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It is climbing season in Nepal and a new cohort of climbers has begun the slow ascent to the top of Mt. Everest. Imagine the view from atop the world’s highest peak. It is a view unique in all the world. Thanks to technology and climber Roddy Mackenzie, you need not climb to see the astounding 360’ panoramic sight from the summit. (It probably is not the same as being there…but it most definitely is easier.)
May 29th is known as ‘Everest Day.’ On this day in 1953 the first climber and his sherpa reached the peak of Mt. Everest. This year, climbers continue to break records as they reach Mt. Everest’s summit: Raha Moharrak became the first Saudi woman, India’s Arunima Sinha became the first woman with prosthetic legs, and Japan’s 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura became the oldest person. Miura’s record is not expected to stand for long; an 81-year-old Nepalese climber is poised to reset the record this week.
New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people ever to summit Mt. Everest. Commemorate the 60th anniversary of their historic climb by exploring the mountain known in Nepal as Sagarmatha, Goddess of the Sky. No need to strap on your hiking and extreme weather gear, to train, or to pay a guide. No need to work your way up slowly from base camp to the summit amid the long string of other hikers. A handful of sites will quickly quench your curiousity.
A Mountain is Born—
For an understanding of Mt. Everest’s geography, view a map of the Indian subcontinent, and of Nepal. What forces of nature created these inspiring mountains? How was Chomolungma, Mother of the World, formed? Learn more about the birth of the Himalayan mountains. Explore atmospheric pressure to unveil why Mt. Everest’s air is thinner.
The Early Attempts—
For nearly a hundred years, Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World (as Tibetans call it) has attracted adventurers who hope to climb to its apex. PBS’ timeline introduces viewers to the early Everest pioneers. Discover more about the earliest attempts to climb Mt. Everest, and meet George Mallory, one of Mt. Everest’s earliest and most persistent climbers. Learn more about the popular Southern route up the mountain. Establish the historical context for the first summit, and meet half of the first team to summit, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Finally, read about the first men to reach the summit without bottled oxygen.
No Walk in the Park—
As you might expect, reaching the tippy top of a mountain known as Mother of the World is no easy task. Altitude sickness caused by low oxygen levels challenges climbers, especially in the final half mile (848 meters) to the summit. In this segment, known as the Death Zone, oxygen levels dip to a third of what people are accustomed to breathing at sea level. Such low oxygen levels mean your body works harder to breathe, taking 80-90 breaths per minute instead of the sea level norm of 20-30. Simply breathing becomes exhausting. Hear expert climbers and physiologists describe the affects of high altitude.
Oxygen deprivation does not just make it more difficult to breathe. Scientists predict it also makes it more difficult to think clearly. Climbers acclimate themselves to these lower oxygen levels by staying at lower base camps along the way and gradually ascending Mt. Everest. Climbers who do not acclimate to such severe changes in oxygen levels pass out within minutes.
And then there are the expected challenges of extreme wind, slippery snow, and punishing cold. View how extreme cold affects the human body. Scroll over an image of the gear worn by early climbers. Watch veteran climber David Breashears get dressed for his climb. Put all these environmental and physiological factors together and it takes most hikers an astounding 12 hours to climb the final 1.02 mile section of the route from South Col to the summit. And yet, every year, hundreds of new climbers seek to summit Mt. Everest, and veterans return to do it again.
When climbers talk about ‘Sherpa’ they are referring to the guides who lead most of them up Mt. Everest. Their knowledge of the mountain’s routes and their experience climbing at high altitudes has been invaluable since Westerners began exploring the Himalayas. ‘Sherpa’ has become synonymous with Mt. Everest. In fact, the term ‘Sherpa’ refers to a specific people and their culture. Learn more about Sherpa, their religion and culture, and their celebrations and livliehood. Cross over to the National Geographic site and view the Sherpa photo gallery. Watch Everest: The Sherpas and Edmund Hillary for a deeper sense of the Sherpa and how the mountain has affected them.
Before you Go—
Are you feeling inspired to climb Mt. Everest? Hundreds of climbers attempt Mt. Everest each year. MtEverest.net provides crucial information for people considering such an adventure. One important decision is which route to take up Mt. Everest. Pete Poston summarizes the routes that climbers have tried, including their success and fatality rates. Refer to the map to see where each route takes climbers. Click on the map to view statistics from 2004. Hike over to PBS to view a map of the South route. Explore the South route by clicking on stops along the way. Return to MtEverest.net for a complete understanding of the training and planning necessary to plan a safe climb. Read from ‘Becoming a climber’ to ‘New beginnings.’ Use the right arrows in the upper right corner to advance.