# Exploration of a 50 mile high mountain

My friends and I are building a world with a 50 mile high volcano on it. The mountain is the result of some bored god deciding to play a joke on everyone. Or, some other god got angry and decided to really, for realz this time, bury an unruly city. The legends aren't especially clear on how it got there or how it stays up. It's just there.

A 50 mile high mountain is approximately 10x the height of Mount Everest and 4x the height of Olympus Mons. 5 miles is approximately the edge of human endurance, even with supplemental oxygen. Make that volcano another 12 miles high and it will meet the internationally recognized definition of outer space. It is a shield volcano with starting with 2° slopes at the base but no steeper than 10° at the top.

While humans have been living at altitudes around 10,000 ft (3048m) for millennia, the first recorded ascent with equipment was 1492 in France. It would take another five hundred years for humanity to develop the techniques, technology and gumption to ascend the highest peak on Earth. Hillary and Norquay summited Everest in 1953.

It seems clear to me that no one is going to try to ascend this 50 mile volcano while the surrounding cultures are in a pre-science mindset. I also imagine various groups attempting to make ascents then turning back because they can't breath.

It took the development of rockets and airplanes on Earth to get to near vacuum atmosphere. People on this planet can walk there. Starting from a early 1920's technology level would their development of technology for living in a vacuum be accelerated by their ability to simply walk into one?

• It seems clear to me that no one is going to try to ascend this 50 mile volcano while the surrounding cultures are in a pre-Renaissance mindset. Assuming they have the technollogy to physically pull this off, your assumption is arguable. We can see that a real-life mountain is relatively small at the top (when we see it on the horizon). Your massive mountain would have an equally massive footprint, which may inspire folk tales of an entire hidden land/continent on top of the mountain (because it's so big), which may in turn drive people to want to explore it out of curiosity. – Flater Nov 3 '17 at 15:05
• Wouldn't there be some rather significant weather consequences to having a mountain literally climbing up out of the atmosphere? Winds racing up the face of the mountain would literally leave out into space. Wouldn't this be like a hole in a bucket? Eventually, the pail would empty out. – Henry Taylor Nov 3 '17 at 15:17
• @HenryTaylor Air does not work that way. First, let me point out that air molecules at NTP (normal temperature and pressure) already move at slightly over 500 meters per second / 1800 kph / 1100 mph . That little extra push wind gives an air molecule does not contribute in any significant sense to its kinetic energy. Second: the mountain is not actively lifting the air molecules. Just like a car that coasts up a very long hill will slow down, so will the air molecules. – MichaelK Nov 3 '17 at 15:24
• @Green It is too broad because the majority of question that goes along the lines of "How will this play out" are inherently too broad. There are so many "It depends" factors involved here that we cannot possibly try to give you any reasonably determinate scenario on how this will play out. In short: it is your job as the author to figure this out. It is your creative process that works this out. – MichaelK Nov 3 '17 at 15:27
• Note that there is a reason why there are no mountains 50 mile high on Earth. The maximum height is set by the condition that the material (granite etc) starts flowing at the pressure corresponding to the weight of the mountain above it. That's why with our gravity a few miles is the limit. If the gravity is weaker than a higher mountain is possible; but probably in a weaker gravity climbing becomes easier. – Maxim Umansky Nov 4 '17 at 3:44

# TL;DR

• You'll see the development of both aerial vehicles and the means to survive in harsh spaces.
• Technology will develope faster in this world - at least, technology related to this mountain.
• All of that will in turn accelerate the drive to go to space. Going to space might be necessary to summit the mountain.

I'm imagining that this mountain is certainly going to draw in people who want to summit it. Right off the bat, several groups come to mind:

• Religious groups, who view the mountain as a holy place (especially if a god truly did build it!). Mount Everest enjoys such a status. Some sects may encourage pilgrimages, both to the base and eventually to the summit. Others may view the mountain as hallowed ground, and oppose any attempts to climb it, but I suspect they will be in the minority.
• Scientists, who realize that this mountain should not, according to geophysics, exist. So how did it form (well, we know this)? How old is it? How high does it go? Many of these questions will draw summit attempts, and certainly expeditions to various parts.
• Professional climbers and climbing enthusiasts, who know that this is The Big One. Tall peaks aren't necessarily the most technically challenging to climb, but 50 miles of mountain certainly is.

So, you've got at least three distinct groups with stakes in getting to the summit. They will probably attempt to take different approaches, at least in the early years - first trying to figure out what the best way to get to the top is, if there is a way.

Now, I was wondering before if everyone will know how high the mountain is. After all, with 1920s technology, they can't just fly up in an X-15 or something and get a good view from above. However, I think that with ground-based surveying, this might be possible. The height of Mount Everest was known to within a good margin by the middle of the 19th century. This mountain's ten times as high, but that doesn't mean it can't be surveyed. It will stand out from the other mountains around it - if there are any. On a very, very clear day, it's possible that the top could be seen from the ground. If not, then lower limits can be placed on its height.

## Group 1: The climbers

From surveying, would-be climbers will figure out that it's at least 50,000 feet[citation needed], maybe more, even if they can't get a good estimate. If they've gone up any significant peak - say, 25,000 feet or above - then they have a good idea of the limits of the human body. Nobody is going to try to summit on the first attempt, and nobody is going to try to do it with only basic technology. Those who do will die. Quickly.

So, instead, you're probably going to see a period of technological development with partial attempts to establish camps at different elevations, like the system currently used on Mount Everest and elsewhere. Mount Everest obviously was not summited on the first attempt; there were many attempts made over many decades. I say it take 50 years - at a minimum - to reach 40,000 feet. And that's nowhere near the summit.

It's possible that the climbers are going to eventually give up going by foot. Perhaps they (minus the climbing purists) will try vehicles, like cars, when they become rugged enough. But even custom-built vehicles will have problems, and there will be points where they can't cross. In 50 miles of mountain, you'll have places like the Hillary Step that almost certainly would need to be crossed on foot.

What other technology might the climbers come up with? Supplemental oxygen, obviously. They won't turn back until they've tried that. Other things they might create:

• Better insulated clothing. I can see space suits maybe evolving from this, because there comes a point where a person needs to be completely shielded from the environment. Space suits are a logical extension of layers of climbing gear.
• Shelters. A camp system will be instituted, obviously, and given the extreme conditions above 25,000 feet, it will eventually become necessary to seal off sleeping or resting climbers entirely. Airtight tents might be a bit much at first, but as shelters become more sophisticated as the mountain infrastructure grows, it could happen.
• Food/water storage. There are no grocery stores high on mountains, and no real vegetation to be found.
• Robotic equipment. Hear me out on this one. If it's going to take five decades to get to even 40,000 feet, then technology will progress. Computers are going to become a thing - albeit very unwieldy. The field of robotics could see a surge as the climbers sent scouts ahead - rovers, you could say. We already send robots into volcanoes, right? Accelerate robotics by a few decades and maybe you've got something.

Let's forget the climbers now. They won't make it to the top any time soon.

## Group 2: The scientists

The scientists might also start on foot. A lot of expeditions have historically been motivated by glory, but many have also been motivated by scientific discovery. There are questions to be answered, and countless geologists would love to solve the puzzle of this mountain.

Going on foot will soon be discarded by the scientists. Unlike the climbers, the problem isn't only about the journey; it's about the destination. That will eventually include the summit. But how can they get there? Traditional planes and helicopters are out. You can land a helicopter on Mount Everest, but it's dangerous. Going 50 miles in the sky is impossible in such a device. Landing on the mountain is not going to happen.

What about jumping? High-altitude ballooning was possible in the 1950s . . . from maybe only 20,000 feet. Even Felix Baumgartner hasn't jumped from 50 miles up. Plus, they'd need extreme accuracy, whether jumping from a balloon or an aircraft. If you miss this peak, you're going to die. Also, it might be a suicide mission - although people are willing to go to Mars and never come back.

So, you can't get to the summit by going up. You can't get to it by flying straight across the sky. Can you get to from . . . space? Maybe! Something like a space elevator could be useful (depending on the latitude of the mountain). Simply put a satellite in geostationary orbit and build down to the top of the mountain. The big drawback? We're almost a century past 1920, and we haven't figured that one out. But then again, we haven't had the impetus to do it. This might be the only way to get to the summit.

Some interesting developments will come out of all of this:

• High-altitude vehicles will be designed and built, to get a look at the mountain higher up, if not to reach the summit. Surveyers and climbers on the ground can only go so much; to really study the mountain, you need to fly. I expect that balloons, however, will become popular; rocket-powered places won't necessarily take the lead. Balloons may be more useful for scientific study.
• Robots - again. Once again, automated vehicles are often better than humans. We sent computers to space before we went ourselves. Admittedly, flying around a mountain is harder for a computer than just staying in orbit. But still.
• Propulsion might go in exotic directions. I've already tried to justify accelerated balloon development, but you're going to see rockets being developed, too, because people will always want to get to the top. Things like the X-15 will be developed ahead of their time - and again, this will take place over decades. The great thing about the development of high-altitude vehicles is that they're a natural step towards spaceplanes and other vehicles used to get to low orbits.
• Space travel might actually become a thing, if people decide to go all the way up to try to come down. Again, this will take a while, but people will have a reason to do it. And that's going to accelerate technological process.

## Group 3: The religious

These people are pretty much a wild card, insofar as they could oppose or help attempts to climb or explore the mountain. I honestly don't know what they'll do. We have nothing like this mountain - in terms of spiritual significance - in our global society, and yet this mountain will have global effects. So we don't have a whole lot of data for what this does to people, socially.

I don't think that religious groups will develop technology so much as encourage its development, and perhaps procure funding. In return, climbers and scientists may dedicate part of their missions to the religious group. Will that lead to clashes of various kinds? Yes. But it will also fuel the attempts to conquer the peak.

## At the end of the day . . .

. . . you've got developments in a variety of fields:

• Aerial vehicles, including balloons, high-altitude airplanes, and rocket-powered planes.
• Protective structures and shelters.
• Clothing designed to withstand terrible conditions.
• Advances in computers and robotics.
• Possible attempts to go to space itself, to access the mountain.

Is this useful to space exploration? Of course. You've got most of the elements you need. Is it useful to do the kind of space exploration they'll begin with (i.e. orbital exploration and satellite development)? Yes. Will it take away from efforts to go to space? No, because you might have to get to space to get to this mountain. At any rate, they'll follow the progress of early space programs - building high-altitude vehicles - while also making developments on the mountain to help live in space.

You might wonder why I'm so optimistic. Well, this target is like going to the Moon. And we did that! But the difference here is that this mountain is more tangible. It's there. You can walk to its base and look up. The Moon's far away, and maybe not something people can relate to as much. But this mountain? That's right here on Earth. And that's quite an encouraging target. People will develop technology to reach it, accelerating technological development in many areas.

• For the record, the highest balloon altitudes are around 32miles, about 60% of the full height. Any further than that is too thin or too dangerous for a balloon (remember mesosphere, you are going to be getting bombarded by space dust and rocks at this height as they've yet to break apart in the atmosphere) – Twelfth Nov 3 '17 at 20:17
• "Well, this target is like going to the Moon. " -- I'd challenge this too...we landed people on the moon...to this day, we've yet to have anything stably occupy this region of the atmosphere. As stupid as this is, the moon is likely easier to get onto than the summit of this volcano. – Twelfth Nov 3 '17 at 20:56
• I meant it more in a sociological and communal sense, @Twelfth. It's a shared goal that a group of people can get behind and work towards. It's not just a step in a line of technological progress, but a destination that people can and well strive towards. – HDE 226868 Nov 3 '17 at 21:00
• @HDE226868 - I get that point...my point is this mountain may as well be the moon (after a re-read it would appear the x-15 has had 13 pilots to hit the 50 mile mark, less than a decade before we were on the moon. Achieving a speed of 4500mph to do so). The moon is more reachable than the summit of this volcano is and I would put out there that the moon already played this role in todays world...this reach for the summit of this volcano would be no more than the reach to the moon influenced our space technology. – Twelfth Nov 3 '17 at 21:33
• @Twelfth What about driving an electric car up the mountain? 500 miles of 1 in 10 slope is probably doable with 1920’s technology if not earlier. Use a fleet of electric cars with pressure vessels and plenty of lead acid batteries. The batteries could be stock piled in supply dumps along the way and swapped as required. – Slarty Nov 4 '17 at 19:07

A mountain that large is likely to be a shield volcano of gentle slope, so much of the climb will be relatively easy in term of climbing difficulty, and you could likely plot an ascent which would not require complicated climbing techniques. So technological all you would need is pressure suits and pressure vessels along with the ability to isolate and control gas mixtures. Most of this technology was highly developed in the late 1800s.

A good parallel to explore is the history of diving and diving technology.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_underwater_diving

Similar to your mountain, the undersea area is just right there waiting for people to get the technology required to explore it. Diving techniques and technologies began developing in the late 1700s and was well developed by the late 1800s early 1900s. I would expect a similar timeline for the first gas mixture assisted mountain expeditions on your world.

On our planet it wasn't until the 1930s and 1940s when aircraft pilots consistently began going high enough to have problems that we started learning the details of the survival limits and mitigating technologies for survival at extreme altitudes. So your world could easily be 30-50 years more advanced in this area of knowledge and technology.

A lot, however, depends on how many people can go to the mountain and why they want to climb it. More people or a more pressing need could drive technological development much faster than if it is only a few isolated explorers doing it for personal or national glory.

• "So technological all you would need is pressure suits and pressure vessels along with the ability to isolate and control gas mixtures" -- Very very untrue...at this altitude you would face -140 C temperatures, face cat 4 to 5 hurricane wind speeds, find heavy solar radiation, and likely be facing orbital bombardment. You'd need a lot more than just pressure suits. – Twelfth Nov 3 '17 at 20:52
• @Twelfth You made me think about opportunities for solar energy. Given how big and high the mountain is you'd get lots of solar power. Actually, would the wind even be enough to cool the mountain? There would have to be places protected from wind but open to sun. – Ville Niemi Nov 3 '17 at 22:05
• @Twelfth please get your facts straight before proclaiming something as “very very untrue”. Air temperatures of -140°C don't naturally occur anywhere near earth; the coldness at the high peaks like Everest is because they're close to the tropopause (≈ -55°C), which is the approximate height to which rising packets of air cool down adiabatically. Above lies the stratosphere, where temperature actually rises with height. – With “4 to 5 hurricane wind”, you may be referring to the jet stream, which also lies roughly in the tropopause, no higher; the stratosphere is comparatively calm. – leftaroundabout Nov 3 '17 at 22:50
• ...erratum: the stratosphere should perhaps not be called “calm”. What I had in mind was that the winds up there are pretty uniform, not as “channelled” as the jet stream and certainly not as small-scale turbulent as in troposphere. But they are indeed quite darn fast, at some 70 m/s. That might indeed be an issue for a mountain expedition. – leftaroundabout Nov 3 '17 at 23:27

Such mountain would likely look similar to Olympus Mons, with extremely shallow slopes. This in turn means that the mountain covers a huge area (see picture below, and consider that your mountain would is far larger).

Life will exist on the lower parts, gradually disappearing towards the middle. And naturally, at some point people will try to get there.

Yet, I doubt it will impact the technological progress in any way, this mission is extremely complicated. The explorers will have to cover a considerable distance, and fight through severe weather - so they need automated vehicle, durable equipment, communication with the ground etc.

All this technology comes from different fields, and generally wasn’t developed until the mid 20 century. The mountain climb challenge alone isn’t enough to spark technological progress by itself (in multiple fields) due to the fact that mountaineering is a hobby, and there’s little actual value in it.

In reality humans climbed Mount Everest when technology allowed them, and not the other way around. Unless there’s something special about this mountain (some rare natural resource near the top), it won’t be different.

• Is your picture Mount Olympus overlaid on France or the OPs proposed mountain? – JPhi1618 Nov 3 '17 at 19:48
• Mt Olympus. The size of OP’s mountain will depend on its nature. But it’ll likely be larger. – Laetus Nov 3 '17 at 21:44
• Yes about one thousand miles across – Slarty Nov 4 '17 at 18:07

Edit my answer to the top of this. My answer is no, the summit of this fictional volcano is harder to reach than the moon is and would have no more impact on human technological development than our will to reach for the moon already has.

Starting from a early 1920's technology level would their development of technology for living in a vacuum be accelerated by their ability to simply walk into one?

You're missing alot if you feel a vacuum is the only thing this 1920's culture needs to contend with. Maybe I'm missing the point of the question, but...

You're actually in the Mesosphere at this point, which is sadly our least understood section of the atmosphere because it's really hard to measure (only have the time that it's being flown through to measure it). You are above most of the atmosphere here...

Point #1 - Solar radiation. Though still protected by the magnetosphere, you are well above the majority of the atmosphere responsible for filtering much of the nasty rays that aren't so good for humans. Ultraviolet and other radiation protection would be required, lest we fry.

Point # 2 - The Mesosphere is the coldest region of the atmosphere. It actually gets wildly hotter a few dozen miles above this, but the summit of your volcano is around −143 °C (−225 °F; 130 K). Being in a vacuum is one thing, being in these temperatures is another...doubtful a 1920's culture can produce something to withstand that, and important to note we are still not a vacuum at this point.

Point # 3 - Wind! Although we are not 100% sure as this is somewhat projected, but the generally accepted wind speeds (pending season) will reach around 150mph (60-70 m/s) or category 4 to 5 hurricane win speeds. What doesn't asphyxiate or succumb to cold will likely be blown off the volcano.

Sadly, they would have to cross all three of those barriers before they "their ability to simply walk into one (a vacuum)"

As a point #4 - Meteors. About 95-98% of meteors captured by Earth are ultimately burnt up while travelling through the Mesosphere, but they wouldn't burn prior to striking your volcano. The last 10 miles of ascension will also run the risk of orbital bombardment from space dust travelling thousands of miles an hour to larger rocks the would leave craters on the volcano (the space dust would likely 'sand' the volcano, giving it a relatively smooth and shiny surface on one side).

**side comment - there is no liquid water up here and nothing to really 'reshape' your volcano...you'd need processes (a god?) to keep this volcano up there, or meteor impact alone would likely knock it back down. Larger impacts will remain and the top of this volcano would be utterly pock marked with impacts

So to the question:

Starting from a early 1920's technology level would their development of technology for living in a vacuum be accelerated by their ability to simply walk into one?

A big no on your premise...simply walking into a vacuum isn't possible what so ever.

• Thank you for your answer. While I appreciate your list of hazards (many of which I hadn't considered), my primary thought was, "would life support technologies advance faster if they were decoupled from the requirement to build an airplane or spaceship that will get to those vacuum or near-vacuum conditions"? – Green Nov 3 '17 at 20:09
• Being able to go up to and stay at a given altitude seemed like a significant advantage since you can stay there for long durations, not just how long your plane stays in the air. – Green Nov 3 '17 at 20:10
• The Mesosphere is also known as the 'ignorosphere' for a good reason...you actually can't get there with regular aircraft, nor can you stay there with orbital speed....it's a dead zone that we can really only measure as we fly through it...nothing that we can put in the Mesosphere will stay there for more than 5 or so minutes. – Twelfth Nov 3 '17 at 20:18
• #1 Sure, solar radiation is an issue, but it's not really that difficult to cope with. #2 The mesosphere is cold, but – I don't know where you take that -140°C value from; mesopause is normally quoted more like -100°C. Anyway this doesn't mean much anymore here, because the air is already so thin; temperature is more of a kinetic quantity at these densities. You'd probably have more trouble getting rid of excess heat than of keeping warm, much like in outer space. – leftaroundabout Nov 3 '17 at 23:07
• #3 likewise, winds aren't really winds up there – just not enough air. #4 sure, orbital bombardment... but a meteor strike during an exploration is just too unlikely to be a concern. – leftaroundabout Nov 3 '17 at 23:07

Yes sort of but due to the mountain and low pressure not due to vacuum
A 264,000 feet high shield volcano would cover an enormous area and from a military perspective (at least) there would be great interest in being able to access such an area. Any vehicle that could carry troops up the mountain would be able to out flank an enemy. Any artillery placed up the mountain would have a range and height advantage and any observation posts would also be at an advantage at least on a clear day.

So there would have been important military advantages to be had and with a mountain the size of Europe on everyone back door everyone’s military would have been very interested in getting up the mountain, preventing others from getting up there and fighting them there if they did.

Before around 1800 there might have been special young fit athletic battalions who could out climb the rest of the army who would have been valuable as climbers. But it would have been possible to block them with barriers built at the limit of endurance slowly and in shifts.

During the nineteenth century and especially towards its close things would have changed. 1884 saw the first mass produced electric cars following the first mass produced efficient lead acid batteries in 1881. This would have enabled boiler like pressure vessels containing men to have been driven up above the area reachable by men in the open.

In 1883 measurable quantities of liquid oxygen had been produced and the invention of the dewar flask in 1892 provided another spur to the military. It is now possible to send electric vehicles much further up the mountain with electric power and on board supplies of oxygen or air.

At this point you have an almost steam punk like environment for combat!

When balloon technology was sufficiently advanced some people would undoubtedly try to reach higher up, but that approach would be limited. Exploration would have expanded greatly in the 20th century.

• The pace of close votes has slowed. Even if it did close, I'd edit till it was reopened. – Green Nov 3 '17 at 19:05
• Good! There are issues with it but it is an interesting situation. One thing that needs to be sorted out is the slope of the mountain. Can you walk up it in a pressure suit or must you climb it with ropes or is it "just" a scramble? – Slarty Nov 3 '17 at 19:08
• question updated, it's a shallow sloped shield volcano. – Green Nov 3 '17 at 19:18
• Trick: give a short summary and retype with a long edit. You can edit your answers on closed questions. – Joshua Nov 3 '17 at 19:38
• @Joshua funny you should say that LOL... – Slarty Nov 3 '17 at 21:45

Tracked cable-layer. Ascend in stages, similar to the way conventional Earth mountains are climbed. With plenty of electrical power from the cable, heavy shielding, insulation, air-compression/conditioning are not so much of a problem.

Not sure how the cable sections would be spliced, whether or not some EVA would be needed. Probably, some clever connectors and/or splicing gear could do the job without anyone going outside.

Then, onwards and upwards!

• Just carry it up on a reel. Some sort of primative EVA would also be possible for short durations with just a diving suit acting as a pressure suit. – Slarty Nov 4 '17 at 14:24
• Yeah.. it's a bit of an effort - the vehicle would need to be able to carry two reels.. Initially, one reel to power it up to 'base camp', (and be reeled back in on the way down), and one to deposit at base camp, ready for the next stage. It would probably take a lot of stages since a a vehicle of reasonable size would not be able to carry long cable legths; the cable would be heavy-ish because of the insulation - a fairly high voltage would be needed to keep I2R losses down on the long trek to the summit. Also probs. need 2 vehicles, at least, for rescue/retrieval if one broke down. – Martin James Nov 4 '17 at 19:51
• Back-of-an-envelope guessculation suggests that a 10-mile stage would be easily achievable with a gross 30-tonne vehicle carrying armoured cable and, with one of the cable reels supplying 500 HP for propulsion and auxiliaries, would easily be able to climb the slopes, (you would not want to go fast, anyway:). 30 tonnes is well within the capabilities of conventional tracked vehicles.. – Martin James Nov 4 '17 at 20:52
• I think the problem is an interesting one especially the staging. The whole thing has an air of the attempt on the south pole with the regular supply dumps. The calculation has a number of difficult but not impossible aspects such as what is the max range of a 1920's electric car? Presumably it only needs power one way as they can return by gravity. – Slarty Nov 4 '17 at 21:49