Mount Everest

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Everest is the highest mountain in the world standing a stunning 8848m (29,028 ft) above sea level. Now that’s some achievement, and the lofty peak continues to battle off the attempts of people to deny this magnificence.

Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador for example is actually the furthest point on the surface of the Earth from its centre. This is due to the way the earth bulges at the equator, putting Chimborazo's peak at 6,384.4 km from the middle of the globe1. However Chimborazo only stands a ticthy 2,168m high from sea level, this makes it not even the highest peak in the Andes and less than a quarter of the height of Everest. Meanwhile Mauna Kea in Hawaii is probably the tallest as it rises from the sea bed to its peak in one continuous slope to top out at 10,203m from its base. Still Everest is double Mauna Kea's height of 4,205 m from sea level which is generally the base line the record book people use to determine who wins. People point out the fact that the deepest point on Earth, the Challenger Deep section of the Mariana Trench is 10,923m below sea level. The whole of Everest could fit into it with over 2kms spare, but that’s not the point, Everest is still the highest mountain in a world of titchy mountains and Earth is a world of small mountains. Olympus Mons the highest mountain on Mars for example, is 21,171m high, over double Everest’s height.

Creation of a Giant

Everest sits on the border of Nepal, China and Tibet in the Himalayan mountain range. This area of mountains, containing the Himalayas along with the Karakoram, Pamir, Hindu Kush and some minor ranges, make up what is often called ‘the roof of the world’. Between them these ranges contain all the worlds biggest mountains over 8000m and over a hundred separate mountains higher than 7200m. Yet the ranges are all in motion, new rock is constantly being forced upwards by the crashing action of the Indian into the Eurasian Tectonic plates. Yet geologically speaking these ranges are still one of the youngest on the planet; the Indian subcontinent didn’t crash into the Eurasian one until around 50 million years ago. Moving at a rate of around 5cm northwards a year most of the Indian plate is slipping below the Eurasian Plate, however this action is also causing buckling in the Eurasian plate. This is buckling force upwards creates around 4mm to 6cm a year of new mountains, although erosion does cause some reduction to this.

Discovery and Mapping

No one knows who the first human to see Mount Everest was and most probably it happened hundreds of thousands of years ago. It was however given many different names by the people living around it over the centuries. The Sherpa name was 'Chomolungma' which means 'Mother of the Universe' whilst it has also been called 'Deodungha', or 'Holy Mountain'. It was probably called many other names by humanity over the years but the first western European to see the mountain was Andrew Waugh who held the post of Surveyor General in British controlled India. Many places around the world may have been called 'Your Finger Stupid' after the explorer pointed at the view and asked a local what is that...but with Everest this was not the case. Andrew Waugh was exploring the area for the British Government in 1865 and assigning local names to the scenery. He discovered at the time the locals did not have a specific name for the peak so instead decided to name it after the predecessor of his job George Everest. Thus Everest gained its name and its position became known to the wider world. By the 1960's the Nepalese Government who were based in Kathmandu realised that the mountain had no name in Nepalese and named it 'Sagarmatha' which means 'Head of the Sky.'

First Ascent

After Radhanath Sikdar, an Indian mathematician and surveyor from Bengal, identified that the mountain was the world's highest peak in 1852 it immediately became a target for the rapidly growing new sport of climbing and mountaineering. The first big expedition was 8th June, 1924 when Andrew Irvine and George Mallory attempted to make the ascent. This failed and both men were lost - becoming to become the first recorded climbing casualties2. A number of other attempts were made until the British expedition of 1953. This was lead by the British mountaineer John Hunt and involved sending climbing teams up the mountain. The first two climbers Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans got to within 300 feet of the summit on 26 May, but with heavy hearts were forced to turn back due to shear exhaustion. The second team was made up of a New Zealander by the name of Edmund Hilary and a local Nepalese Sherpa by the name of Tenzing Norgay. At 11:30 a.m. on 29th May, 1953 the pair reached the summit and were stood on the top of the world. As any mountaineer would say though that is only half the battle and many more climbers have died in underestimating the journey down. Hilary and Norgay did not and returned to base camp successful. Many years after the event Tenzig Norgay told the press that it had actually been Hillary who had become the first man to stand on the summit; the record books still included both their names though as the first climbers. The news quickly spread around the world and by the time the team had left Everest base camp, and returned to Katmandu, Hillary and the expedition leader John Hunt had received a knighthood each. Tenzig Norgay was not a citizen of the commonwealth so was unable to receive a knighthood instead he received the George Medal.

A Mountain of Firsts

Everest has seen many first successful climbs and other first ascents since that day in May 1953. With its position as the highest mountain in the world Everest seems to become the target of many mountaineering stories and adventures. It generates statistics all the time as climbers try to add their names to the record books. For example Everest is usually climbed whilst wearing supplementary oxygen masks and tanks due to the lack of breathable air above 26,242feet (8000m). Up until 1978 it was thought that this was the only way to climb the mountain successfully, then Reinhold Messner's expedition succeeded in summiting without oxygen on 8th May, 1978. Messner went on to become a legendary figure and arguably the worlds best climber when on 20th August, 1980 he summited on Everest whilst climbing solo and without oxygen as well. Everest’s firsts are numerous, the first woman was Junko Tabei of Japan on 16th May, 1975 whilst the person to go from sea level to the summit was Tim Macartney-Snape on th 11th May, 1990. The current youngest climber is Temba Tsheri who was 15 years old when he summited on the 22nd May, 2001. The oldest climber to date is Sherman Bull who was 64 when he reached the peak on 25th May, 2001. Everest has been climbed in the winter3 and even by a blind person4.

What makes all of these feats so impressive is that mountains over 8000m are all in the ‘Death Zone’ in this area the height of the mountain and the sheer faces make rescue impossible. If a climber gets into difficulty here they have to save themselves as outside help will not appear5. There are currently about 120 bodies of climbers still frozen into the ice on Everest, the effort it would take to remove them and the danger involved makes it safer just to leave them where they fell. Around 2062 people to have succeeded in the climb but it has caused the deaths of 203 climbers, the most dangerous area being the Khumbu Ice Fall and most deaths attributed to avalanches. The danger has caused are many big debates about morality within the climbing community. If a climber see’s that another climber is in trouble should they stop to help when they are almost certainly putting their own life and possibly members of their own support team’s life in serious danger as well? Even with modern technology and techniques climbing the mountain is still a serious endeavour in the fatal 1996 season 16 climbers were killed on the mountain.

The Big Ones

Of the mountains above 8000m, Mount Everest is the tallest whilst the others are as follows;

  • K2 on the Chinese Pakistani border at 8611m6.
  • Kanchenjunga on the Indian Nepalese border at 8586m
  • Lhotse on the Chinese Nepalese border at 8516m
  • Makalu on the Chinese Nepalese border at 8463m
  • Cho Oyu on the Chinese Nepalese border at 8201m
  • Dhaulagiri in Nepal at 8167m
  • Manaslu in Nepal at 8163m
  • Nanga Parbat in Pakistan at 8125m7
  • Annapurna in Nepal at 8091m
  • Gasherbrum I on the Chinese Pakistani border at 8068m
  • Broad Peak on the Chinese Pakistani border at 8047m
  • Gasherbrum II on the Chinese Pakistani border at 8035m
  • Shishapangma in China at 8027m

To date8 only 13 men have ever climbed all of these peaks. The first to do this was, again, the legendary climber Reinhold Messner. He started his series of ascents in 1970, finally summiting on Lhotse and Makalu in 1986.

  1. Reinhold Messner from 1970-1986 - Italian
  2. Jerzy Kukuczka from 1979-1987 - Polish
  3. Erhard Loretan from 1982-1995 - Swiss
  4. Carlos Carsolio from 1985-1996 - Mexican
  5. Krzysztof Wielicki from 1980-1996 - Polish
  6. Juanito Oiarzabal from 1985-1999 - Spanish/Basque
  7. Sergio Martini from 1976-2000 - Italian
  8. Hong-Gil Um from 1988-2000 - Korean
  9. Park Young Seok from 1993-2001 - Korean
  10. Alberto Inurrategi from 1991-2002 - Spanish/Basque
  11. Han Wang Yong from 1994-2003 - Korean
  12. Ed Viesturs from 1989-2005 - American
  13. Alan Hinkes from 1987-2005 - British

Climbing The Rock

Mount Everest is lethal do not even think of going there until you have done a lot of research.

The most common route up the mountain is via the southeast ridge and a climber will start there ascent with a 6 to 8 day hike to Base Camp at an altitude of 5380m on Everest’s south face. They will generally then spend anything up to two weeks at Base Camp to let their body adjust to the lack of oxygen in the air. Whilst at the camp the Sherpas will begin to set up bridges, ropes and ladders over the ever moving crevasses in the Khumbu Icefall the most dangerous area of the mountain and the first day’s climb. After passing the Khumbu, climbers will set up at Camp I just above the icefall at 6065m. The next day involves a mix of climbing and walking up the gentle slope of the Western Cwm glacial valley to Camp II at the base of the Lhotse face. After stopping here at 6500m the climbers will proceed up the Lhotse face on a series of fixed ropes to Camp III at 7470m. From Camp III to Camp IV is a mere 500m but it involes scrambling with fixed ropes over the ice covered rocks of the Geneva Spur and The Yellow Band. Camp IV at 7,920m on the South Col is now firmly in the Death zone of the mountain. Do to the limited supplies they can carry they will now only have a weather window of two or three days to go for the top. If the conditions don’t suit a summit attempt all the climbing will have been in vain and the expedition will be forced to turn around.

With a some luck the conditions will be right and the climbers will set off around midnight, climbing is done at night as at these high altitudes a lack of cloud cover will very quickly cause the sun to turn the hard ice into dangerous slush. Reaching the Balcony at sunrise the climbers will get a brief moment to catch their breath and admire the view at 8400m before pushing on for up the ridge for the South Summit at 8750m. The climbers will then follow a knife edged ridge path known as the Cornice traverse where a single mis-step could cause a 2400m fall on one side or a 3050m fall on the other. From the Cornice the climbers will ascend the Hillary Step at 8760m. This 12m high rock wall is an imposing feature at this altitude and one which Hillary and Tenzig Norgay actually climbed, these days the modern climbers will use ropes fixed in place by previous Sherpa expeditions. After this climb the expedition has a patch of rough ground to cover before they reach the small gravely summit. They will generally spend no more than half an hour at the top of the world before they are forced to leave. The team must make it back down to Camp IV before there oxygen runs out or the weather changes. In all they will have climbed for around 10 or 12 hours to reach the peak and they still have got another few days to climb back down to base camp.

Tourism and Pollution

Everest’s fame has caused two reactions that go hand in hand. Many tourists to the area take the long trek up through the Himalayas to stand in the Base camp and gaze up at the mountain and the teams preparing to climb. These influxes of people have caused major problems with litter building up around the mountain. In fact in there have been so many discarded oxygen bottles from climbing expeditions and other pieces of rubbish scattered around the camp that environmental groups and campaigners have organised expeditions just to clean up the trash up from Base camp. Other effects of global warming have seen Himalayan glaciers melt and cause floods in the area. Like many of natures wildernesses Everest is fast becoming ruined and people need to act fast to maintain this ever growing beauty.

1Everest’s peak is a mere 6,382.3 km.2The body of George Mallory was discovered on the mountain in 1999 and has caused debate ever since as its position could suggest that Mallory died after reaching the summit 29 years before the official first ascent, the climbing community though generally accept the they died on the way up not on the way down.3L.Cichy and K. Wielicki of Poland on 17th February, 19804Erik Weihenmeyer on 25th May, 20015 In fact Didier Delsalle of France did manage to land a helicopter on the summit on 14th May 2005 but he could not stay long enough to have rescued anyone in trouble due to the swirling winds on the peak6Although smaller than Everest K2 is held in awe by most climbers as it is supposed to be much more difficult mountain to climb.7Often regarded as the worlds hardest and most dangerous mountain to climb8May 2007

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