Want to know more about the tallest mountain in the world? Then read on!
Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. It’s 8,848 metres high. That’s the height at which passenger aeroplanes fly at – or the height of 643 double-decker buses stacked on top of one another!
Mount Everest is growing all the time – by about 5 millimetres every year.
Everest is in the Himalaya. The summit of the mountain is right on the border between Nepal to the south and Tibet in the north.
The temperature at the summit never rises above freezing, averaging -36˚C (-32˚F) in winter and -19˚C (-2˚F) in summer. Brrrr.
In Nepalese, Everest is called Sagarmatha, which means ‘Goddess of the Sky’. In Tibet, it’s called Chomolungma – ‘Goddess mother of the Earth’.
The mountain was ‘first’ discovered by a British expedition in the 1840s and was initially named Peak XV. After failing to discover a local name, they called the mountain Everest in honour of Sir George Everest, a British General who never even saw the mountain.
THE FIRST ASCENT
Mount Everest was first climbed in 1953.
The first people to reach the summit were Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa.
The King of Nepal announced that Tenzing had reached the top first, but Tenzing wrote in his autobiography that Hillary had in fact set foot on the summit before him. Hillary and Tenzing initially said that they had reached the top at the same time and Hillary always insisted that it did not matter who had got there first and that it was a team effort.
Several attempts had been made to climb the mountain before 1953. Just one year before, a Dutch team had got to within 200 metres of the summit. Tenzing Norgay made six attempts before eventually succeeding.
A HIGH-ALTITUDE MYSTERY
The most famous attempt to climb Everest was that made by George Mallory and Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine in 1924. The two men vanished high on the mountain and nobody has ever managed to determine whether or not they reached the summit.
Mallory’s body has been found, sitting high on the mountain as if resting, but Irvine’s has not – and nor has the camera they had with them. Perhaps one day the camera will be found, and the photos inside it will be developed. Maybe then it will be discovered whether the first ascent was actually made 29 years earlier than previously thought …
WHY IS EVEREST SO HARD TO CLIMB?
Above 8,000 metres in the Himalaya there is only a fraction of the oxygen at sea-level. Just taking a step requires a tremendous effort.
Anything above 8,000 metres is known as the Death Zone. Climbers suffer altitude sickness and headaches and risk life-threatening oedemas (a dangerous accumulation of fluid in the lungs or around the brain) due to the thin, dry air.
In addition to the thin air, dangers awaiting climbers on Mount Everest include high winds and bad weather, which can come on quickly. There are only a few days each year suitable for making a summit attempt.
Despite the problems, well over 3,000 people have reached the summit of Everest and many people have climbed it more than once.
It can get so crowded that traffic jams form.
This all means that Everest is a dangerous place – over 200 people have died trying to reach the summit. In fact, since 1969, there has been at least one death every year apart from 1977.
WANT TO CLIMB EVEREST?
The easiest way to climb the mountain is to join a commercial expedition, who will arrange everything for you. But this can cost thousands and thousands of pounds.
Due to the problems with altitude, climbers must acclimatise themselves to the altitude. Height must be gained slowly, and mountaineers make acclimatisation climbs, moving high during the day before returning to lower altitudes to sleep and recover. Starting at Base Camp, climbers move slowly up to higher camps along the route, occasionally returning to lower camps to recover.
Bottled oxygen can be carried, allowing the climber to breathe more normally.
Some climbers view the use of bottled oxygen as cheating – ‘bring the mountain down to your level’ and refuse to use it. Many people have reached the summit without the use of bottled oxygen.
Sherpas are employed to help carry loads up the mountain, and to fix ropes. These ropes are attached to the mountain and climbers can then use them as safety ropes on their ascents.
It normally takes about 10-12 hours to reach the summit from Camp IV. Along the way, you must climb up the Hillary Step – a 12-metre high rock wall. This is the last significant challenge on the route – after it lies an easy-angled snow slope. However, the winds are high and time is short, (climbers need to descend before it gets too late), so you must move quickly!
The oldest man to reach the summit of Everest is Miura Yiuchiro from Japan, who climbed the mountain at the age of 80 on 23 May 2013. The oldest woman to reach the top is Tamae Watanabe, aged 73 and also from Japan, who summitted in 2012.
The youngest person to climb Everest is American teenager Jordan Romero, who was 13 years old when he reached the summit on 22 May 2010. Watch a video with him here.
Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi hold the record for most summits, having both reached the top an incredible 21 times!
The British record is held by Kenton Cool who has now climbed to the summit of Everest 11 times. He also became the first person to tweet from the summit.
The sheer number of climbers on Everest leads to problems with over-crowding and litter. This is a particular problem around Base Camp, which has been described as the ‘world’s highest rubbish dump’.
The numbers often mean that traffic jams form high on the mountain. This can be very dangerous as it forces climbers to spend longer than they should at altitude.
It is often impossible to rescue injured or unwell climbers at high altitudes, and tales of dead bodies lying beside the climbing routes are common.
Commercial expeditions sometimes don’t pay their Sherpas much money, or treat them very well.
People have skied and snowboarded down Everest.
In 2000, a 38-year-old Slovenian named Davorin Karnicar, skied 12,000 feet back to the south-side Base Camp.
The next year, Frenchman Marco Siffredi and Austrian Stefan Gatt became the first people to snowboard down the mountain. Sadly, Siffredi went back the next year for a second descent. Choosing a steep and hazardous route, he disappeared midway through the descent.
A helicopter has even been landed on the summit! In 2005 Didier Delsalle flew his unmodified helicopter to the summit, hovered above it and then landed for about two minutes.
Despite the height, in 1999 Babu Chiri Sherpa spent a night on the summit of the mountain, without using bottled oxygen. That’s the highest sleep ever.