Everest, at 8,849 metres above sea level, is the highest mountain in the world. It sits on the crest of the Himalayas on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Called Chomo-Lungma, or ‘Mother Goddess of the Land’, by the Tibetans, the English named the mountain after Sir George Everest, a 19th-century surveyor. The summit of Everest reaches two-thirds of the way through the Earth’s atmosphere, almost the cruising altitude of a commercial flight.

death at the SUMMIT?

The first recorded attempt to climb Everest was made in 1921 by a British expedition. A violent storm forced them to abort. Brilliant mountaineer George Mallory returned in 1924 with another British expedition. They reached an elevation of 8,573 metres without using artificial oxygen. Mallory and fellow mountaineer Andrew Irvine attempted the summit, and did not return. In 1999, Mallory’s frozen body was miraculously recovered. Whether he or Irvine reached the summit remains a mystery.


In April 1953, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali-Indian Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were part of another British team that planned to scale the southeast face of Everest. They made their first camp below the Khumbu Icefall, a steep, rugged, rapidly-moving section of the Khumbu Glacier. Here, constant movement opens deep crevasses and sends chunks of ice hurtling down the mountain. After successfully crossing the icefall, the team walked up the Western Cwm, a glacial valley with steep ridges around it. It leads to the south face of Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world.


Typically, the last camp on an Everest ascent is made at the South Col, 7,920 metres up. This dip between two peaks is swept clear of snow by high winds. However, Hillary and Tenzing went up another 610 meters. They were now in the ‘death zone’, an area so called because there is not enough oxygen for humans to survive. On the final five-hour climb, Hillary and Tenzing fought through snow, followed an exposed ridgeline with 1,000-metre drops, scrambled up steep, rocky steps, and finally crossed a sloping snowfield to reach the summit of Everest at 11:30am on 29 May 1953.


Since then, there have been approximately 11,346 summit ascents by 6,098 people. whereas over 310 climbers have died while attempting to ascend or more commonly on the descent. The major causes of death are avalanches, falls and collapses due to altitude sickness. In the death zone the body’s cells begin to die and lungs and brains fill with liquid.


Major tragedies occurred in 1996 when a blizzard hit, killing twelve climbers; in 2014 an avalanche killed sixteen; and in 2015 a devastating earthquake that killed around nine thousand people caused avalanches in which twenty-two climbers died. There are also modern dangers on the mountain: commercialisation has led to less experienced climbers and congestion. People can be trapped for hours in the death zone, queuing for an opportunity to reach the summit. Climbers report seeing frozen bodies, from days to decades old, all along the route.

Mt. Everest: The Explorer's Passage