Mount Everest up close

Mount Everest up close

 

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world at 8 844 meters (29 016 ft) above sea level. Always snow-capped above 6 000 meters it is the holy grail of mountaineers and sacred among the Tibetans and Nepalese.  The second highest mountain is K2 in Pakistan at a height of 8 611 meters.  The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is 5 895 m. Increasing numbers of mountaineers make expeditions to conquer the world’s highest peak, while many tourists go to the foot of the peak to admire its beauty and magnificence.

Mount Everest is located in the Himalayas on the border between Nepal (south side) and Tibet, China (north side). Base camp in Nepal is situated at 5 364 m and is easier and more popular to climb.  Base camp in Tibet is situated at 5 150 m

Around Mount Everest, there are three peaks above 8 000 meters (26 000 feet): Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu; and 14 peaks above 7 000 meters; which form the amazing vista of Mount Everest Natural Scenery Area.

The lowest temperature on the peak is 30–40 °C below zero, but wind chill can make it feel much colder. Oxygen on the peak is only 25 % that of sea level. Strong winds blow the snow into drifts making the mountain still more deadly.  The area over 7 500 meters is coldest in February, averaging -27 °C (-17 °F), and warmest in August, averaging -20 °C (-4 °F).

Everest’s Names

  • Originally Peak XV:In 1865 Peak XV was renamed in honor of the Surveyor General of India, George Everest.
  • Nepalese name:Sagarmatha ‘Forehead (or Goddess) of the Sky’
  • Tibetan name:Chomolungma ‘Mother Goddess of the Universe’
  • Chinese name:珠穆朗玛峰ZhūmùlǎngmǎFēng /joo-moo-lung-maa fong/

Mountain Facts

  • Not famous until 1856:No one knew that Everest was the highest mountain in the world until 1856, when the Great Trigonometric Survey of India established its height.
  • Technically NOT the tallest. Although Mount Everest is the highest mountain above sea level, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain base-to-peak: 10 210m (33 500 ft), of which 4 205 m (13 796 ft) above sea level.
  • A young mountain — geologically speaking: Mt Everest is only about 60 million years old.
  • It rises 40 cm per century. The Himalayas are being formed by uplift of the Eurasian Plate by the Indian Plate sliding underneath. Everest grows about 4 mm a year.

Harsh Climate

  • The lowest temperatureon the peak is -40°C (-40°F); with wind chill -60°C (-76°F)!
  • Coldest month: February— average -27°C (-17°F) over 7 500m
  • Warmest month: August— average -20°C (-4°F) over 7 500m
  • Snow line:From 5 300 m (17,400 ft) there’s snow and ice all year.
  • The death zonein mountaineering is above 8 000 m (26 000 ft), where oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life (25 % that of sea level). 844 m of Everest lies in the death zone.

Notable Summit Attempts

First attempt by a British team: 1921.  George Mallory, 38, and Andrew Irvine, 22, disappeared on their way to the summit in 1924. Irvine’s ice axe was found in 1933 at 8 461 m (27 760 ft). Mallory’s body was found in 1999 at 8 157 m (26 760 ft). Whether they reached the summit remains a mystery.

Deaths on Summit Attempts

  • Death rate: about 1/15for summit attempts (over 200 deaths; exact number unknown)
  • Most dangerous area on Everest:the Khumbu Ice Fall on the Nepal side — 19+ deaths
  • Biggest causes of death:avalanches, followed by falls
  • First recordeddeaths: 1922 —seven Sherpa porters killed by an avalanche on a British expedition.Summit Records
  • – First confirmed ascent: 1953— Edmund Hillary, NZ, and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, Nepal (Norgay had tried to summit six times previously.)
  • First American to summit:James Whittaker in 1963
  • First female ascent: 1975— Junko Tabei (Japan)
  • First summit without bottled oxygen: 1978— Reinhold Messner (Italy) and Peter Habeler (Austria), in May, 1978. Messner summited solowithout bottled oxygen in 1980.
  • First winter ascent: February 1980— Leszka Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)
  • First trek from sea level to summit: 1990— Tim Macartney-Snape (Australia) without bottled oxygen
  • First blind summiteer:Erik Weihenmayer (US) in 2001
  • First couple married at the summit:Pem Dorjee Sherpa and Moni Mulepati on May 30, 2005.
  • First to summit after breaking three vertebrae:Bear Grylls, most famous celebrity summiteer, and youngest Brit to summit in 1998 aged 23, also flew above the peak in a powered paraglider in 2007.
  • First Olympic torch:May 8, 2008, before the 2008 Beijing Olympics; lit by a group of Chinese mountaineers
  • – First tweet:sent by Kenton Cool in 2011 — “Everest summit no 9! 1st tweet from the top of the world thanks to a weak 3G signal”
  • Oldest male summit climber:80-year-old Yuichiro Miura    from Japan in 2013 (also at 70 and 75)
  • Oldest female summit climber:Tamae Watanabe, 73, from Japan in 2012.
  • Youngest summit climbers:Jordan Romero (US, male, 13 in 2010) and Malavath Purna (India, female, 13 in 2014; one month younger than Romero)
  • Most summit ascents: 21each by Sherpas: Apa Sherpa (including 3 times in 2007) and Phurba Tashi (almost every year between 1990 and 2011).
  • Five ascents since 1990: Sir Edmund Hillary’s son, Peter
  • Largest group to climb Everest:a 410-member Chinese team in 1975.
  • Fastest descent: 11 minutes— Jean-Marc Boivin (France) on a paraglider in 1988.
  • First ski descent: 2000— Davo Karnicar (Slovenia)

NEPAL

The Nepal side is the south side of Mount Everest and the most popular side for summit ascents.  It is in Sagarmatha National Park, containing one of the most popular trekking routes in the Himalayas — the Everest Base Camp Trail. Trekkers usually fly to Kathmandu and then fly to Lukla at 2 840 m (9 300 ft) and start the 7-day trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC).

Because of the lower altitude and southwest monsoon, the scenery along the way is more colorfulthan on the China side. You can see temperate hillside forests, ravines, the red earth of terraced farms, and small villages surrounded by huge mountains.  When you reach 3 800m (12 500ft) at Khumjung, you can see different highland scenery of bare rock and earth above the snow line surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The sunsetis the biggest highlight from the Nepal side. The sun reflects off the summit in a stunning picture of gold and pink light on white snow.

Nepal’s Everest Base Camp is at an altitude of 5 320m (17 500ft). Many climbers and travelers camp there, and the colorful small tents and yellow-roofed huts make a special picture in the otherwise gray/white landscape of the Khumbu Icefall.  The Khumbu Icefall is unstable and treacherous on the way up to Base Camp I. Helicopter rescue/transfer is available. Inexperienced mountaineers are not advised to go this far.

TIBET

The China side is the north side of Mount Everest and is a kilometer-wide U-shaped valley area. It is slightly lower in altitude than the Nepal side at 5 200m (17 060ft).

The road condition is fairly good from Lhasa to Tingri. But when you drive off the national road, it’s all dirt and gravel roads.  All routes to Everest from Lhasa will travel via the China/Nepal Friendship Highway.

When you arrive at Base Camp, one of the first spots you are likely to see beyond the massive Mount Everest just a few kilometers down the valley is Rongbuk Monastery and its guest house which is one of the only structures that support tourists and climbers in the region. It is located at the foot of Mount Everest, and lays claim to being the highest Buddhist shrine on the planet. Perched at an altitude of 5 100m (16 732ft) above sea level, Rongbuk Monastery is not only a spiritual destination, but also offers some of the most magnificent and breathtaking views.  Climbers on expeditions attempting Mount Everest via its north face must hike past this monastery to reach the summit; it is therefore aptly regarded as the gateway to Mount Everest.

A Nyingmapa Lama founded Rongbuk Monastery in 1899. The monastery encompasses a large round chorten, and a reliquary. Statues of Buddhist deities, Sakyamuni and Padmasambhava, are enshrined in the main hall. The mural paintingsfound inside depict Tibetan religion and culture and are especially worth appreciating. The monastery serves as a cohesive dwelling for lamas and nunswho have separate residences. About 500 monks and nuns are believed to have lived there at one time; however a small fraction lives in the monastery now.

Due to its unique location, the Rongbuk Monastery offers the most spectacular views of Mount Everest and its surrounding peaks of Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, and Gyachung Kang. This panorama is particularly glorious at sunrise and sunset.

Food choices are thin at Everest Base Camp. The monastery has a small restaurant, but calling it a restaurant is very generous. They have instant soup, pancakes and other snacks. I would suggest you bring some food with you that can easily be bought in Shegar/Old Tingri, which is the last town from before Base Camp, about 100 km away.

It’s often uncomfortable and difficult to sleep at night at such a high altitude. If you can’t sleep because of headaches, shortness of breath, etc., you can enjoy a spectacular starry skyon a clear night, unblemished by light pollution, and with fewer atmospheres in the way.

Watching the sunrise/sunsetthe China side of Mt. Everest is a special experience. As Everest is south of the base camp, and because sunrise is delayed due to the height of surrounding mountains, the sun rises more in the southeast, and Everest is caught in a golden glow on a clear morning.

8 km south from Rongbuk Monastery is Base Camp. Here you will find the only signs marking the Base Camp.  Only climbers with permits are allowed beyond Rongbuk Monastery.

To preserve the environment around Mt. Everest, and because of the harsh conditions, there are no hotels after Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse.  Toilets are located outside in small tents or huts, either chemical or squat pits. Hot wateris sometimes available, but there are no showers.  Lights go out at midnight when the generator is switched off. There is low voltage at EBC, so you are advised to charge your phone, camera, and flashlight in Shigatse before going to EBC.

Apart from the tents of mountaineers doing their acclimatization, there are huts and a post office where people can mail postcards to themselves or others as a precious souvenir.  Everest is 20 km south up a gravel plain in a glacial valley. The valley floor is generally featureless and gray, apart from boulders and small ponds, but it’s the imposing snow-capped mountains around it that visitors come to see.

ALTITUDE SICKNESS

Nearly all tourists entering Tibet experience altitude sickness.  Adverse reaction to altitude is usually reduced if one acclimatizes by reaching high altitude over a period of at least a few days (3 days is usually enough).  Most of western Tibetis at least 1 000 m higher than Lhasa, and is best only approached after several days acclimatizing at a lower altitude.

For some the effect is strong, but for most it is just an inconvenience.  The reaction varies form person to person, and experts cannot predict who will be affected.  Statistically old people are more likely to feel stronger altitude sickness than the young, the unfit/unhealthy are more likely than the fit/healthy, and males are affected more strongly than females.  On arrival at high altitude, it is possible that no immediate effects of altitude will be felt. Nevertheless, it may be of great importance not to exceed the lowest level of physical exertion on the first day, and only increase exertion very gradually over the following days.

The effects increase with altitude. You may not feel uncomfortable even several hours after you arrive at a high-altitude place. However most people who feel altitude sickness feel it the first night, and the discomfort may continue for about three days. You may feel the strongest altitude sickness the second day after your arrival.

Most of Tibet is high enough to produce some adverse reaction in most people. For the majority of people, the reaction will be a matter of discomfort, breathlessness, poor sleeping patterns or limited capacity for physical exertion. Poor sleep is most common. Most travelers to Tibet complain they can hardly fall asleep, or fall asleep but wake up frequently on the first two nights.

1 % of people can have a much more serious reaction to the altitude. This can be potentially life-threatening and may only be relieved by moving to a lower altitude. Travelers should be aware of the symptoms so that they can recognize them. A severe, persistent headache, nausea, and loss of coordination or disorientation, are signs of a serious reaction (Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS for short). This potentially fatal condition requires that you descend immediately (sometimes 300 m lower is enough).