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Mount Everest K2 Comparison Essay


THE HIMALAYAS as most everyone knows are the highest mountains in the world, with 30 peaks over 24,000 feet. The highest mountains in Europe, North and South America barely top 20,000 feet. The word Himalaya is Sanskrit for "abode of the snow" and a Himal is a massif of mountains. Technically Himalaya is the plural of Himal and there should be no such word as Himalayas.

The Himalayas stretch for 1,500 miles from eastern Tibet and China to a point where India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan all come together. The mountain kingdoms of Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal are all contained within the range. The southern side of the Himalayas are like a huge climatic wall. During the summer monsoon winds push massive rain clouds against the mountains squeezing out rain onto some of the wettest places on earth. On the leeward, rain-blocked side of the range, on the Tibetan plateau, are some of the driest and most barren places on the planet.

The Himalaya-Karakoram range contains nine of the world’s top ten highest peaks and 96 of the world's 109 peaks over 24,000 feet. If the Karakorum, Pamir, Tian Shan and Hindu Kush ranges and Tibet---which are extensions of the Himalayas into Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Central Asia---are including in the Himalayas then the 66 highest mountains in the world are in the Himalayas. The 67th highest is Aconcagua in Argentina and Chile

Several of the greatest rivers in the world---the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers---originate in either the Himalayas or the Tibetan plateau. Some people live in valleys nestled between Himalayan ridges but few people actually live on the slopes of the mountains. Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia

Geology of the Himalayas: The Himalayas are not just one range of mountains but a series of three parallel ranges that rise up from the plains of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Between the massifs and peaks are eroded river gorges, some of the deepest valleys in the world, and massive, slowly-creeping glaciers.

The southernmost range, the Siwalik Hills, barely tops 5000 feet. The Lesser Himalayas, in the middle, vary in altitude between 7,000 and 15,000 feet, and are indented with valleys like the Kathmandu Valley. The third range is known as the Great Himalayas and this is where all the world's biggest peaks are found.

The Himalayas are young mountains. Because of this they experience frequent landslides and rapid erosion, creating precipitous topography with sharp peaks and V-shaped ravines rather than alluvial valleys or lakes. Wind, rain, run off and snow continue shaping the mountains today. The mountains remain about the same height because the rate of erosion is about the same as the amount of uplift. The amount of snow also varies considerably. The greatest depths are recorded in the summer when the monsoons dump large amounts of snow on the higher elevation of the Himalayas. In the winter, high wind scour the landscape and blow snow away.

Himalayas and Plate Tectonics: The Himalayas began 65 million years when the Indian subcontinent climaxed a 70 million year journey across the Indian Ocean with a collision into Asia. The force and pressure of the collision between the Asian plate and India, pushed massive folds of sedimentary rock up from out of the earth. The pressure and heat of the mountain building forces turned some of rock into metamorphic rocks such schists and gneisses. Wind, rain, run off and glacial ice created the awesome Alpine shapes you see today.

Much of the rock pushed upwards by the mountain building activity is limestone and sandstone that was once at the bottom of the ocean. It is possible to find fossils of sea creatures in the Himalayas at an elevation of four kilometers above sea level.

Plate tectonic continues to push the Indian subcontinent under Nepal and China, which sit on the Eurasian Plate, forcing Tibet and the entire Himalayan range to rise about 10 millimeters a year and move towards China at a rate if about five centimeters a year. Before it was pushed upwards Tibet was a well watered plain. As the Himalayas were pushed up they deprived Tibet of rain, turning it into a dry plateau.

The Indian Plate is moving northeastward at a rate of 1.7 inches a year relative to the Eurasian Plate which embraces most of Asia and Europe. A great amount of energy drives the collision and is released at the boundaries of the plates, which explains partly why India, Nepal , Tibet and China experience sometimes experience devastating earthquakes.


Tibetan side of Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest is 29,028 feet high (5½ miles high). Taller than 21 Empire State buildings piled on top of one another and almost as high as the cruising altitude of Boeing 747 jumbo jets, Mt. Everest is so high that it sometimes penetrates the jet stream, blowing mountain climbers off the top, and dozens of feet have to be subtracted from surveying measurements to compensate for the gravity created by the mountain.

Located on the border of Tibet (China) and Nepal, Mt. Everest is sometimes referred to as the third pole. It was first known to British surveyors---who first sighted it many miles away in Denhra Dun in India and took measurements of its heights from there---as Peak XV. In 1852 it became significant when a Bengali clerk working in an office in Delhi exclaimed "I have discovered the highest mountain in world" after tabulating measurements of Peak XV from different survey stations across northern India in 1849 and 1850.

Mt. Everest is named after the British after Sir George Everest, a Welshman and the Surveyor General of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India and the man in charge of mapping India between 1830 and 1843. Everest most likely never saw the mountain named after him. It is believed he would likely have preferred a local name given to tthe mountain.

The Nepalese call Mt. Everest "Samgarmatha" ("Goddess of the Universe" or literally “Forehead of the Sky”) and Sherpas and Tibetans call it "Qomolangma" or Chomolungma ("Goddess Mother of the Land"). For them the mountain is sacred and the idea of climbing it, until recently, was strange. According to a Sherpa legend Mt. Everest is the home of a goddess bearing a bowl of food and a mongoose spitting jewels. Mt. Everest is located at about the same latitude as Tampa, Florida.

Climbers say that other mountains are much more difficult to climb than Mt. Everest. Jan Morris, who accompanied the first successful Everest expedition, wrote: “It’s not the most beautiful of mountains---several of its neighbors were shapelier---but whether in fact or simply in the mind, it seems conspicuously nobler than any of them.” Among the most impressive sights at the summit is the pyramid-shapes shadow that Everest produces at sunrise and sunset. Hardly anybody has been it from the summit itself because few climbers are there at those times. Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia National Geographic National Geographic Mount Mont Summit Post Summit Post

Everest climber

Measuring the Height of Mt. Everest: Using a global positional device (GPS) placed on the summit in 1999, scientists at the University of Colorado calculated the height of Mt. Everest to be 29,035 feet, or 8,500 meters.(with a margin of error or plus or minus seven feet). This is seven feet higher than earlier estimates. The new height was recognized by the National Geographic Society and placed on their maps.

The measurements were made after a Seattle-based astronomer claimed in 1987 that K2 in Pakistan might be 29,064 feet high, making it higher that Mt. Everest. The K2 measurement was made measuring the altitude of a knoll near K2 using a 75-pound Doppler receiver (a device that measures distance through analysis of slight variations in the wavelength of radio waves) on the knoll and a satellite passing overhead and then using ordinary triangulation to determine the height of K2.

The first survey of Mt. Everest in the 1850s came up with the altitude figure of 29,002 feet based on measurements taken at six sites in the India plains. A second survey made at the turn of the century determined the height of Mt. Everest was 29,141 feet. In the 1954, when Indian surveyors made 12 readings at locations much closer to the mountain, they came with the widely accepted elevation of 29,028 feet (8,848 meters).

The global positioning device taken to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1998 was placed there by mountain climbers. The devise also determined that Everest is still rising at a rate of about a third of an inch every year and moving northeast at rate of three inches a year. Recently a Chinese mountaineering revised the height of Mt. Everest as four meters lower.

Still there is some debate as to what is the world's highest mountain. Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii stands 33,480 feet above the ocean floor and 13,796 feet above sea level.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Chimborazo, a 20,560-feet-high volcano in Ecuador, is 7,054 feet further from the center of the earth than Mt. Everest. It's distance from the earth's center is a result of the fact that Chimborazo is only 98 miles from the equator (the earth is slightly flat at the poles and wide at the equator). Chimborazo was thought to bebthe highest mountain in the world until the 1850s.

Surveying Mt. Everest : Because the original measurements of Mt. Everest were made from the faraway plains of India, the height calculations were corrected by as much as 1,375 feet to compensate for refraction alone. Moreover, the chain of triangulation locations began 1,000 miles way in Madras. For K2, they began 1,700 miles away in Madras.

The early surveyors were prohibited from crossing into Tibet by the Chinese emperor. To get around this the British hired local tribesmen who disguised their surveyor chains as prayer beads. These tribesmen were educated men known as "pandits." The word "pundit," an expression which originally meant "learned man" was derived from the name of this group.

All measurements of Mt. Everest are based on the elevation of the snowcap on the summit not the summit itself. No one knows how deep the snow is and it may vary as much as three feet in the course of a year.

Tibetan Side of Mount Everest

Climbing routes on Tibetan side

The Tibetan side of Mt. Everest (on the Nepalese border near the Tibetan monastery of Rongbuk) looks like a completely different mountain than the naked black peak visitors see from the Nepalese side.

The route that most Everest mountain climbers have taken on the Tibetan side is on the northeast Ridge. This was the route taken by Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb Everest solo, and George Mallory who got within 2000 feet of the summit in 1922 before he disappeared.

The Tibetan east face is a massive wall of ice rising out of the desolate Tibetan plateau. This side of the mountain, scaled first by an American expedition in July 1984, can be reached from the village of Kharta.

Qomolangma National Park was established in 1989. It covers 13,000 square miles and is home to around 80,000 people. It stretches northward from Mt. Everest onto the Tibetan plateau..

Tibetan Climbing Route on Mt. Everest: The Tibetan Route on Mt. Everest avoids the dangerous traversal of the Khumbu Icefall but involves more climbing skill and more time above 25,000 feet. The base camp is located at 17,000 feet. From there the ascent is relatively easy and gentle to Camp I at 18.300 feet and Camp II at 20,000 feet. To reach Camp III at 21,300 feet and Camp IV at 23,100 feet requires traversing glaciers and snowfields.

One of the most difficult parts of the climb is up the somewhat technically demanding rock face to Camp V at 25,600 feet. From here mountaineers follow a ridge crest all the way to the summit. Camp VI is located at 27,200 feat. The last section entails getting past the First Step and the Second Step, a 90-foot-high rock wall at 28,300 feet which now can be traversed using a ladder placed there by a Chinese team.

The Chinese made the first successful conquest of the summit form the north in 1960 using this route, Mallory and Messner also used it.

A Chinese team made the first ascent of Mt. Everest from the north (from Tibet) and was the second team to reach the summit after Hillary and Tenzing. Led by Shih Chan-Chun, the team reached the summit on May 25, 1960. No teams from other countries tried from this side until 1980 because Tibet was closed from 1950 to 1980.

Everest base camp on Tibetan side Three Chinese climbers---Wang Fuzhou, Gong Bu and Qu Yinhua---reached the summit. Qu was recruited from a logging camp in Sichuan and lost a finger and toes to frostbite. He told a Beijing magazine,”We were aware that the climb was of national importance. We knew other Chinese teams had failed, and we knew that it had become an issue of China’s “face.”

The expedition was originally supposed to be a joint Soviet-Chinese expedition but troubles between the two Communist against prevented that from taking place. The Chinese team underwent training in the Pamirs in the Soviet Union and received $70,000 worth of foreign equipment. Before the climb the team were told by Zhou El Lai before the ascent: “Get to the top, or die trying.”

There biggest obstacle for the Chinese Everest team was a sheer face of ice-covered rock called the Second Step. Qu said, “We made three attempts at the 30-meter cliff. We went this way and that way, but it was no use. We were exhausted and night was falling...The English had said that not even a bird could fly across the Second Step. But then we noticed a crevice of 20-30 centimeters in width.”

Unable to get a good grip, Qu took off his four-kilogram boots and sock and climbed the crevice in -40̊C barefoot. Qu said, “I could just hear Premier Zhou words in my head. I knew that greater things than one man’s feet were at stake---it was a question of national honor.” It took more than five hours for Qu to get over the Second Step and help Wang and Gong. Just after midnight they began the final ascent,, reaching the summit at 4:25am.

At the summit the scribbled the time and date on a piece of paper and placed a statue of Mao and a Chinese flag in a canister which they buried at the summit and picked up a rock which the presented to Mao (the rock now sits in the National History Museum in Tiananmen Square). The team spent less than a minute at the summit. Because it was dark they took no photographs.

Because not photos were taken there have been allegations that the feat was faked and was not recognized by the international climbing community until 1975, when another Chinese team made it the summit using the same route, bringing along a 25-meter ladder to get over the Second Step.

Web Site and Getting There : Generally the only ways to get to the Everest area are by hired vehicle or as part of a tour. Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide

Treks on the Tibetan Side of Mount Everest

Mount Everest from Rombok Gompa Treks begin at the Rongbuk Monastery and lead to a glacier by the same name. Both Rongbuk Monastery and Xegar monastery near Kharta were reduced to piles of ruble by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. The ruins are now in the process of being restored.

The base camp below Rongbuk glacier has been described as a parking lot for a drive in movie. Expedition trucks filled with supplies can pull up right to the camp. Trekkers reach 17,200-foot-high "toe" of Rongbuk Glacier.

There were plans to put in a 67-mile paved road to Mt. Everest base camp to make it easier to take the Olympic torch there. These plans were put on hold in July 2007. Russell Brice, a New-Zealand-born climber, wants to build the world's highest hotel at the Northern Base Camp of Mt. Everest on the Tibetan side,

It is an eight day round-trip trek from Kharta to the Kangshung Glacier where the American expedition began. Along this scenic route trekkers pass through rhododendron forests, alpine meadows with views of Makalu (the fifth highest mountain in the world) and Chomo Lonz. Everest doesn't reveal itself until you arrive at the glacier. Web Site: Sumit Climb Summit Climb Trekking Tibet Trekking Tibet Samrat Nepal Samrat Nepal

Treks in the Tibetan Himalayas are not as well-organized as those in Nepal and other places. There is no emergency helicopter service. Supplies are often carried on the backs of Tibetan horses or yaks.


The Road from Kathmandu to Lhasa is usually traversed in a four-wheel-drive vehicle as part of an organized tour. But that doesn't necessarily insure a trouble-free trip. The border guards in Tibet, for example, can be surly and unpredictable. One traveler wrote in the New York Times how he was turned back from a check point by a naked pistol-waving Chinese soldiers caught in bed in bed with a Tibetan girl.

The road, known as the Friendship Highway, is in poor condition. There are few people or villages. Piles of stones, arrangements of yak and horse bones and white, green, blue and yellow prayer flags are placed near the road. Occasion ruined castles or herds of yaks can be seen in the distance.

Zhangmu is a town (across the border from Nepal, featuring rows of new Chinese commercial and administrative buildings stretching up a steep hillside. After crossing the border into Tibet travelers climbed 1,700 meters in 12 kilometers as the steep green slopes of Nepal are replaced by rolling brown and grey mountains of Tibet. The road passes a small monastery near the cave of Mireapa and the monasteries of Sakya, Shigatse and Gyantse. There are also lovely lakes and mountains. On the banks of Lake Yamdrok Tso there is an unsightly copper mine.

Lake Yamdrok

Tourists in organized tours usually stay in Chinese Government hotels and are transported in Toyota Landcruisers, which get stuck in mud or sand or breakdown because of the high altitude and have to be restarted again after fluid is sucked from the engine with a tube. The highest pass is over 17,000 feet. Parts of the road between Kathmandu and Lhasa can be washed out on the June-to-September monsoon season. On flights between Lhasa and Kathmandu, pilots often swing by Everest to give them an eye-level view of the world's highest mountain.

Gylelong La is a 17,200-foot pass with wonderful views of barren moonscapes, snowcapped mountains and green valleys. The Dalai Lama traversed the pass when he made his dramatic escape from Tibet in 1959. Pilgrims paying homage the Dalai Lama have left numerous cairns and paved the top with flat stones.

Image Sources: 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4); 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6); 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site; 11) Luca Galuzzi; 12) Alan Arnette

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Mountaineering on Everest

The human challenge

Mount Everest is difficult to get to and more difficult to climb, even with the great advances made in equipment, transportation, communications, and weather forecasting since the first major expeditions in the 1920s. The mountain itself lies in a highly isolated location. There are no roads in the region on the Nepalese side, and before the 1960s all goods and supplies had to be carried long distances by humans and pack animals. Since then, airstrips built in the Khumbu valley have greatly facilitated transport to the Everest vicinity, although the higher areas have remained accessible only via footpaths. In Tibet there is now a road to the north-side Base Camp.

There are only two brief time periods when the weather on Everest is the most hospitable for an ascent. The best one is in April and May, right before the monsoon. Once the monsoon comes, the snow is too soft and the likelihood of avalanche too great. For a few weeks in September, after the monsoon, weather conditions may also permit an attempt; by October, however, the winter storms begin and persist until March, making climbing then nearly impossible.

In addition to the challenges posed by Everest’s location and climate, the effects of high altitudes on the human body are extreme: the region in the Himalayas above about 25,000 feet (7,600 metres) is known as the “death zone.” Climbers at such high altitude have much more rapid breathing and pulse rates (as their bodies try to obtain more oxygen). In addition, they are not able to digest food well (and often find eating unappealing), they sleep poorly, and they often find their thinking to be confused. These symptoms are manifestations of oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) in the body tissues, which makes any effort difficult and can lead to poor decisions being made in an already dangerous environment. Supplemental (bottled) oxygen breathed through a mask can partially alleviate the effects of hypoxia, but it can present an additional problem if a climber becomes used to the oxygen and then runs out while still at high altitude. (See alsoaltitude sickness.)

Two other medical conditions can affect climbers at high elevations. High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) occurs when the body responds to the lack of oxygen by increasing blood flow to the brain; the brain begins to swell, and coma and death may occur. High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a similar condition in which the body circulates additional blood to the lungs; this blood begins to leak into the air sacs, and death is caused essentially by drowning. The most effective treatment for both conditions is to move the affected person to a lower elevation. It has been found that the drug dexamethasone is a useful emergency first-aid treatment when injected into stricken climbers, allowing them to regain movement (when they might otherwise be incapacitated) and thus descend.

Routes and techniques

The southern route via the Khumbu Icefall and the South Col is the one most commonly taken by climbers attempting to summit Everest. It is the route used by the 1953 British expedition when New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first men known to have reached Everest’s summit. The northern route, attempted unsuccessfully by seven British expeditions in the 1920s and ’30s, is also climbed. It is now generally accepted that the first successful ascent via that approach was made by a Chinese expedition in 1960, with Wang Fuzhou, Qu Yinhua, Liu Lianman, and a Tibetan, Konbu, reaching the summit. The East Face, Everest’s biggest, is rarely climbed. An American team made the first ascent of it in 1983, and Carlos Buhler, Kim Momb, and Lou Reichardt reached the summit.

Perhaps because most of the early climbers on Everest had military backgrounds, the traditional method of ascending it has been called “siege” climbing. With this technique, a large team of climbers establishes a series of tented camps farther and farther up the mountain’s side. For instance, on the most frequently climbed southern route, the Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier is at an elevation of about 17,600 feet (5,400 metres). The theory is that the climbers ascend higher and higher to establish camps farther up the route, then come down to sleep at night at the camp below the one being established. (Mountain climbers express this in the phrase, “Climb high, sleep low.”) This practice allows climbers to acclimatize to the high altitude. Camps are established along the route about every 1,500 feet (450 metres) of vertical elevation and are given designations of Camp I, Camp II, and so on. Finally, a last camp is set up close enough to the summit (usually about 3,000 feet [900 metres] below) to allow a small group (called the “assault” team) to reach the peak. This was the way the British organized their expeditions; most of the large commercial expeditions continue to use it—except that all paying clients are now given a chance at the summit. Essential to the siege climbing style is the logistical support given to the climbers by the Sherpas.

There had been a feeling among some early 20th-century climbers that ascending with oxygen, support from Sherpas, and a large party was “unsporting” or that it missed the point of mountain climbing. British explorer Eric Shipton expressed the view that these large expeditions caused climbers to lose their sense of the aesthetic of mountain climbing and to focus instead on only achieving the summit. Top mountaineers, disenchanted with the ponderous and predictable nature of these siege climbs, began in the 1970s to bring a more traditional “Alpine” style of climbing to the world’s highest peaks; by the 1980s this included even Everest. In this approach, a small party of perhaps three or four climbers goes up and down the mountain as quickly as possible, carrying all needed gear and provisions. This lightweight approach precludes fixing miles of safety ropes and carrying heavy supplemental oxygen. Speed is of the essence. However, at least four weeks still must be spent at and around Base Camp acclimatizing to altitude before the party can consider a summit attempt.

Early expeditions

Reconnaissance of 1921

In the 1890s British army officers Sir Francis Younghusband and Charles (C.G.) Bruce, who were stationed in India, met and began discussing the possibility of an expedition to Everest. The officers became involved with two British exploring organizations—the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and the Alpine Club—and these groups became instrumental in fostering interest in exploring the mountain. Bruce and Younghusband sought permission to mount an Everest expedition beginning in the early 1900s, but political tensions and bureaucratic difficulties made it impossible. Though Tibet was closed to Westerners, British officer John (J.B.L.) Noel disguised himself and entered it in 1913; he eventually got within 40 miles (65 km) of Everest and was able to see the summit. His lecture to the RGS in 1919 once again generated interest in Everest, permission to explore it was requested of Tibet, and this was granted in 1920. In 1921 the RGS and the Alpine Club formed the Mount Everest Committee, chaired by Younghusband, to organize and finance the expedition. A party under Lieutenant Colonel C.K. Howard-Bury set out to explore the whole Himalayan range and find a route up Everest. The other members were G.H. Bullock, A.M. Kellas, George Mallory, H. Raeburn, A.F.R. Wollaston, Majors H.T. Morshead and O.E. Wheeler (surveyors), and A.M. Heron (geologist).

During the summer of 1921 the northern approaches to the mountain were thoroughly explored. On the approach to Everest, Kellas died of heart failure. Because Raeburn also fell ill, the high exploration devolved almost entirely upon Mallory and Bullock. Neither had Himalayan experience, and they were faced with the problem of acclimatization besides the difficulty of the terrain.

The first object was to explore the Rongbuk valley. The party ascended the Central Rongbuk Glacier, missing the narrower opening of the eastern branch and the possible line up Everest. They returned eastward for a rest at Kharta Shekar. From there they discovered a pass at 22,000 feet (6,700 metres), the Lhakpa (Lhagba), leading to the head of the East Rongbuk Glacier. The saddle north of Everest, despite its forbidding appearance, was climbed on September 24 by Mallory, Bullock, and Wheeler and named the North Col. A bitter wind prevented them from going higher, but Mallory had from there traced a potential route to the summit.

Attempt of 1922

Members of the expedition were Brigadier General C.G. Bruce (leader), Captain J.G. Bruce, C.G. Crawford, G.I. Finch, T.G. Longstaff, Mallory, Captain C.J. Morris, Major Morshead, Edward Norton, T.H. Somervell, Colonel E.I. Strutt, A.W. Wakefield, and John Noel. It was decided that the mountain must be attempted before the onset of the summer monsoon. In the spring, therefore, the baggage was carried by Sherpas across the high, windy Plateau of Tibet.

Supplies were carried from Base Camp at 16,500 feet (5,030 metres) to an advanced base at Camp III. From there, on May 13, a camp was established on the North Col. With great difficulty a higher camp was set at 25,000 feet (7,620 metres) on the sheltered side of the North Ridge. On the next morning, May 21, Mallory, Norton, and Somervell left Morshead, who was suffering from frostbite, and pushed on through trying windy conditions to 27,000 feet (8,230 metres) near the crest of the Northeast Ridge. On May 25 Finch and Captain Bruce set out from Camp III using oxygen. Finch, a protagonist of oxygen, was justified by the results. The party, with the Gurkha Tejbir Bura, established Camp V at 25,500 feet (7,772 metres). There they were stormbound for a day and two nights, but the next morning Finch and Bruce reached 27,300 feet (8,320 metres) and returned the same day to Camp III. A third attempt during the early monsoon snow ended in disaster. On June 7 Mallory, Crawford, and Somervell, with 14 Sherpas, were crossing the North Col slopes. Nine Sherpas were swept by an avalanche over an ice cliff, and seven were killed. Mallory’s party was carried down 150 feet (45 metres) but not injured.

Attempt of 1924

Members of the expedition were Brigadier General Bruce (leader), Bentley Beetham, Captain Bruce, J. de V. Hazard, Major R.W.G. Hingston, Andrew Irvine, Mallory, Norton, Noel Odell, E.O. Shebbeare (transport), Somervell, and Noel (photographer). Noel devised a novel publicity scheme for financing this trip by buying all film and lecture rights for the expedition, which covered the entire cost of the venture. To generate interest in the climb, he designed a commemorative postcard and stamp; sacks of postcards were then mailed from Base Camp, mostly to schoolchildren who had requested them. This was the first of many Everest public relations ventures.

On the climb itself, because of wintry conditions, Camp IV on the North Col was established only on May 22 by a new and steeper though safer route; the party was then forced to descend. General Bruce had to return because of illness, and under Norton Camp IV was reestablished on June 1. At 25,000 feet (7,620 metres), Mallory and Captain Bruce were stopped when the Sherpas became exhausted. On June 4 Norton and Somervell, with three Sherpas, pitched Camp VI at 26,800 feet (8,170 metres); the next day they reached 28,000 feet (8,535 metres). Norton went on to 28,100 feet (8,565 metres), a documented height unsurpassed until 1953. Mallory and Irvine, using oxygen, set out from the North Col on June 6. On June 8 they started for the summit. Odell, who had come up that morning, believed he saw them in early afternoon high up between the mists.

Initially, Odell claimed to have seen them at what became known as the Second Step (more recently, some have claimed that Odell was describing the Third Step), though later he was less certain exactly where it had been. On the Northeast Ridge there are three “steps”—steep rock barriers—between the elevations of 27,890 and 28,870 feet (8,500 and 8,800 metres) that make the final approach to the summit difficult. The First Step is a limestone vertical barrier about 110 feet (34 metres) high. Above that is a ledge and the Second Step, which is about 160 feet (50 metres) high. (In 1975 a Chinese expedition from the north affixed an aluminum ladder to the step that now makes climbing it much easier.) The Third Step contains another sheer section of rock about 100 feet (30 metres) high that leads to a more gradual slope to the summit. If Odell actually saw Mallory and Irvine at the Third Step at about 12:50 pm, then they would have been some 500 feet (150 metres) below the summit at that point. However, there has long been great uncertainty and considerable debate about all this, especially whether the pair made it to the top that day and if they were ascending or descending the mountain when Odell spotted them. The next morning Odell went up to search and reached Camp VI on June 10, but he found no trace of either man.

When Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he replied with the famous line, “Because it’s there.” The British public had come to admire the determined climber over the course of his three expeditions, and they were shocked by his disappearance. (The fate of Mallory remained a mystery for 75 years; seeFinding Mallory and commemorating the historic ascents.)

Attempt of 1933

Members of the expedition were Hugh Ruttledge (leader), Captain E. St. J. Birnie, Lieutenant Colonel H. Boustead, T.A. Brocklebank, Crawford, C.R. Greene, Percy Wyn-Harris, J.L. Longland, W.W. McLean, Shebbeare (transport), Eric Shipton, Francis S. Smythe, Lawrence R. Wager, G. Wood-Johnson, and Lieutenants W.R. Smyth-Windham and E.C. Thompson (wireless).

High winds made it extremely difficult to establish Base Camp in the North Col, but it was finally done on May 1. Its occupants were cut off from the others for several days. On May 22, however, Camp V was placed at 25,700 feet (7,830 metres); again storms set in, retreat was ordered, and V was not reoccupied until the 28th. On the 29th Wyn-Harris, Wager, and Longland pitched Camp VI at 27,400 feet (8,350 metres). On the way down, Longland’s party, caught in a blizzard, had great difficulty.

On May 30, while Smythe and Shipton came up to Camp V, Wyn-Harris and Wager set off from Camp VI. A short distance below the crest of the Northeast Ridge, they found Irvine’s ice ax. They reckoned that the Second Step was impossible to ascend and were compelled to follow Norton’s 1924 traverse to the Great Couloir splitting the face below the summit. They crossed the gorge to a height about the same as Norton’s but then had to return. Smythe and Shipton made a final attempt on June 1. Shipton returned to Camp V. Smythe pushed on alone, crossed the couloir, and reached the same height as Wyn-Harris and Wager. On his return the monsoon ended operations.

Also in 1933 a series of airplane flights were conducted over Everest—the first occurring on April 3—which permitted the summit and surrounding landscape to be photographed. In 1934 Maurice Wilson, an inexperienced climber who was obsessed with the mountain, died above Camp III attempting to climb Everest alone.

Reconnaissance of 1935

In 1935 an expedition led by Shipton was sent to reconnoitre the mountain, explore the western approaches, and discover more about monsoon conditions. Other members were L.V. Bryant, E.G.H. Kempson, M. Spender (surveyor), H.W. Tilman, C. Warren, and E.H.L. Wigram. In late July the party succeeded in putting a camp on the North Col, but dangerous avalanche conditions kept them off the mountain. One more visit was paid to the North Col area in an attempt on Changtse (the north peak). During the reconnaissance Wilson’s body was found and buried; his diary was also recovered.

Attempts of 1936 and 1938

Members of the 1936 expedition were Ruttledge (leader), J.M.L. Gavin, Wyn-Harris, G.N. Humphreys, Kempson, Morris (transport), P.R. Oliver, Shipton, Smyth-Windham (wireless), Smythe, Warren, and Wigram. This expedition had the misfortune of an unusually early monsoon. The route up to the North Col was finished on May 13, but the wind had dropped, and heavy snowfalls almost immediately after the camp was established put an end to climbing the upper part of the mountain. Several later attempts to regain the col failed.

Members of the 1938 expedition were Tilman (leader), P. Lloyd, Odell, Oliver, Shipton, Smythe, and Warren. Unlike the two previous parties, some members of this expedition used oxygen. The party arrived early, in view of the experience of 1936, but they were actually too early and had to withdraw, meeting again at Camp III on May 20. The North Col camp was pitched under snowy conditions on May 24. Shortly after, because of dangerous snow, the route was changed and a new one made up the west side of the col. On June 6 Camp V was established. On June 8, in deep snow, Shipton and Smythe with seven Sherpas pitched Camp VI, at 27,200 feet (8,290 metres), but the next day they were stopped above it by deep powder. The same fate befell Tilman and Lloyd, who made their attempt on the 11th. Lloyd benefited from an open-circuit oxygen apparatus that partly allowed him to breathe the outside air. Bad weather compelled a final retreat.

Golden age of Everest climbs

Reconnaissance of 1951

After 1938, expeditions to Everest were interrupted by World War II and the immediate postwar years. In addition, the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950 precluded using the northern approach. In 1951 permission was received from the Nepalese for a reconnaissance of the mountain from the south. Members of the expedition were Shipton (leader), T.D. Bourdillon, Edmund Hillary, W.H. Murray, H.E. Riddiford, and M.P. Ward. The party marched through the monsoon, reaching Namche Bazar, the chief village of Solu-Khumbu, on September 22. At Khumbu Glacier they found it possible to scale the great icefall seen by Mallory from the west. They were stopped at the top by a huge crevasse but traced a possible line up the Western Cwm (cirque, or valley) to the South Col, the high saddle between Lhotse and Everest.

Spring attempt of 1952

Expedition members were E. Wyss Dunant (leader), J.J. Asper, R. Aubert, G. Chevalley, R. Dittert (leader of climbing party), L. Flory, E. Hofstetter, P.C. Bonnant, R. Lambert, A. Roch, A. Lombard (geologist), and A. Zimmermann (botanist). This strong Swiss party first set foot on the Khumbu Icefall on April 26. After considerable difficulty with the route, they overcame the final crevasse by means of a rope bridge. The 4,000-foot (1,220-metre) face of Lhotse, which had to be climbed to reach the South Col, was attempted by a route running beside a long spur of rock christened the Éperon des Genevois. The first party, Lambert, Flory, Aubert, and Tenzing Norgay (sirdar, or leader of the porters), with five Sherpas, tried to reach the col in one day. They were compelled to bivouac quite a distance below it (May 25) and the next day reached the summit of the Éperon, at 26,300 feet (8,016 metres), whence they descended to the col and pitched camp. On May 27 the party (less the five Sherpas) climbed up the Southeast Ridge. They reached approximately 27,200 feet (8,290 metres), and there Lambert and Tenzing bivouacked. The next day they pushed on up the ridge and turned back at approximately 28,000 feet (8,535 metres). Also on May 28 Asper, Chevalley, Dittert, Hofstetter, and Roch reached the South Col, but they were prevented by wind conditions from going higher and descended to the base.

Autumn attempt of 1952

Members of this second Swiss expedition were Chevalley (leader), J. Buzio, G. Gross, Lambert, E. Reiss, A. Spöhel, and Norman Dyhrenfurth (photographer). The party found the icefall easier to climb than in the spring and had brought poles to bridge the great crevasse. Camp IV was occupied on October 20. Higher up, however, they were constantly harassed by bitterly cold winds. On the ice slope below the Éperon one Sherpa was killed, and the party took to the glaciated face of Lhotse on the right. The South Col was reached on November 19, but the summit party climbed only 300 feet (90 metres) higher before being forced to withdraw.

The historic ascent of 1953

Members of the expedition, which was sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club, were Colonel John Hunt (leader; later Baron Hunt), G.C. Band, Bourdillon, R.C. Evans, A. Gregory, Edmund Hillary, W.G. Lowe, C.W.F. Noyce, M.P. Ward, M.H. Westmacott, Major C.G. Wylie (transport), T. Stobart (cinematographer), and L.G.C. Pugh (physiologist). After three weeks’ training on neighbouring mountains, a route was worked out up the Khumbu Icefall, and it was possible to start ferrying loads of supplies to the Western Cwm head. Two forms of oxygen apparatus, closed- and open-circuit types, were tried. As a result of a reconnaissance of Lhotse in early May, Hunt decided that Bourdillon and Evans, experts on closed-circuit, should make the first attempt from the South Col. Hillary with Tenzing Norgay as sirdar were to follow, using open-circuit and a higher camp.

Lowe spent nine days, most of them with Ang Nyima Sherpa, working at the lower section of the Lhotse face. On May 17 a camp was pitched on it at 24,000 feet (7,315 metres). The route on the upper part of the face, over the top of the Éperon, was first made by Noyce and Annullu Sherpa on May 21. The next day 13 Sherpas led by Wylie, with Hillary and Tenzing ahead, reached the col and dumped loads. The fine weather continued from May 14 but with high winds. On May 24 the first summit party, with Hunt and two Sherpas in support, reached the col. On the 26th Evans and Bourdillon climbed to the South Summit of Everest, but by then it was too late in the day to go farther. Meanwhile Hunt and Da Namgyal Sherpa left loads for a ridge camp at 27,350 feet (8,335 metres).

On the 28th the ridge camp was established at 27,900 feet (8,500 metres) by Hillary, Tenzing, Lowe, Gregory, and Ang Nyima, and Hillary and Tenzing passed the night there. The two set out early on the morning of May 29, reaching the South Summit by 9:00 am. The first challenge on the final approach to the summit of Everest was a fairly level ridge of rock some 400 feet (120 metres) long flanked by an ice “cornice”; to the right was the East (Kangshung) Face, and to the left was the Southwest Face, both sheer drop-offs. The final obstacle, about halfway between the South Summit and the summit of Everest, was a steep spur of rock and ice—now called the Hillary Step. Though it is only about 55 feet (17 metres) high, the formation is difficult to climb because of its extreme pitch and because a mistake would be deadly. Climbers now use fixed ropes to ascend this section, but Hillary and Tenzing had only ice-climbing equipment. First Hillary and then Tenzing tackled the barrier much as one would climb a rock chimney—i.e., they inched up a little at a time with their backs against the rock wall and their feet wedged in a crack between the rock and ice.

They reached the summit of Everest at 11:30 am. Hillary turned to Tenzing, and the men shook hands; Tenzing then embraced Hillary in a hug. Hillary took photos, and the two searched for but did not find signs that Mallory and Irvine had been to the summit. Tenzing, a Buddhist, made an offering of food for the mountain; Hillary left a crucifix Hunt had given him. The two men ate some sweets and then headed down. They had spent about 15 minutes on the top of the world.

They were met on the slopes above the South Col that afternoon by Lowe and Noyce. Hillary is reputed to have said to Lowe, “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.” By June 2 the whole expedition had reassembled at the Base Camp.

A correspondent for The Times, James (later Jan) Morris, had hiked up to Camp IV to follow the story more closely and was on hand to cover the event. Worried that other papers might scoop him, Morris wired his story to the paper in code. It reached London in time to appear in the June 2 edition. A headline from another London paper published later that day, “All this, and Everest too!” referred to the fact that Elizabeth II was being crowned on the same day on which the news broke about the success on Everest. After years of privation during and after World War II and the subsequent loss of empire, the effect of the successful Everest ascent was a sensation for the British public. The feat was also celebrated worldwide, but nowhere like in Britain and the Commonwealth, whose climbers had been so closely associated with Everest for more than 30 years. As Walt Unsworth described it in Everest,

And so, the British, as usual, had not only won the last battle but had timed victory in a masterly fashion. Even had it not been announced on Coronation Day it would have made world headlines, but in Britain the linking of the two events was regarded as almost an omen, ordained by the Almighty as a special blessing for the dawn of a New Elizabethan Age. It is doubtful whether any single adventure had ever before received such universal acclaim: Scott’s epic last journey, perhaps, or Stanley’s finding of Livingstone—it was of that order.

The expedition little expected the fanfare that awaited them on their return to Britain. Both Hillary and Hunt were knighted in July (Hunt was later made a life peer), and Tenzing was awarded the George Medal. All members of the expedition were feted at parties and banquets for months, but the spotlight fell mostly on Hillary and Tenzing as the men responsible for one of the defining events of the 20th century.

Everest-Lhotse, 1956

In 1956 the Swiss performed the remarkable feat of getting two ropes up Everest and one up Lhotse, using oxygen. Members of the expedition were A. Eggler (leader), W. Diehl, H. Grimm, H.R. von Gunten, E. Leuthold, F. Luchsinger, J. Marmet, F. Müller, Reiss, A. Reist, and E. Schmied. They followed roughly the British route up the icefall and the Lhotse face. From their Camp VI Reiss and Luchsinger reached the summit of Lhotse on May 18. Camp VI was moved to the South Col, and the summit of Everest was reached from a camp at 27,500 feet (8,380 metres) by Marmet and Schmied (May 23) and Gunten and Reist (May 24).

Attempts of 1960

In 1960 an Indian expedition with Sherpas, led by Brigadier Gyan Singh, attempted to scale Everest from the south. Camp IV was established in the Western Cwm on April 19. Bad weather followed, but a party using oxygen reached the South Col on May 9. On May 24 three members pitched a tent at 27,000 feet (8,230 metres) on the Southeast Ridge but were turned back by wind and weather at about 28,300 feet (8,625 metres). Continued bad weather prevented the second summit party’s leaving the South Col.

Also that spring it was reported that a Chinese expedition led by Shi Zhanzhun climbed Everest from the north. By their account they reached the North Col in April, and on May 24 Wang Fuzhou, Qu Yinhua, Liu Lianman, and a Tibetan mountaineer, Konbu, climbed the slab by a human ladder, reaching the top at 4:20 am to place the Chinese flag and a bust of Mao Zedong. The credibility of their account was doubted at the time but later was generally accepted (see belowThe north approach).

(Cuthbert) Wilfrid (Francis) Noyce(Henry Cecil) John HuntStephen Venables

The U.S. ascent of 1963

The first American expedition to Everest was led by the Swiss climber Norman Dyhrenfurth, who selected a team of 19 mountaineers and scientists from throughout the United States and 37 Sherpas. The purpose was twofold: to reach the summit and to carry out scientific research programs in physiology, psychology, glaciology, and meteorology. Of particular interest were the studies on how the climbers changed physiologically and psychologically under extreme stresses at high altitudes where oxygen deprivation was unavoidable. These studies were related to the U.S. space program, and among the 400 sponsors of the expedition were the National Geographic Society, the U.S. State Department, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the U.S. Air Force.

On February 20 the expedition left Kathmandu, Nepal, for Everest, 180 miles (290 km) away. More than 900 porters carried some 26 tons of food, clothing, equipment, and scientific instruments. Base Camp was established at 17,800 feet (5,425 metres) on Khumbu Glacier on March 20, one month earlier than on any previous expedition. For the next five weeks the team selected a route toward the summit and established and stocked a series of camps up the mountain via the traditional South Col route. They also explored the more difficult and untried West Ridge route. On May 1 James W. Whittaker and Nawang Gombu Sherpa, nephew of Tenzing Norgay, reached the summit despite high winds. On May 22 four other Americans reached the top. Two of them, William F. Unsoeld and Thomas F. Hornbein, made mountaineering history by ascending the West Ridge, which until then had been considered unclimbable. They descended the traditional way, along the Southeast Ridge toward the South Col, thus also accomplishing the first major mountain traverse in the Himalayas. On the descent, Unsoeld and Hornbein, along with Barry C. Bishop and Luther G. Jerstad (who had also reached the summit that day via the South Col), were forced to bivouac in the open at 28,000 feet (8,535 metres). All suffered frostbite, and Bishop and Unsoeld later lost their toes; the two had to be carried out of Base Camp on the backs of Sherpas. On July 8 Dyhrenfurth and all members of the expedition were presented the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal by President John F. Kennedy.

The Indian ascent of 1965

In 1965 a 21-man Indian expedition, led by Lieutenant Commander M.S. Kohli, succeeded in putting nine men on the summit of Everest. India thus became the fourth country to scale the world’s highest mountain. One of the group, Nawang Gombu, became the first person ever to climb Mount Everest twice, having first accomplished the feat on the U.S. expedition.

Barry C. Bishop