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Everest 2003





Motivational Speaker: Dr. Ken Kamler The book


A Doctor’s Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance

By Kenneth Kamler, M.D.

Pages: 320

Extreme Medicine has just been released by Saint Martin's Press.


“Ken Kamler is a natural writer, as well as an adventurer and a prober into how much human beings can stand.  In SURVIVING THE EXTREMES, he brings personal experience and scientific knowledge together beautifully, giving us narratives which are powerful, moving, and very real.”

                                                            --Dr. Oliver Sacks 

Kenneth Kamler, M.D., has set fractures in the Andes, treated frostbite in Antarctica, tended to scuba divers in the Galapagos, and performed surgery on the muddy banks of the Amazon.  The author of Doctor on Everest, a memoir about his experiences as the doctor on the tragic 1996 Everest expedition documented in The Climb and Into Thin Air, Kamler writes about the human body and its astounding capacities in his new book, SURVIVING THE EXTREMES: A Doctor’s Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance.  A microsurgeon, and Vice President of the Explorer’s Club, Kamler shows us in unforgettable fashion what the human body has been programmed to do to survive.

SURVIVING THE EXTREMES is based on Kamler’s first-hand experiences practicing medicine in extreme environments.  He was Chief High-Altitude Physician for NASA-Yale University Everest Expeditions in 1998 and 1999.  From the frozen expanses of Mt. Everest to the deepest underwater caves known to man, Kamler examines those who live and those who died.  He takes readers into six extreme environments – underwater (Mediterrean Sea and Atlantic Ocean), high altitude (Mt. Everest), water surface (Pacific Ocean), jungle (Amazon Basin), desert (Sahara), and outer space (between Earth and Mars).  Using first-hand experience and survivors’ accounts, Kamler  explains the body’s reaction to extreme degrees of heat, cold, pressure, starvation, and exhaustion, and reveals how the body miraculously and strategically protects itself and survives.

SURVIVING THE EXTREMES describes what happens when we are pushed to the breaking point and beyond, and proves in intimate, harrowing detail what survival really means.


Dr. Kenneth Kamler, M.D., was chosen by New York Magazine as one of New York City’s best doctors in 2002.  He is a microsurgeon trained at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center who also practices extreme medicine in the most remote corners of the world.  He has served as Chief High Altitude Physician for the NASA-sponsored research on human physiological responses to extreme altitude and has climbed to within 900 feet of the summit of Mt. Everest.  He has appeared many times on national television, and lives in the New York City area.

“High-powered drama that could save your life.  Kamler has written a must-read for any one who dares the odds.”

                                    --Clive Cussler, bestselling author of White Death

“Ken Kamler is a natural writer, as well as an adventurer and a prober into how much human beings can stand.  In SURVIVING THE EXTREMES, he brings personal experience and scientific knowledge together beautifully, giving us narratives which are powerful, moving, and very real.”

                                    --Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There’s no one I would rather have at my side when venturing into extreme environments that Dr. Ken Kamler.”

                                    --Sylvia Earle, Director Emerita, The Explorer’s Club

“Entertains and enlightens while ultimately illuminating the mysteries of human survival.”

                                    --Bernie Chowdhury, author of The Last Dive

“As gripping as any Michael Crichton page-turner.”

                                    --Michael Hawley, MIT

“[Kamler’s] extensive experience, on Mt. Everest in particular, as well as many Explorer’s Club-sponsored expeditions to the most remote corners and hostile environments of the world, makes him eminently qualified to author a book that will explain, in layman’s terms, the changes the human body undergoes when explorers are subject to hostile environments.  SURVIVING THE EXTREMES will not only be of considerable interest to the general public, which has become increasingly fascinated with the world of exploration, it will also be of great value to his colleagues in the field of medicine.  Dr. Kamler possesses the ideal combination of experience and capabilities as a doctor, explorer, and writer to produce such a book.”

                                    --Alfred S. McLaren, President, The Explorers Club

Praise for Doctor on Everest: 

“Ken Kamler played an invaluable role during the disaster of Everest in 1996 when so many dies.  His description of these days makes a gripping story.”

                                    --Sir Edmund Hillary 

“As a medical doctor and veteran high-altitude climber, Kamler brings a passionate and singular perspective to the dangers and rewards of climbing Everest.”

                                    --David Breashears, Co-Director and Leader, Everest IMAX Filming Expedition 

About Dr. Kenneth Kamler:  Kenneth Kamler, M.D., is a microsurgeon trained at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center who practices surgery of the hand in New York but also practices extreme medicine in some of the most remote regions on earth.  He has treated bear bites in the Arctic and frostbite in the Antarctic.  He’s set foot fractures in the Andes and cared for out-of-breath scuba divers in the Galapagos.  He has performed surgery deep in the Amazon rain forest and in an undersea mock space capsule.  Kamler has been on six expeditions to Mount Everest as Expedition Doctor and Climber for the National Geographic Society which deployed laser telescopes and global positioning satellite receivers to measure the exact height of Everest as well as the tectonic motion of the Asian continental plate.  On his two most recent expeditions to Everest, he served as Chief High Altitude Physician for NASA-sponsored research on human physiological responses to extreme altitude and monitored remote body sensors worn by climbers to provide real-time medical data as they ascended the mountain.  Dr. Kamler himself has climbed to within 900 feet of the summit of Everest and was the only doctor, high on the mountain, during the infamous 1996 storm that claimed twelve lives.  His treatment of the survivors was portrayed in the best-selling book, Into Thin Air, and the IMAX film, “Everest.”

            Dr. Kamler is Vice President of The Explorers Club, a member of the Sigma Xi National Scientific Research Society, a consultant for National Geographic Magazine and a commentator for Outdoor Life Network.  New York Magazine recognized him this year as one of the best doctor’s in New York and he is listed in the Castle-Connolly Guide to Top Doctors, as well as in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering and Who’s Who in America.  He is the subject of a chapter in the book Biography Today: Medical Leaders, and has been profiled in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsday, and U.S. News & World Report.  He has appeared on many network radio and television shows including NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS News’ “48 Hours,” Fox News, NBC News, National Geographic Television, and T.V. New Zealand.  CNN featured him as an Extreme Medicine Pioneer.  He appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” in the first-ever live interview from Everest base camp.

            He is the author of two books on the physiological and psychological effects of extreme environments, both based largely on his personal experiences: Doctor on Everest, published by Lyons Press, 2000, and Surviving the Extremes, published by St. Martin’s Press, January, 2004.

Surviving in the EXTREMES: 

THE JUNGLE: The jungle harbors more species of life than anywhere else on earth, making it the fiercest, most competitive arena for survival.  Dangers come in endless varieties: snakes that coil around chests and tighten each time the victim inhales; frogs so poisonous that death can come from just touching them; worms that burrow part-way under the skin and can only be removed by winding the end around a stick and twisting it out; toothpick sized fish with barbs, that enter a man by swimming up his penis while he is urinating in the water.

In the Amazon, on an expedition to capture crocodiles for scientific study, Kamler treated many local Indians – and learned a great deal from them.  This chapter reveals the way in which natural enemies can breach human body defenses and what a doctor in the jungle can do to try to thwart the attacks – including emergency surgery which he performed on a little boy with a mangles hand, carried out on a plywood board with his knees in the mud. 

OPEN SEA: The ocean is by far the largest wilderness on the surfaces of the earth, but it’s the only one that moves: currents, tides, and winds ensure that anyone lost at sea will reach land – eventually.  Shipwreck survivors have no intention of starting an adventure and, suddenly plucked from the relative comfort of a ship, they are ill-prepared to face imminent death from drowning, thirst, hunger, exposure or shark attack.  Through stories of men and women and entire families that have endured on the high seas, we learn how the sea can provide food and water, how the body can adapt to its new environment, and what changes must take place in the minds of the castaways so that when their life-raft washes ashore, there is still life on it.

DESERT: Humans are designed to endure heat much better than cold, but no one can withstand prolonged exposure to a blazing sun and no one can live without water.  The desert, however, offers ample opportunity for the unlucky traveler to try to survive both.  The ordeals of a lost marathon runner, a tourist family that wandered off the road and a prospector double-crossed by his partner, illustrate the physiologic changes the body goes through as it deals with extreme heat, thirst and isolation.  Kamler explains why these conditions are so often fatal to an outsider within a few days, while nomads have survived, even thrived, in deserts for generations. 

UNDERSEA: All life arose from the sea, yet the realm beneath the waves is, for humans, the most alien place on earth.  Only about 1% of the sea floor has been visited by man, yet even at its furthest point, the ocean bottom is less than seven miles away.  The ocean is a cold, dark, airless world seemingly without gravity, yet exerting enormous pressure from the weight of the water.  Divers who venture too deep for too long are vulnerable to nitrogen being absorbed in their brains, gas bubbles forming in their blood and compressed air bursting their body cavities.  Humans were never designed to deal with these strange conditions and our bodies’ response is as confused and chaotic as planet earth’s would be to an attack from alien invaders.

Kamler has made hundreds of dives himself, with stories to retell about friends who’ve been afflicted with these conditions, as well as stories of his own dangerous mistakes made while avoiding a sea lion in a lava tube and while helping construct a fresh water siphon on the sea floor.

MOUNTAIN: Mount Everest is the ultimate challenge for a mountaineer and for Kamler it was also the ultimate challenge for a mountain climbing doctor.  The lack of air pressure and the cold at extreme altitude causes fluid leakage in the lungs, swelling in the brain and freezing of hands and feet.  Treatment of these maladies on icy slopes is difficult and dangerous, especially when the doctor is experiencing some of the same effects himself.  In 1996, a storm on Everest took the lives of twelve climbers, many friends of Kamler’s.  He explains the causes of high altitude illness and, at the same time, presents firsthand accounts of what it was like to be the only doctor on the mountain during Everest’s worst disaster.

OUTER SPACE: Kamler has tested space age medical sensors for NASA and entered an undersea mock space station to suture an astronaut’s lacerated hand.  This chapter combines Kamler’s own experiences with those of the NASA personnel, astronauts and cosmonauts, many of whom Kamler worked with, to take the reader on an imaginary three year trip to Mars.  It details the effects on the body of extreme acceleration, weightlessness, cosmic radiation, disruption of day/night rhythm, and, most insidious of all, prolonged isolation.  As amazing as the human body is in its ability to adapt, it was never meant to live outside our planet.

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