Editor’s note: This piece was originally written for Tomorrow Magazine, whose first issue comes out this month. The article is being republished with permission.
On May 20, 2011, John Delaney awoke 550 meters from the summit of Mount Everest. Delaney, who founded Intrade, a website for those who love to predict the future, had been trying to get to the top of the world for years. His company invited users to bet on the news: Customers would calculate probabilities, assess risk, make a wager. On Everest, Delaney was doing much the same.
This close to the summit, he was on an area of the mountain known as the death zone, where the atmosphere is about three times thinner than at sea level. Cerebral and pulmonary edemas—the leaking of fluid to the brain and heart—are increasingly likely at that altitude. Still, between 1921 and 2006, just 94 people died at this stage of the climb—above 8,000 meters, but before the summit. Altogether, Everest claimed 192 climbers’ lives in that 86-year span, 1.3 percent of those who attempted a climb. The odds that Delaney would succumb to the mountain were low.
Back in Ireland, three days earlier, his wife, Orla, had given birth to a premature baby, though only 6 percent of babies born in Ireland are premature. She named her Hope.
But Delaney was too far from Orla and too close to the summit to be notified. At 7:30 p.m., he set out from camp, 8,300 meters above sea level. According to forecasts, the temperature was -7 degrees Fahrenheit, and winds blew as fast as 40 miles an hour.