Gurinder Osan/AP

Climbing Mount Everest Today

May 29, 2009
by Lindsey Chapman
More than 50 years ago Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal made the historic first ascent of Mount Everest. Take a look at the modern history of Mount Everest, and the mountain today, on the anniversary of their landmark climb.


Since 1953, climbing Mount Everest has become a popular, challenging and sometimes deadly experience for mountaineers around the world. For many climbers, the danger and difficulty of the task are no deterrent from the desire to reach the summit. In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were hardly alone in their endeavor to summit the mountain. They were the spearhead of a British expedition led by Col. John Hunt that included a dozen climbers, 35 Nepalese Sherpas and more than 350 porters carrying some 18 tons of food and supplies.

Adverse weather hampered the efforts of an earlier team, and Norgay and Hillary were dispatched to try later. Hillary actually fell as the two neared the summit, and slid 30 feet before arresting himself. When he looked down, he peered 10,000 feet into the void below.

After the two arrived at the top they planted the flags of the United Nations, the United Kingdom and Nepal, and left Norgay’s gift to the gods of the mountain and a crucifix for Col. Hunt.

The Draw of the Mountain

For some, Mount Everest today is no less a test than it was for earlier climbers. A Montana mountaineer recently had to turn back after climbing approximately 27,500 feet of the 29,035-foot mountain. The Billings Gazette reported that Jason Maehl, who spent years saving and training for the effort, developed high-altitude pulmonary edema on the mountain, a potentially fatal condition marked by the accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

Difficulties forced Maehl to descend Everest alone. Although he was disappointed that he hadn’t been successful in reaching the summit—a feat only 20 percent of climbers achieve—he saw the bodies of deceased climbers along the route during his retreat, reminding him “that no mountain was worth dying over.”

And Yet, Climbing Continues

People continue to climb the mountain in ever-increasing numbers. This year has proven to be especially favorable for summiting Mount Everest, thanks to a warm patch of weather in May, The Sydney Morning Herald explained.

So far in 2009, at least 200 climbers are believed to have reached the top of the mountain, and stated that it “seems the entire world stood on top of itself” recently.

Among that number are a team of five sherpas who set out to fix lines and then climbed to the top. A Korean climber recently tackled the southwest face of Everest, and Canadian, British, Croatian, Indian and Russian climbers have also successfully reached the summit. Three women from Singapore and two U.S. teenagers also count themselves among those ranks.

Though success on Everest is often accompanied by failure; Czech and Chinese climbers have already died this season during attempts on the mountain.

Climbing for a Cause

With 19 ascents of Mount Everest, Appa Sherpa has broken his own record among mountaineers who have reached the top.

He plans to continue climbing the mountain to draw attention to a cause he feels is important: climate change. Ice walls and glaciers on Mount Everest are melting, Appa Sherpa explained to, and put Nepalese and Tibetan villages in danger of being flooded.

Appa has promised to continue climbing Mount Everest “till the message of climate change get spread worldwide.”

A “Lost Spirit of Adventure?”

Should such extreme use of Everest be permitted? In 2003, Jamling Tenzing, the son of Tenzing Norgay, told The Guardian that the “spirit of adventure” surrounding Mount Everest had been lost to rich or inexperienced tourists hoping to scale the mountain.

Peter Habeler, an Austrian climber who made it to the top of Everest without bottled oxygen in 1978, stated, “It’s peanuts, climbing surrounded by Sherpas and using oxygen. You cheat the mountain. People are now racing to be the fattest, the thinnest, the youngest, the oldest up Everest. This has nothing to do with alpinism any more.”

Depends on Your Point of View

Mount Everest is famous for being the highest spot in the world at 29,035 feet above sea level, but there is another mountain you should at least be willing to consider, according to NPR.

Depending on how you view the idea of “highest point in the world,” Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo could be pretty good competition. NPR explains that Earth has a slight bulge at the equator, which means “anyone standing in that part of the world is already standing ‘higher,’ or closer to outer space, than people who aren’t on the bulge.” Mount Chimborazo, standing 20,702 feet above sea level, is actually closer to the sun than Mount Everest is.

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