10 Things You Should Know About Mt. Everest

things-you-should-know-about-everestLocat­ed along the bor­der of Nepal and Tibet, Mt. Ever­est is the tallest moun­tain on the plan­et and an eter­nal sym­bol of explo­ration and adven­ture. The mas­sive Himalayan peak has been the crown jew­el of moun­taineer­ing for decades and now draws hun­dreds of climbers on an annu­al basis, mak­ing it the by far the most pop­u­lar of the 8000 meter peaks. Here are ten more things you should know about Ever­est.    

Ever­est is 29,029 feet in height. Or is it?
When Ever­est was orig­i­nal­ly sur­veyed back in 1856 its height was mea­sured at 29,002 feet. That remained the mountain’s offi­cial alti­tude until it was resur­veyed near­ly a cen­tu­ry lat­er and it was deter­mined that it was actu­al­ly clos­er to 29,029 feet in height. That num­ber was called into ques­tion in 1999 how­ev­er when a team took a GPS read­ing from the sum­mit that indi­cat­ed the height was actu­al­ly 29,035 feet above sea lev­el. Both Nepal and Chi­na con­tin­ue to rec­og­nize 29,029 feet as the offi­cial num­ber, but plans are afoot to mea­sure Ever­est once more, this time using pre­ci­sion mod­ern instru­ments, to deter­mine the cor­rect height once and for all.

It was first climbed in 1953. Or was it?
The offi­cial first ascent of Ever­est took place on May 29, 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Ten­z­ing Nor­gay became the first two men to stand on the sum­mit and then safe­ly descend. But there are some in the moun­taineer­ing com­mu­ni­ty who believe that they were actu­al­ly the sec­ond team to reach the top. Back in 1924, George Mal­lo­ry and his part­ner Andrew “Sandy” Irvine were spot­ted just 800 feet beneath the sum­mit and mov­ing up the final ridge. Short­ly there after, clouds moved in to shroud the moun­tain and the two British climbers were nev­er seen alive again. We may nev­er know if Mal­lo­ry and Irvine reached the top but it remains the sub­ject of much debate amongst climbers to this day.

Mal­lo­ry and Irvine’s cam­era is the Holy Grail of moun­taineer­ing
In 1999 a group of moun­taineers that includ­ed the likes of Con­rad Anker and Jake Nor­ton went in search of Mal­lo­ry and Irvine’s remains in hopes of solv­ing the mys­tery of whether or not they actu­al­ly reached the top. That team man­aged to dis­cov­er the body of Mal­lo­ry some 75 years after he went miss­ing but unfor­tu­nate­ly he was not car­ry­ing the cam­era that could poten­tial­ly hold evi­dence of a suc­cess­ful sum­mit.  It is now believed that the cam­era was with Irvine when he met his ulti­mate fate and where it rests now is anyone’s guess. Over the past few years there have been sev­er­al expe­di­tions mount­ed to search for Irvine’s remains but so far they has not been locat­ed. If and when it is found, the cam­era could put to rest mountaineering’s most endur­ing mys­tery.

The moun­tain is sacred to the Sher­pas
To the indige­nous peo­ple who live in the shad­ow of Ever­est, the moun­tain is seen as sacred ground. They call it Chomol­ung­ma, which means the Moth­er God­dess of the World. It is their belief that the spir­it of their deity lives in the moun­tain itself and before they ever set foot on it they first must ask for per­mis­sion in a spe­cial cer­e­mo­ny known as the Puja. In fact, every moun­taineer who comes to Ever­est par­tic­i­pates in a Puja before they start their climb. Dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny they ask for safe pas­sage to the sum­mit and pro­tec­tion from harm while they tread the Moth­er God­dess’ hal­lowed ground. It is a tra­di­tion that marks the offi­cial start of any Ever­est expe­di­tion and no Sher­pa would think of going up the moun­tain with­out con­duct­ing the cer­e­mo­ny first. 

There are two main routes to the sum­mit
While there are numer­ous routes to the sum­mit of Ever­est, the vast major­i­ty of the climbers restrict them­selves to just two of them. The most pop­u­lar of those routes winds its way up the South Col on the Nepali side of the moun­tain. This is the same path that Hillary and Nor­gay took on their his­toric first ascent and over the years the major­i­ty of suc­cess­ful sum­mi­teers have fol­lowed in their foot­steps. The sec­ond most pop­u­lar route fol­lows the North­east Ridge on the Chi­nese-con­trolled Tibetan side of Ever­est. The North Side of the moun­tain is less crowd­ed but arguably more chal­leng­ing, although both have their share of dif­fi­cul­ties. For instance, climbers going up the South Col route must make their way through the dan­ger­ous Khum­bu Ice­fall, locat­ed just above Base Camp. More climbers have per­ished in the Ice­fall than any oth­er sec­tion of the moun­tain, which is an indi­ca­tion of just how treach­er­ous it can be. On the North Side climbers must nego­ti­ate a series of tech­ni­cal rock climbs known as the steps. The Sec­ond Step is so chal­leng­ing that a lad­der is installed each spring to assist climbers on the ascent. With­out it, very few would ever sum­mit along that route.

Ever­est isn’t near­ly as dead­ly as main­stream media would lead you to believe
Make no mis­take, climb­ing Ever­est can be a dan­ger­ous under­tak­ing and cau­tion is always required. But if you were to believe some of the reports in the main­stream press each spring, you’d think that it is a fool’s errand to even try. To put things in prop­er per­spec­tive, dur­ing the spring 2013 climb­ing sea­son more than 600 peo­ple suc­cess­ful­ly reached the sum­mit and nine peo­ple lost their lives in the attempt. Every death on the moun­tain is a sad one of course, but those num­bers indi­cate that 1.5% of those who attempt Ever­est per­ish in the process. That pales in com­par­i­son to K2, which has a death rate that is clos­er to 25% and Anna­pur­na, where a stag­ger­ing 38% of climbers die try­ing to reach the sum­mit. Those two peaks make Ever­est seem like a walk in the park.

The record for most climbs by a sin­gle per­son is 21
Climb­ing Ever­est requires a great deal of sta­mi­na, skill and ded­i­ca­tion, not to men­tion a healthy dose of luck. Reach­ing the sum­mit is an accom­plish­ment to be cel­e­brat­ed and for most climbers it is a once in a life­time expe­ri­ence. But for one man climb­ing Ever­est has become a way of life that has last­ed for more than two decades. Apa Sher­pa, who is some­times referred to as the “Super Sher­pa,” is a leg­end in the moun­taineer­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Over the course of his sto­ried career as a guide he sum­mit­ed Ever­est a mind bog­gling 21 times before his retire­ment in 2012. That is a record that has since been matched by anoth­er Sher­pa named Phur­ba Tashi, who will have a chance to eclipse that mark next year. By the way, the west­ern­er with the most suc­cess­ful sum­mits is Amer­i­can Dave Hahn, a guide who has stood on top of Ever­est 15 times and count­ing.

A Sher­pa sets the speed record
For most alpin­ists the final sum­mit push on Ever­est requires 3–4 days of climb­ing as they make their way up to a series of high camps before ulti­mate­ly head­ing to the top at long last. But on May 24, 2004 one climber want­ed to see just how fast he could make the ascent if he trav­eled as quick­ly as human­ly pos­si­ble. On that day, Pem­ba Dor­je Sher­pa left Base Camp on the South Side and rock­et­ed up the South Col route all the way to the sum­mit. He cov­ered the dis­tance in an astound­ing 8 hours, 10 min­utes, gain­ing 11,325 feet and set­ting a new speed record in the process. Since then, numer­ous chal­lengers have attempt­ed to break that record, but all have come up short. If this record is to ever be bro­ken it will take a super-human effort indeed.

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Rein­hold Mess­ner rede­fines mod­ern moun­taineer­ing on Ever­est
Ital­ian moun­taineer Rein­hold Mess­ner is arguably the great­est alpin­ist of all time and has a list of accom­plish­ments that is sec­ond to none. For instance, it was Mess­ner who first proved it was pos­si­ble to climb an 8000-meter peak with­out sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen when he and Peter Hae­bel­er did just that on Ever­est in 1978. Two years lat­er, he returned to the moun­tain to set the bar even high­er. In the sum­mer of 1980, Mess­ner com­plet­ed the first solo sum­mit of the moun­tain, climb­ing com­plete­ly alone and in Alpine style. That climb rede­fined what was pos­si­ble on the big moun­tains, open­ing the door for oth­er bold moun­taineers to fol­low in Messner’s very large foot­steps.

You can ski the moun­tain
Yes, it is pos­si­ble to ski Ever­est. That is, if you are a world-class ski­er and moun­taineer. There are no lifts or lodges here of course, but the moun­tain has been skied on a num­ber of occa­sions, includ­ing Yuichi­ro Miura’s famous descent back in 1970, which was chron­i­cled in the Acad­e­my Award win­ning doc­u­men­tary The Man Who Skied Down Ever­est. But Miu­ra only climbed up to about 27,000 feet and didn’t ski the full length of the moun­tain. The first descent from the sum­mit wouldn’t come until 2000 when Davorin Kar­nicar achieved that impres­sive feat. After step­ping into his skies and point­ing them down the hill, he skied for an incred­i­ble five hours, drop­ping 12,000 feet on his way back to Base Camp on the South Side.