Though Mount Everest isn’t the hardest mountain on the planet to climb by any means, it is the highest, and draws hundreds of climbers and thousands of tourists every year.
Most who visit are there just to see Base Camp in Nepal or the Rongpo monastery in Tibet, and take in the awesome sight of the highest mountain in the world.
Some are there to climb to the top, of which a number are virtually guaranteed never to return.
Let’s look at 10 interesting facts about this awesome mountain and hopefully get an insight as to why people are drawn to the high risk act of climbing to its summit.
Everest grows in height by 6.1cm per-year
If you climbed Everest every year for 10 years you would end up 61cm higher at the top on year 10 than you would on year 1.
Put in perspective, that means that in 2019, 66 years after the first confirmed ascent to the summit by Edmund Hillary, you will be 4.2 metres above the point he reached.
The reason it is getting higher is thanks to a phenomenon called ‘plate tectonics’ where the Indian subcontinent is moving into southwest Asia, forcing the edge of the plate upwards.
The edge is the Karakoram range in the Himalayas, and the Himalayas are the edge of the Indian subcontinent plate.
The mountain’s name is the name of a British Surveyor General
In 1865 the British government of what is now Nepal was mapping the Karakoram range and found what they believed to be the highest mountain in the world. It was named locally in Nepal as Sagarmatha and in Tibet, Chomolungma.
Race equality wasn’t a big thing in those days and a newspaper reported that it was named after their surveyor general as because ‘the mountain has no name intelligible to civilised men’!
‘Chomolungma’ means ‘goddess mother of the mountains’, a far more beautiful concept than the English name that merely suggests something is tall.
Sagarmatha meanwhile means, ‘forehead in the sky’. Sometimes the locals name things a bit better, don’t you think?!
Two countries ‘own’ Everest – Tibet and Nepal
The border between the two countries runs along the summit ridge.
This gives the climber the choice of flying into China and travelling up into the Himalayas or via Nepal.
The north ridge from Tibet is more challenging.
Human politics has got in the way of the fun at different times, with the first confirmed summiteer Edmund Hillary having to take the (admittedly easier) southeast ridge from Nepal thanks to the recent invasion of Tibet by China.
In 2008 the mountain was closed from the Tibetan side due to unrest in the country.
Was the first person to summit George Mallory or Edmund Hillary?
In 1953 New Zealander Edmund Hillary summited along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, and made it home for tea and medals. He might not have been the first to make it though.
British climber George Mallory went missing on the 8th of June 1924 when he and his colleague Andrew Irvine attempted to climb to the top.
Though the British government made the claim that he made it, there isn’t much evidence to show he did.
His ice axe and oxygen cylinder were found close to Camp One, although he was spotted far higher than that.
His body was found almost intact, frozen and mummified, on the mountain 75 years later.
The record for the number of summits is 23
This is held by 49 year old Sherpa Kami Rita who has taken the record from Sherpas Apa and Phurba Tashi who managed 21 each.
Apa made it there first, in 2011. Kami has not indicated whether he plans to retire so in 2020 this could be broken again by the same man!
Among British climbers, Kenton Cool has managed 14 times, with the only other non Sherpa, American Dave Hahn managing any more than Cool with 15 summits.
Just under 1% of climbers on Everest have died between 2010 and 2019
This is a serious improvement on the 1980s where the figure was close to 2.2%.
Since 2010, 83 have died on the mountain above Base Camp, or roughly seven a year. Around 280 people have died on the mountain since people started climbing it, 11 who died in 2019.
Deaths are mostly from avalanches (41%) thanks to earthquakes from the mountain growing and due to the weather conditions.
Exhaustion (12.5%) and acute mountain sickness (16.6%) due to altitude and lack of oxygen together account for roughly a third of deaths on Everest.
Experienced guides say that those who do die are those with the least experience of mountaineering. It is not a case of having a ‘poor guide’.
Those with lots of mountaineering experience and climbing at altitude have a far better chance of making it down than those who try to wing it and hope for the best.
In 2019, 381 people summited Everest
Despite its extreme height and the risks involved in getting to the top, the only qualification to climb from the Nepalese side is a $11,000 fee and a doctor’s note saying you are fit.
This has caused some controversy as many people are left to themselves if they get into trouble, despite often large queues to get to the top of the mountain on a clear day. Many come back with stories of watching people left to die up there.
Though many people say that the mountain itself is ‘crowded’, some 35,000 people visit Nepal’s Everest Base Camp every year just to take in the view. Including three days of altitude acclimatisation, it usually takes around a week to walk from the airport at Lukla.
In 2019 the Tibet Base Camp was closed to tourists by the Chinese government, even though 40,000 people used to take in the view from this side.
Chinese national media reported that this closure would be ‘indefinite’ and was in place “mainly for ecological conservation” according to the local tourism bureau.
Climbers were still allowed to make summit attempts.
It takes an average of two months to make a summit attempt
The British Mountaineering Council say that for the May ascent you should arrive at Base Camp (5,300 metres) in March and start acclimatising.
You then need to move up the mountain in phases, carrying your gear in loads up to Camps 2, 3 and 4.
You will find that Sherpas prefer to stay at Camp 4 (in the Death Zone) than at Camp 3 on the south side as there is a high risk of avalanches at Camp 3.
After summiting and descending over a couple of days to Base Camp you then need to factor in the four to seven day trek back to the airport and then flying to Kathmandu and on to your home.
A guided climb to the summit can cost up to £30,000. Including preparation for the climb, travel and loss of earnings as you prepare for your dream, this can cost north of £100,000 – and you can’t guarantee you will make it to the top or even survive at that price.
As indicated above, China has rationalised the rules around climbing, and will take fees in the same way as the Nepalese government does for things like environmental protection and safety.
Experience the ‘world’s most dangerous airport’
Lukla Airport, the main airport for accessing Everest in Nepal, has been branded the ‘world’s most dangerous airport’.
That only two fatal crashes have happened between 2008 and 2019 is testament to the high skill of the pilots flying the planes.
At 9,500ft above sea level, it is also one of the highest! At one end of the 1729ft long runway is a 2,000ft cliff, while at the other there is a brick wall.
This means that pilots have to be extremely precise in landing the plane as it could end in disaster. Taking off is no less heart stopping as they have to hit take-off speed before the cliff!
There is some help for the pilots – the runway is on a slope dropping 200ft or so so when landing the aircraft are going uphill and can slow down more quickly, while taking off gravity ‘gives them a push’ as they charge down the hill and off the cliff.
So there we have it. The highest mountain in the world is still growing and everyone who climbs it can legitimately call themselves the highest person ever.
Everest is a very dangerous mountain to climb for the unwary or under-prepared, but this doesn’t deter hundreds of people a year from attempting to climb to the top of the world.
There are more challenging climbs and while for the serious top mountaineer it is a box to be ticked on their list, in mountaineering circles you will be more revered if you were to summit the second highest mountain in the world – the simply named K2.
Richard is a keen day-distance walker and lives close to the South Dorset Ridgeway and South West Coast Path.
Bucket list walks include: