Hamline News

Hamline Professor Talks Hamline, Biology, and Climbing the World’s Tallest Mountain

When Mike Farris teaches his class about the life that thrives in Earth’s most extreme vertical climates, he does so with plenty of first-hand experience.

Having climbed nine of the world’s tallest mountains—including a perilous 2009 journey to the summit of Everest—the professor of biology and chair of the environmental studies department has incredible stories and experiences he likes to share with students.

“I’ve extensively studied what happens to the body under the stress of a high-altitude environment,” Farris said. “Dehydration, low oxygen, and hypothermia can take its toll very rapidly.”

Check out this video about Professor Farris’ amazing journey to the summit of Everest!

Farris’ book, The Altitude Experience: Successful Trekking and Climbing above 8,000 Feet, synthesizes his research with the wisdom and lore he’s collected after three decades of climbing Earth’s highest peaks.

Since his interest in mountaineering began as an undergraduate student, Farris has climbed six Himalayan peaks including ascents to 8,000 meters on Kangjengunga, Gasherbrum II, and an attempt on the world-renowned K2.

On May 22, 2009, Farris reached the summit of Mt. Everest. But during his decent, a near-tragedy struck when his oxygen system malfunctioned without warning.

“I went from a situation where I was perfectly-capable and lucid to one where I got a rapid onset of hypoxia and hypothermia,” Farris said.

What happened in the next six hours, he said, is lost in the haze of oxygen deprivation and unconsciousness. A pair of climbers on route to the summit eventually found and revived Farris. He safely descended the rest of the way, though he did suffer extreme frostbite.

Despite the possible risks, Farris plans to continue to pursue his passion of climbing.

“This is an exhilaration involved, but you don’t need to do things that extreme to have those same sensations,” Farris said. “Do what you love to do, and put your whole heart into it.”

Learn more about Professor Farris and his fellow faculty members in Hamline’s biology and environmental studies departments.