For a large number, perhaps the majority, of mountain climbers, nothing is prized higher or comes with a grander sense of achievement than to scale Mt. Everest, the highest mountain on earth.
Name: Mount Everest (Chomolungma / Sagamartha)
Height: 8848 m
Location: Nepal / Tibet
First Climbed: 1953 (Edmund Hillary / Tenzing Norgay)
Climb Time: 2 Months
Best Season to Climb: April & May
Introduction to Everest
Everest tops the bucket list of many mountaineers, climbers and dreamers in search for an emblem for the challenges of life transformation and achievement.
Whether it is the mountain’s fame and rich history, the personal glory summiteers feel or the mystery associated with the Nepalese people who surround the peak, this adventure seems to transcend its risks and technical challenges. It is a mountain that is about far more than mountain climbing.
Standing at the top of the world, Mount Everest is synonymous with monumental challenge for both those who plan and those who may only ever wish to summit it.
history of Mount Everest
Almost as famous as the mountain itself, Everest’s indigenous population known as the Sherpas are the quintessential mountain folk.
Living high in the Nepalese plateau, and able to carry extraordinary loads to high altitude on their backs, Sherpas have become indelibly tied to western expeditions. They are essential to almost all modern-day ascents, and over the last 60 years as the west arrived to make Nepal its adventure playground, their lifestyles must have changed enormously.
The name Sherpa comes from the Tibetan Sharpa, meaning ‘people from the east’. This reflects the historical journeys these people have made repeatedly over the centuries, out of Tibet in the north and east and into Himalayas of Nepal. And once in the Himalayas, they have made home in some of the highest lands in the world.
Before the vast commercialisation of Everest, which took place from the early 1990s onwards, Sherpas slowly found their place in the modern world through mountain climbers. Tenzing Norgay and other Sherpas found fame as the world’s attention and fascination returned to what has been long seen as a pinnacle of human achievement.
Yet despite Tenzing being the first person photographed on top of Everest – the picture that went around the world – often Sherpas have been portrayed in the somewhat patronising, colonial image of the exotic people, there only to support the great western explorer and not respected for their own, significant achievements.
Mount Everest is our name for the mountain. And you’ll be glad to hear there is no link to the peak being either restful or, perhaps morbidly, ever restful!
In 1865, Andrew Waugh named this mountain after Sir George Everest, the man who preceded him as British Surveyor General of India. While it had been known as the world’s highest peak since 1852 (Peak XV identified as the world’s true summit), the naming didn’t come until the surveying was more fully completed. Waugh, is is said, knew of no other name for the peak and so, in typical 19th Century expeditionary arrogance, did so himself.
Yet the mountain has far older names amongst the two nations that have stared up the slopes for far longer than we have. The Tibetans, who know Everest by its north side, call it Chomolungma, roughly meaning ‘Holy mothers’. Tenzing Norgay’s mother apparently translated the word to mean ‘the mountain so high no bird can fly over it’.
The Nepalese name, Sagarmārthā means ‘head/forehead in the sky’, perhaps referring to the smooth, angled appearance of the south face. A more ancient name still is Devgiri from Sanskrit, meaning ‘holy mountain’.
As with many indigenous names for mountains around the world, Chomolungma and Sagarmārthā reference a spiritual importance and respect for the mountain. It represented not a great rock formation drawn from tectonic activity, but a representation of the very presence of life, death and divinity.
Many of the troubles that have been experienced on Everest in the past two decades have been related to the tension between the commercial nature of the mountain today and the rich, spiritual significance of the peak to the local people.
The measuring of Everest also wasn’t exactly straight forward. Nepalese resistance to allowing access to their lands for their all-conquering colonial neighbours, the British Empire, only softened through significant negotiation, treaty signing and with a rising, supposed threat to Russian influenced Tibet in the north. It took four years between the initial confirmation of Everest as the world’s summit and it’s first formal measurement (1852 and 1856 respectively). This first measure of 8,840 m ( ft) was made by the grand sounding ‘Great Trigonometric Survey’.
Geography of Mount everest
Mount Everest is part of the Mahalangur area of the vast Himalayas Range – by far the world’s highest mountain range.
The mountain straddles the border between Nepal in the south and Tibet in the north. However, due to the shape of the Everest massif, the majority of this mountain lies on the Nepalese side. It’s stronger Nepalese identity is thus more strongly explained by Chinese Tibet’s closed door attitude to the west during the expedition period (1950s-1970s), which softened in the 1980s.
Everest’s high point was first declared as the world’s high point in 1852 and then measured to 8,840 m (ft) in 1856 only found its modern measurement of 8,848 m ( ft) in 1955 through an Indian/Tibetan expedition This peak is known as Peak XV.
Nepal recognises 8,848 m (29,029 ft) but China, and therefore Chinese Tibet, state the mountain is 8,850 m (29,035 ft) tall, something supported by GPS technology in 1999. We have adopted the common, official Nepalese version, though this ‘fact’ may change in the near future as measuring systems improve.
Everest was formed as a result of two tectonic plates (the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates) pushing towards each other. The Indian plate is being subjected under the stubborn Eurasian, and as it moves forward into this rock and hard place around 1.7 inches annually, Mount Everest, and the Himalayan Range in general, grow by around quarter of an inch annually.
As such it is a solid mass of rock, driven out of the ground below. The mountain is a combination of limestone, shale and marble, as most of the Himalayan range is.
The glaciers of Mount Everest are almost worthy of an article alone – certainly more than a few obituaries have been carved into these frozen hazards.
Probably the most famous is the Khombu glacier, winding up to the foot of the lower Western Ridge. This finishes in the infamous Khumbu icefall, a ragged, moving river of ice that has been the site of many of Everest’s failed attempts and tragic disasters. It was on this icefall in 2014 where 16 Nepalese guides were killed, leading to the ‘shutting’ of Everest for that season. Above this is the Western Cwm that leads to the foot of the climb of Lhotse to the South Col.
On the Tibetan side, the Rongbuk glacier is a sprawling glacier that descends from near the North Col. Finally, to the east is the Kangshung glacier, again almost closer to a moving ice lake given its formidable width as well as length.
There are a number of important peaks that lie in the vicinity of Everest. These peaks are taller than many other mountains on earth; in fact more than the top 100 summits in the world are found in this range. Those nearby Everest include:
• Lhotse – 8,516 m (27,940 ft).
• Nuptse – 7,855 m (25,711 ft).
• Changtobse – 7,580 m (24,869 ft).
Wildlife on everest
Despite the altitude, violent weather and freezing temperatures, the Himalayan ranges are far from bare, barren lands. While nothing survives near the summits, below 5,750 m ( ft) flora and fauna can be found in abundance. Lower altitudes have vegetation such as blue pines, juniper, bamboo, birch, rhododendron and firs.
Musk deer and wild yak are found down on the plateaus and, alongside mules, these are have been domesticated, or at least tamed, by the Sherpas. There are also hares, langur monkeys and more widely wolves, black bears, foxes, martens, and the exceedingly rare snow leopard and red panda.
The First Ascent oF Mt. everest
When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norway stood atop the world on 19 May 1953, they did so following over half a century of attempts by the British Mount Everest Committee. There is an irony in that neither of the two summiteers were actually British!
Before the successful attempt, there had been some equally famous other attempts.
In 1921, an expedition led by Colonel Howard-Bury, reached a height of 7,020 m (23,032 ft) on the North Col from the Tibetan side. The purpose of this expedition was actually to explore the possibility of a route up the northern face and the expedition reported that, under the right conditions, yes there was a route up this way. The expedition also included famous British climber George Mallory.
The first genuine summit attempt followed in 1922. Again, George Mallory was in the team and he was joined by expedition leader General Bruce and Edward Strutt on the ascent. This time they passed the previous record height and reaching 8,170 m (26,805 ft).
In a second bid, Geoffrey Bruce and George Finch climbed up the North Ridge a day after Mallory and company. This team carried oxygen to aid breathing at the extreme altitude. They actually used the oxygen while sleeping too. This helps to explain why they broke new ground in reaching 8,321 m (27,300 ft) with ‘relative’ ease, setting the conditions for future expeditions.
In 1924, a third British Everest expedition stepped onto the mountain, including the two stars of the climbing world: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Yet both would die whilst striking out for the summit, reminding us perhaps that our conquering of nature does not come without significant risk.
There is debate about whether Mallory actually reached the summit. While there is evidence that he may have (related to what has been found on his body), there has been no firm evidence on the peak or elsewhere to suggest he did make it.
The first sighting of his body was in 1975 by a Chinese climber called Wang Hongbao. He only revealed this to Japanese climbers in 1979, and, unfortunately, Hongbao died the following day without pinpointing the exact place where he has seen the dead body. Conrad Anker formally located Mallory’s body in 1999 on an expedition specifcally organised to search for the bodies of the two climbers.
Many more expeditions followed after that. Numerous nations were involved in trying to reach the top of the mountain. Russians, Indians, Chinese, Japanese and Swiss nationals were among the countless that wanted to make history by being the first to summit. There was increased used of oxygen as well as the enlisting of local climbers in expeditions. The last unsuccessful attempt to be the first climbers to the top was made by the Swiss in 1952, whose expedition included Tenzing Norgay, following the route Hillary would follow the next year.
And so the efforts of all previous expeditions bore fruit on 29 May 1953. John Hunt had been charged with the responsibility of leading the ninth British expedition. His team, progressing this time through Nepal along the South East Ridge route (see below), followed a route up the Khumbu glacier, Western Cwm and South Col to the summit. And it was the team of Hillary and Tenzing who made the successful summit push.
Question marks remained for some time in the mass media as to who reached the top first; after all, Tenzing was the only one photographed on the summit. Both climbers stayed quiet on this matter for sometime but in the end the Nepali climber confirmed that Hillary had. In his autobiography, Hillary stays noncommittal, as in the mountaineering world this trivial fact is utterly unimportant.
For their efforts, Hunt and the New Zealander, Hillary, were knighted.
Perhaps top of the pops is the Everest Base Camp trek. Apart from giving you the experience of the amazing flight from Kathmandu to Lukla this two week trekking route takes you through the most spectacular mountain scenery along the Everest trail to such land marks as Namche Bazaar and ultimately Everest Base Camp. It's a must for adventurers and frequently features on top 10 lists of trekking routes. Typically the trek is between lodges and is actually fairly easy giving you plenty of time to marvel at the backdrop of the highest mountain in the world.
Climbing guide to Everest
There are two main routes for climbing Everest. They are named according to the direction you approach the mountain from.
• The South East Ridge route approaches from Nepal in the south.
• The North Ridge route. It approaches the summit from Tibet.
You can expect some beautiful scenery as you make what is actually a very popular trekking route up to Everest Base Camp at the Khumbu Icefall. There are also villages along this route, allowing for a good walk in and better acclimatisation before the final climb. Generally this trek would take between 6 and 8 days from Lukla.
Everest Base camp (5,334 m/ 17,500 ft) is huge and well equipped, certainly compared to the early days of Himalayan climbing. Yet this is still pretty remote country and all supplies have to be carried in. Mountaineers typically take a couple of weeks to acclimatise at Base Camp before setting up ladders and ropes to get through the treacherous Khumbu glacier to the north.
The route then follows up the Western Cwm to the foot of Lhotse, where fixed ropes lead the route up this rock face and over two tricky sections (the Geneva Spur and the Yellow Band) to the South Col. This then places you in the ‘Death Zone’, where lack of oxygen can start to lead to sickness, cerebral oedema and poor decision-making, all factors that can lead directly or indirectly to death on the mountain. A summit within two days is crucial, and that is decided by the weather.
The summit attempt heads over the Balcony (8,400 m/ ft), South Summit (8,690 m/ 28,500 ft) and then the daunting Hillary Step (now climbed via fixed ropes), which is also the site of the more recent notorious, and dangerous, Everest traffic jams.
The typical camps used to the summit are as follows:
• Camp I– 5,943 m (19,500 ft).
• Advanced Base Camp or Camp II – 6,400 m (21,000 ft).
• Camp III – 7,162 m (23,500 ft).
• Camp IV – 8,016 m (26,300 ft).
A word of warning:
While Everest is accessible now like her before, many have died on Everest during climbs. If you go, go with professional tour guides and prepare yourself properly. And if it is dangerous to push for the summit, only the stupid, deluded or suicidal amongst us would choose not to turn back and head down the mountain.
Accidents, sickness, exhaustion, extreme weather and avalanches are primary causes of death. As of August 2015, 282 people had died on the mountain and many of the bodies remain where, or nearby where, they died.
Yet the perils of Everest notwithstanding, people still flood to the mountain to make the ascent through commercial and non-commercial expeditions. And while it is possible to summit the world’s highest point, there is surely now more than ever a need to learn more about the people, culture and nature that surrounds this great peak into order to continue a happy relationship with it.