A History of Everest | What it took to Reach the Roof of the World

Steven Agar | ClimbingClimbing
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Hillary and Tenzing made history as the first men to summit Everest. Credit: NatGeo

Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, has captivated mountaineers for decades. Why? As George Mallory had once said, “Because it is there”. It is the ultimate symbol of human endeavour where many mountaineers have gone to fulfil their dreams, resulting both in triumph and tragedy.

It wasn’t until the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India of 1802 that Mount Everest was recognised as the highest mountain in the world. Until then, just an obscure Himalayan peak known as Peak XV, this announcement captured the international imagination, and soon the idea of reaching the summit of the “roof of the world” was viewed as the ultimate geographic feat. Attempts to climb Mount Everest, however, could not begin until 1921, when the forbidden kingdom of Tibet first opened its borders to outsiders.

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Mallory and Irvine before their final attempt to summit Everest. Credit: thepostmortempost.com

The first people to officially climb Mount Everest began their attempts in 1921. Two British Expedition team attempts in 1921 and 1922 failed to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In 1924, two members of a British expedition team, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were seen just 800 feet from the summit. The two men were last spotted “going strong” for the top until the clouds perpetually swirling around Mount Everest engulfed them. They then vanished. Though Mallory’s body was eventually found in 1999, no evidence was found on his body, such as a camera containing photos of the summit, or a diary entry recording their time of arrival at the summit. The mystery remains unsolved.

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George Mallory’s body lay undiscovered for 75 years. Credit: secretsoftheice.com

Ten more expeditions over a period of thirty years failed to summit, with 13 people losing their lives. Then, on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, an acclaimed Sherpa climber, became the first to reach the highest place on Earth. Hillary and Norgay were members of a British expedition led by Colonel John Hunt. Also along for the trip was a filmmaker to document their progress and a writer for The Times and very importantly, a physiologist. After months of planning and organizing, the expedition began to climb. On their way up, the team established nine camps, some of which are still used by climbers today.

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The team led by Colonel John Hunt. Credit: silverscreenings.org

Out of the eleven climbers on the expedition, only four would get a chance to make an attempt to reach the summit. Hunt, the team leader, selected two teams of climbers. The first team consisted of Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans and the second team consisted of Hillary and Norgay.

The first team left on May 26, 1953 to attempt to reach the summit. Although the two men made it up to about 300ft shy, the highest any human had yet reached, they were forced to turn back after bad weather set in as well as a fall and problems with their oxygen tanks.

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Just one route up Everest. Credit: pinterest

At 4 a.m. on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay awoke in camp nine and readied themselves for their climb. Hillary discovered that his boots had frozen and spent two hours defrosting them. The two men left camp at 6:30 a.m. During their climb, they came upon one particularly difficult rock face, but Hillary found a way to climb it. The face is now called ‘Hillary’s Step’

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Newspaper reports Hillary’s conquest of Everest. Credit: wordpress

At 11:30 a.m., Hillary and Tenzing reached the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary reached out to shake Tenzing’s hand, but Tenzing gave him a hug in return. The two men enjoyed only 15 minutes at the top of the world because of their low air supply. They spent their time taking photographs, taking in the view, placing a food offering (Tenzing), and looking for any sign that the missing climbers from 1924 had been there before them (they didn’t find any).

The successful summit made them world famous overnight. Hillary became a hero of the British Empire, the news reached London just in time for Elizabeth II’s coronation, and Tenzing was touted as a symbol of national pride by three separate nations: Nepal, Tibet, and India.

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Plaque to commemorate Mallory and Irvine. Credit: pinterest

Mount Everest has now been climbed by more than 5,000 people from over eighty nations. At least 260 have lost their lives, making the odds on not coming down alive about one in 20. Approximately 800 people attempt to climb Everest annually. Two Sherpas hold the record for most climbs having both reached the peak of Mount Everest 21 times.

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Trash on Everest. Credit: today.com

The dead are often left where they perish because the effects of altitude make it nearly impossible to drag bodies off the mountain. Those ascending Mount Everest pass through an icy graveyard littered with remnants of old tents and equipment, empty oxygen canisters, and frozen corpses. A single cleanup in spring 2011 removed over 8 tons of trash from Mount Everest, and many more tons remain uncollected. In order to counteract the problem, Nepal’s government now requires climbers to bring back all of their equipment or risk losing a $4,000 deposit. New trash bins and a waste incinerator have also recently been installed near the mountain.

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Everest summit. Credit: project-himalaya.com

Climbing Mount Everest is a dream held by many around the world. If you want to be one of the few who get to say: “I climbed Mount Everest!” then you will need to hire a professional guide. Many Mount Everest climbing guides charge over $75,000 for people wanting to join climbing expeditions. If you are interested in climbing up Mount Everest then you will also need up to three months to make the journey. It takes 19 days round trip to trek to and from Mount Everest Base Camp. Once at Base Camp it then takes an average of 40 days to climb to the summit. The reasons for the duration is that in order for the human body to adjust completely to the high elevation then climbers must spend time at Base Camp and must make a series of acclimatizing climbs to the various camps to climb Mount Everest.


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