Mount Everest (Nepali: सगरमाथा, Sagarmāthā, Wylie: jo mo glang ma; Chomolungmaor Qomolangma//[ “Holy Mother“;Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng;) is the Earth‘s highest mountain, with a peak at 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level and the 5th tallest mountain measured from the centre of the Earth.It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. The international border between China and Nepal runs across the precise summit point. Its massif includes neighboring peaks Lhotse, 8,516 m (27,940 ft); Nuptse, 7,855 m (25,771 ft) and Changtse, 7,580 m (24,870 ft).
This is how Wikipedia, the on-line Encyclopedia begins it’s entry on Mount Everest. Wikipedia also includes the Chinese and Tibetan names for this great mountain, but they come in linguistic characters which I don’t know how to reproduce here. But I started off with some of the dimensions of this bad girl just to convey the immensity of the challenge which was overcome on today’s date, May 29 in 1953 by New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary and Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay when they became the first men to reach the top of the world’s highest peak.
Everest Gets Her Name, But Resists Climbers
Everest, which was originally known as “Peak XV” first had her height published in “the Great Trigonometric Survey of British India” in 1856. Her height was established at that time as being 29.002 feet high. She acquired her official name for the rest of the world in 1865 from the Royal Geographical Society after a recommendation of Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of
India. Waugh’s name for the mountain was “Everest” after his predecessor as Surveyor General, Sir George Everest. The peak had been called “Chomolungma” by the Tibetans for some centuries but because Nepal and Tibet were closed to foreigners at this time, Waugh didn’t know this native appellation. So the name Mt. Everest has stuck. There had been many attempts to climb Mt. Everest before Hillary/Norgay made it in 1953. There are several possible routes to the summit, and the most difficult problems faced by climbers have more to do with altitude sickness, weather and wind factors than with technical problems of climbing.
There are a number of routes by which Everest can be reached, although there are two which are most favored: the north ridge from Tibet (From which direction the photo above is taken), and the southeast ridge from Nepal. This southeastern route is technically easier and coming as it does from Nepal it is less politically sensitive than the northern route through Tibet which was invaded and subjugated by Communist China in the1950’s, and the northern route closed. There were several attempts made before 1953. One in 1921 by George Mallory and Guy Bullock ttook the northern route, but failed just short of 23,000 feet because they had no oxygen. One by George Finch reached 27,300 in 1922 before giving up. Mallory and Andrew Irvine made another try in June of 1924 from which they never returned. Mallory’s frozen remains were found in 1999, but it remains unknown whether or not he and Irvine reached the summit before being killed in an avalanche. Hugh Ruttledge made two unsuccessful tries in 1932 and ’33. And a Swiss attempt was able to reach 28, 199 ft. before being defeated in 1952.
Hillary and Norgay Reach the TOP!!
Present on that 1952 Swiss attempt was Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali sherpa climber, and a native of India. His experience would prove very useful for another attempt organized for 1953 by John Hunt. This try involved two pairs of climbers on separate attempts. The first pair made nearly made it — closing to less than 330 ft. of the top on May 26, before difficulties with their oxygen supply forced them to throw in the towel. But their left-over oxygen proved very useful to the second pair, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and the sherpa Norgay (below). Climbing the southeastern ridge and leaving on May 28, the two finally made it to the top on May 29, 1953 as described later by Sir Edmund:
“We didn’t waste any time. I started cutting steps again, seeking now rather anxiously for signs of the summit. We seemed to go on forever, tired now and moving rather slowly. In the distance I could see the barren plateau of Tibet. I looked up to the right and there was a rounded snowy dome. It must be the summit! We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction. Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked around in wonder. To our immense satisfaction we realised we had reached the top of the world!
It was 11:30 a.m. on the 29’th May, 1953. In typical Anglo-Saxon fashion I stretched out my arm for a handshake, but this was not enough for Tenzing who threw his arms around my shoulders for a mighty hug and I hugged him back in return. With a feeling of mild surprise, I realised that Tenzing was perhaps more excited at our success than I was.”
“A View From the Summit” by Sir Edmund Hillary, Corgi Books, 2000.