Climbing Mount Everest

In 1852, the Great Trigonometric Survey of India definitively identified Mount Everest, which until then had been an obscure Himalayan peak, as the world's highest mountain. Soon, reaching the summit of the "roof of the world" came to be viewed as the penultimate geographic feat. Attempts to climb Everest, however, did not begin until 1921, when the forbidden kingdom of Tibet first opened its borders to outsiders. On June 8, 1924, two members of a British expedition, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, attempted the summit and disappeared in the clouds perpetually swirling around Everest. Mallory's body was not found until 75 years later, in May 1999. Over a period of 30 years, ten more expeditions failed to conquer Everest, and 13 climbers lost their lives.

On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, an acclaimed Sherpa climber, became the first to reach the roof of the world, climbing from the Nepalese side. Hillary became a hero of the British Empire (the news reached London just in time for the coronation of Elizabeth II), and Tenzing was touted as a symbol of national pride by three separate nations: Nepal, Tibet, and India.

The dangers of climbing Everest include avalanches, crevasses, winds up to 125 mph, sudden storms, temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and oxygen deprivation. Above 25,000 feet, the air in the "Death Zone" holds only a third as much oxygen as at sea level. Even when breathing bottled oxygen, climbers experience extreme fatigue, impaired judgment and coordination, headaches, nausea, double vision, and sometimes hallucinations. Expeditions spend months acclimatizing and usually attempt Everest only in May and October, avoiding the winter snows and the summer monsoons.

After Hillary and Tenzing's ascent of Everest, other records were broken, including the first ascent by a woman, the first solo ascent, the first to traverse up one route and down another, and the first descent on skis. On May 8, 1978, two Tyrolean mountaineers, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, became the first to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen. On August 20, 1980, Messner again ascended Everest without oxygen, this time solo. By 1996 more than 60 men and women had reached the top without oxygen.

Between 1921 and 2004, Everest was climbed by more than 2,200 people from 20 countries. More than 185 lost their lives, making the odds of dying during the ascent about one in eight. In May 1996, eight climbers lost their lives in a storm on the mountain; just weeks later, there were four more deaths. The dead are left where they expire because the effects of altitude make it nearly impossible to drag bodies off the mountain.

From the beginning of the twenty-first century Everest received unprecedented media attention. Live internet reports have been sent from the mountain, using solar energy; an Imax film crew has documented a climb; and Jon Krakauer's bestselling account about an Everest ascent gone wrong, Into Thin Air, introduced cwm, col, sirdar, short-rope, and Hillary Step into the vocabulary of mainstream America.4

Notable Himalayan mountaineers

  • 1924 - George Herbert Leigh Mallory (1886-1924) - English mountaineer. He took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s. On the third expedition, Mallory disappeared on the North-East ridge during the final stage of their attempt to make the first ascent of the world's highest mountain.
  • 1924 - Andrew “Sandy” Irvine (1902-1924) - English mountaineer. He took part in the third British Expedition to Mount Everest, where he disappeared on the North-East ridge along with climbing partner George Mallory.
  • 1931, 1934, 1951 - Eric Shipton (1907-1977) - English mountaineer. In 1931, with Frank Smythe, Shipton was among the first climbers to stand on the summit of Kamet, 25,643 feet (7816 m), the highest peak climbed at that time. With Bill Tillman, Shipton was the first to penetrate Nanda Devi sanctuary. In 1951, he was a part of the expedition which discovered the route to Everest over Khumbu Glacier.
  • 1934, 1936 - Harold William (Bill) Tilman (1898-1977) - English mountaineer and explorer. In 1934, he was the first person to penetrate the Nanda Devi sanctuary. In 1936, he made the first ascent of Nanda Devi with Noel Odell.
  • 1936 - Noel Ewart Odell (1890-1987) - English geologist and mountaineer. He made the first ascent of Nanda Devi, which remained the highest summited peak until 1950.
  • 1950 - Maurice Herzog (born 1919) - French mountaineer. Along with Louis Lachenal, he became the first person to summit an Eight-thousander, Annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world. The ascent was reconnoitered and climbed all within one season and without the use of supplemental oxygen. This peak was not climbed again until 1970.
  • 1950 - Louis Lachenal (1921-1955) - French mountaineer. On June 3, 1950, along with Maurice Herzog, he reached the summit of Annapurna in Nepal at a height of 26,545 feet (8,091 m).
  • 1953 - Brigadier Henry Cecil John (Baron) Hunt (1910-1998) - British military officer. He was the leader of the 1953 expedition of Mount Everest.
  • 1953 - Sir Edmund Hillary (born 1919) - New Zealand mountaineer and explorer. On May 29, 1953, he and Tenzing Norgay (1914-1986) became the first climbers known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest.
  • 1951, 1952, 1953 - Tom Bourdillon (1924-1956) - British mountaineer. He was a member of the British Everest expeditions on 1951, 1952, and 1953, reaching 300 feet from the summit of Mount Everest three days before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay finally conquered it.
  • 1953, 1957 - Hermann Buhl (1924-1957) - Austrian mountaineer. In 1953, Buhl made the first ascent of Nanga Parbat, 26,658 feet (8125 m) (feat accomplished solo and without oxygen). In 1957, he made the first ascent of Broad Peak, 26,400 feet (8047 m). Buhl is the only mountaineer to have made the first ascent of an eight-thousander solo. Just a few weeks after the first ascent of Broad Peak, Buhl and Kurt Diemberger made an attempt on nearby, unclimbed Chogolisa peak in alpine style. Buhl died when he fell through a cornice on the southeast ridge near the summit of Chogolisa. His body has never been found.
  • 1963 - Willi Unsoeld (1926-1979) - United States mountaineer. Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein were members of the first American expedition to summit Mount Everest on May 22, 1963. This climb was the first ascent of Everest from the west ridge. He had climbed Mt. Rainer over 200 times and died during an avalanche on Mount Rainier in 1979.
  • 1970 - Sir Christian (Chris) John Storey Bonington (born 1934) - English mountaineer. He made the first ascent of Annapurna on the South Face. He was also a part of four ascents on Mount Everest (1972, 1975, 1982, 1985).
  • 1963, 1965 - Nawang Gombu (born 1936) - Indian mountaineer. Nephew of Tenzing Norgay, Gombu was the first person to climb Everest twice, in 1963 and 1965.
  • 1963 - Jim Whittaker (born 1929) - United States mountaineer. He is the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 1, 1963.
  • 1980 - Reinhold Messner (born 1944) - Italian mountaineer and explorer. In 1980, Messner became the first person to ascend Mount Everest alone and without supplementary oxygen. He is also known for the being the first climber to ascend all fourteen eight-thousanders.
  • 1982 - Nazir Sabir (born 1955) - Pakistani mountaineer. He is the only Pakistani to have climbed Mount Everest and four of the five 8,000 meter peaks in Pakistan. He is the first person to ascent two eight thousanders (Broad Peak & Gasherbrum II) in a single attempt (1982).
  • 1987 - Jerzy Kukuczka (1948-1989) - Polish mountaineer. On September 18, 1987, he became the second man to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders. He climbed them faster than anybody else, establishing ten new routes.

Religious Significance

The Vaishno Devi shrine near Jammu, India

Several places in the Himalaya are of religious significance in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the Himalayas have also been personified as the god Himavat, the father of Shiva's consort, Parvati.

  • A number of Tibetan Buddhist sites are situated in the Himalaya, including the residence of the Dalai Lama.
  • Amarnath - has a natural Shiva linga of ice which forms for a few weeks each year. Thousands of people visit this cave during these few weeks.
  • Badrinath - a temple dedicated to Vishnu.
  • Deoprayag - where the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi merge to form the river Ganga.
  • Gaumukh - the source of the Bhagirathi (and hence, by extension, the Ganga), located a few miles above the town of Gangotri.
  • Haridwar - the place where the river Ganga enters the plains.
  • Sri Hemkund Sahib - Sikh Gurudwara where Guru Gobind Singh supposedly meditated and achieved enlightenment in a previous incarnation.
  • Kedarnath - where one of the 12 shrines Jyotirlingas dedicated to Lord Shiva is located.
  • Mount Kailash - a 21,778 feet (6,638 m) high peak which is considered to be the abode of the Hindu god Shiva and is also venerated by Buddhists. Lake Manasarowar lies at the base of Mount Kailash, and is the source of the Brahmaputra.
  • Rishikesh- has a temple of Lakshmana.
  • Shambhala - a mystical city in Buddhism with various legends associated with it. While some legends consider it to be a real city where secret Buddhist doctrines are being preserved, other legends believe that the city does not physically exist and can only be reached in the mental realm.
  • Vaishno Devi - is a popular shrine among Durga devotees.
  • The Yeti is one of the most famous creatures in cryptozoology. It is a large primate-like creature that is supposed to live in the Himalaya. Most scientists and experts consider current evidence of the Yeti's existence unpersuasive, and the result of hoaxes, legend or misidentification of mundane creatures.

The Himalayas in Fiction

  • Shangri-La is a fictional utopia situated somewhere in the Himalayas, based on the legendary Shambhala. It is described in the novel Lost Horizon, written by the British writer James Hilton in 1933.
  • Tintin in Tibet is one of the series of classic comic-strip albums, written and illustrated by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé, featuring the young reporter Tintin investigating a plane crash in the Gosain Than massif in the Himalayas. (1960)
  • The Hollywood adventure movie Vertical Limit (2000), is set in the K2 peak of the Himalayas, in Pakistan.
  • Several levels of Tomb Raider 2 and one level in Tomb Raider: Legend of the Tomb Raider series are situated in the Himalayas.
  • The Inheritance of Loss written by Kiran Desai is partly set in the Himalaya Mountains. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006.
  • Rumer Godden's novel "Black Narcissus" (1939) is about an order of nuns who set up a convent in the Himalayas. The film, released in 1947 by Powell and Pressburger and starring Deborah Kerr, was not actually shot in the Himalayas; photography relied primarily on matte paintings to evoke the mountains.


  1. ↑ Definition of Himalayas in English. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  2. ↑ J. Gaillardet, Lemarchand Métivier, Allégre Dupré, and Zhao Li. "Geochemistry of the Suspended Sediments of Circum-Himalayan Rivers and Weathering Budgets over the Last 50 Myrs." Geophysical Research Abstracts 5:13617 (2003) Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  3. ↑ Carl Drews, The Highest Lake in the World September 22, 2015. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  4. ↑ Borgna Brunner, Everest Almanac: A History of Climbing Mount Everest Fact Monster, February 21, 2017. Retrieved November 8, 2019.


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