Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth. It peaks at 8,849 meters. That is more than twenty-nine thousand feet above sea level. It was discovered as part of a concerted British expedition that set out to find the world’s tallest mountains. This was called The Great Trigonometric Survey and it was piloted by Mr. George Everest. In 1841, George Everest recorded the mountain’s location. At this point, Mount Everest was simply called “Peak B.” When it was measured and found to be the highest mountain in the world, it was renamed Peak XV. It was only in 1865 that this mountain was renamed as Mount Everest for the man that found it. It is still known by different names. Sagarmatha is Everest’s name in Nepal and Chomolungma in Tibet.
Geological History and Relief
The Himalayan ranges, where Mount Everest is located, were thrust upward by tectonic action when two plates collided around 50 million years ago. It took a few million years for the Great Himalayas to start taking their present form. The mountain is actually constantly moving and we know from recent research that it rises a fraction of an inch and moves a few inches towards the northeast every year.
The multiple rock layers that Everest is composed of are folded back on themselves. These are called nappes. On the lower parts of Everest there are metamorphic schists and gneisses. These are topped with igneous granites. A little higher up the mountain there are sedimentary rocks that come from the ocean.
The shape of Mount Everest is that of a pyramid with three sides. The three flat planes are known as faces and the line which the faces are joined by is called a ridge. The East Face, known as Kangshung Face, rises above Tibet. The Southwest Face rises above Nepal. The ridges that connect these are incredibly varied and challenging for those attempting to make the climb to the summit.
The summit is covered with snow that is actually as hard as a rock. However, there is a softer layer of snow on top of it that fluctuates every year. In September, the snow levels are the highest, whereas in May it is usually the lowest. The amount of oxygen at the summit of Mount Everest is actually one-third of what it is at sea level. Since there is not much oxygen, very strong winds, and generally inclement weather, there is not really much plant or animal life on the mountain.
The Ascent of Mount Everest
The first successful climb to the peak of Mount Everest took place in 1953. The feat was accomplished by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. Norgay had repeatedly tried to climb Mount Everest around six times before without success. Climbing Everest is incredibly hard and presents several challenges that climbers must face when trying to reach the summit. These obstacles include a lack of oxygen and unwelcoming weather. Undertaking this expedition can be incredibly dangerous. Approximately 4,000 people try to climb Mount Everest each year but only a little over 600 people manage to make it to the top.
It is possible that British explorers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine may have been the very first to climb to the summit of Mount Everest in 1924. However, they never returned home and there is simply no way to verify whether this happened. It was not until 1949 when Nepal opened its borders that access to the Mount Everest’s South Peak was possible. In 1963, the first American climbers reached the summit. In 1975, Junko Tabei was the first woman that managed to climb the mountain. The first ascent by an American woman happened a little more than a decade later, with Stacey Allison from Portland managing to complete the climb.
Mount Everest and Its People
There is no human population on Mount Everest. It is so tall and the climate is so severe that it is not really considered to be a habitable environment. However, there are valleys below the mountains which are occupied. The people in the surrounding valleys speak Tibetan.
The Sherpas are people that live in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal. Traditionally, Sherpas were an agricultural people that were semi-nomadic due to the lack of usable land around Mount Everest. The villages in which the Sherpas live are frequently at an elevation of more than 14,000 feet. The Himalayas were also traditionally treated as sacred by the Sherpas. There were many monasteries which were placed at their base. They also put prayer flags on the slopes. However, Sherpas never climbed Mount Everest. It was a widely held belief that the top of the mountain was one inhabited by angels and demons, including the now very famous abominable snowman.
The British Expedition
The British expedition to Mount Everest completely changed the Sherpas way of life. In the early 20th century, mountaineering work became available to the people. Since the pay was good and it was right next to them, the Sherpas took to it quickly. They were already used to the inclement weather and the lack of oxygen that come along with trying to go to high altitudes. The name Sherpa, which was originally only one tribe, started to be applied to all the native people that took it upon themselves to go mountaineering. Despite the good pay and the relative level of respect that this profession came with, Sherpas were always subordinates in expeditions. For this reason their names are not listed with some of the biggest climbing expeditions.
Remembering The Climbers
The bodies of more than one hundred people that have attempted the expedition and perished remain in Mount Everest. The treacherous conditions make it extremely difficult for someone to go and retrieve them without putting their own life at risk.