Mount Everest vs. English Channel – Which Is More Difficult?
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California. Athletes and fans all have their own opinions and perspectives on what sports or athletic endeavors are the most difficult or challenging. Gymnasts will debate volleyball players, volleyball players will debate with swimmers, swimmers will debate with runners, ultra runners will debate with cyclists, cyclists will debate with basketball players. And on and on. The insights and nuances of each sport are fascinating to hear from those who know their own sports best. Each endeavor requires discipline, dedication and physical skills as well as mental toughness and focus. When it comes to extreme sports, there are iconic endeavors such as swimming across the English Channel and climbing Mount Everest. The English Channel is called the Mount Everest of swimming, but Everest is not called the English Channel of climbing. Why is that? Mount Everest is the well-known standard of mountaineering – massive bigness – on Planet Earth. To scale its summit is to accomplish a unique achievement in society: “getting to the top” has all kinds of nuances and implications. The English Channel is the globally-known standard for marathon swimming. But, as least in the English language, “getting to the top” seems linguistically more exceptional compared to “getting across”. Reaching the top of the world just seems more majestic and heroic than swimming to the other shore for some reason. For most people, “getting across” does not have the same level of profound nuances and implications. Getting to the top implies overcoming obstacles that stand greater than us. It implies a hard-fought success after a series of literally and figuratively difficult challenges. In contrast, getting across somehow seems easier requiring somewhat less courage than getting to the top. Moving horizontally seems logical and methodical, while moving vertically seems daunting and formidable. While swimmers and climbers can forever argue which is a more difficult goal to achieve: climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel, it is a fact that mankind is clearly a land-based species whose bodies evolved to walk, run and climb rather than kick, pull and swim. Walking and climbing is a natural act, while swimming is a learned activity. So from a purely primitive perspective, the act of walking even up to Mount Everest is fundamentally an activity suited for man while swimming non-stop even 1 kilometer is an action incomprehensible to 99% of humanity. But which activity is more difficult? Climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel? There are several ways to formulate the debate. One perspective is simply historical and data-driven. Swimming from England to France across the English Channel predates climbing Mount Everest by 78 years. Captain Matthew Webb swam the English Channel in 1875 versus Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who climbed the 8,848m high Mount Everest in 1953. On the women’s side of the equation, the first woman to swim the Channel (Gertrude Ederle in 1926) predated the first woman to scale Everest (Junko Tabei in 1975) by 49 years. The English Channel authority Julian Critchlow in his website (Cold Water Swimming) describes all kinds of data that is enlightening and educational. Critchlow writes about the comparison between the English Channel and Mount Everest, “The comparison is flawed on many dimensions…fewer people swim the Channel but Everest is much more dangerous:
1,959 people have swum the English Channel; 4,833 have climbed to the summit of Everest;
142 people swam the channel last year; 648 summits were done in 2017 (~5x the rate);
The record for multiple channel crossings is 43 (Alison Streeter); the record for Everest summits is 21 (Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi);
Southern California native, born 1962, is the creator of the WOWSA Awards, Oceans Seven, Openwaterpedia, Citrus Corps, World Open Water Swimming Association, Daily News of Open Water Swimming, Global Open Water Swimming Conference. He is Chief Executive Officer of KAATSU Global and KAATSU Research Institute. Inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Swimmer, Class of 2001) and Ice Swimming Hall of Fame (Honor Contributor - Media, Class of 2019), recipient of the International Swimming Hall of Fame's Poseidon Award (2016), International Swimming Hall of Fame's Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award (2010), USA Swimming's Glen S. Hummer Award (2007, 2010) and Harvard University's John B. Imrie Award (1984). Served on the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee and as Technical Delegate with the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games, and 9-time USA Swimming coaching staff.