Perry said. “One of the major objectives of this expedition is to try to understand these environments and understand how they are changing.”

To do this, Perry and his team climbed Mount Everest and installed two weather stations, which were brought up the mountain with the help of a team of Sherpas led by Panuru Sherpa, a 17-time Everest summit expert.     

The two stations, one installed at 26,066 feet and the other at 27,657 feet, were over 100 pounds each, which was split up among the group to carry up. The team also carried the tools needed to install the stations and supplies to survive the climb. 

“We had oxygen canisters; we had food; we had stoves; we had tents,” Perry said. 

Perry and his team were originally going to install the second weather station at the summit of Mount Everest but had to change plans due to safety concerns. During the 2019  Everest climbing season, 11 climbers died, which was on the team’s mind as it made the climb.

“We unfortunately saw some of those bodies on the route,” Perry said. 

He said that because of overcrowding, they reached a “traffic jam” of over 70 people waiting to go up to the summit. 

Dr. Tom Matthews, left, and Dr. Baker Perry, members of the National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition to Mount Everest, work on the automated weather station at the Everest Base Camp. Learn more at www.natgeo.com/everest. Photo by Freddie Wilkinson, National Geographic

“[Panuru Sherpa] basically made the call for us to stop at the balcony because it was just going to take us too long to get to the summit in that line,” Perry said. “Even if we had gotten to the summit, we were going to need two or three hours to install the station and complete our science objectives up there.”

During the expedition, Perry said most of the team members developed severe upper respiratory infections, coughs, colds and even the flu. 

“It’s very hard to recover completely from those sicknesses up at the high elevations. And so, all that together made it a real challenge,” Perry said.

He also said the climb was physically and mentally demanding. Perry was still recovering from the climb in late June. 

Before the Mount Everest climb, Perry climbed mountains in the Andes, where he helped install other weather stations. He has also been above 21,000 feet multiple times in his life.

“We were sleeping at elevations that I’ve only been to for a few hours on previous expeditions,” Perry said. “It was an adjustment for sure, but at least I’d had some exposure to those elevations.”

Once Perry and his team got to the balcony—a flat section along the summit climb that intersects with the crest of the Southeast Ridge of Everest—not everything went according to plan.

The team was missing mounts for the wind sensors. After brainstorming, Perry suggested using the handle of the mountaineering shovel and duct tape as a replacement. 

That wasn’t the only issue Perry solved with duct tape on his trip. Perry sat on a rock in his down suit, which Perry said is like walking around in a sleeping bag and a rock ripped a substantial hole in the bottom.

“So feathers were basically coming out of my rear end,” Perry said. 

Matthews also commented during a panel discussion after the trip, how Perry takes up a lot of room in the tent. Perry is 6 feet, 5 inches tall. 

Despite some small mishaps, Perry said he is excited to work in extreme conditions again. He said he is also thankful for all the support from back in Boone. 

“I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve had at Appalachian State, from my students, from colleagues, faculty and Administration and the interest and concern,” Perry said. “I really have appreciated all the folks that have reached out to me and welcomed me back.”

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