Soaking up the majesty of Mt. Everest is an awesome feeling. Its breadth and width brings home the insignificance of humanity. Yet at the same time its height invites illusions of grandeur—that humanity can reach out, be among the clouds, and maybe touch the infinity of the universe. Maybe that paradox is what has kept generations of men and women enthralled by it. Or maybe, the centuries-old fascination with it is due to the challenge that its immensity always seem to people. Whatever its allure is, Mt. Everest is one mountain that will never be taken for granted.
While known throughout most of the world as Mt. Everest, this mountain goes by a number of names. The Nepalese call it Sagarmatha. The Chinese refer to it as Zhumulangma Feng. The Tibetans know of it as Chomolungma. Quite descriptive, these names all allude to the height of the mountain and the immense awe that locals hold for it. The Nepalese name means the very noteworthy “goddess of the sky”; the Tibetan name means the even more grandiose “mother goddess of the universe.”
In comparison, the mountain’s most famous name is quite average—nothing that points directly to its status as the world’s highest peak. On a positive note, that same name is one that is most easily recalled and pronounced by most people. In truth, Everest is a foreign—and decidedly recent—appellation, given by British explorers from Sir George Everest in 1865. At the time, the man was the British surveyor-general in nearby India and the Europeans know the mountain simply as Peak 15. The surveyor-general strongly opposed the use of “Everest” as the name for the mountain, because it is alien to the Indians, one that they cannot pronounce nor write in the local Hindi alphabet. His opposition fell on deaf ears, however, and the mountain was given his name.
Naming controversies aside and however it is called, though, this mountain holds the distinction of being the tallest peak in the world, at a height of 8,848 meters above sea level. Currently, there is some confusion to its height. A new height measurement, by the National Geographic Society, determined that the height is actually about two meters higher than the officially recognized figure.
It is located within the Himalayas mountain range, in an area known as the Mahalangur. It straddles the border between China, Tibet, and Nepal, north of the Indian subcontinent (Latitude 27° 59′ N, Longitude 86° 56′ E). Because of both its height and its geographical location far above the equator, the temperature in the Himalayas are unforgivingly cold. All year round, Mt. Everest and the other mountains that make up the Himalayan mountain range are covered in solid glaciers of ice and fresh snow. The thickness of this white blanket of ice is yet unknown, although there are plans to measure it by radar—a move that can possibly reveal the height of the “real mountain” buried underneath all those centuries-old ice.
The giant mountain that is Mt. Everest is believed to have started formation about 60 million years ago. It took the mountain millions of years to become the marvel that it is today, through complicated, slow, and sometimes violent, geological processes.
Geologists believe that Mt. Everest was once part of the seafloor of a shallow body of water in Asia, near the Indian subcontinent. Over time, rivers washed down soil and rocks from the nearby mountains on the Indian subcontinent and Asia, forming layers or sediment that solidified into rock. About 40 million years ago, the sea floor began to be pushed upward through a process known as “uplifting.” This process came about due to the constant movement of the two tectonic plates upon which Mt. Everest and the Himalayas that we see today stand.
Experts believe that the initial mountain ridges were formed when the plate tectonic bearing the Indian subcontinent crashed into Asia’s southwestern land mass. Subsequently, the tectonic plates continued moving northward, which caused the earth’s crust to be pushed upward until it formed the mountain ridges that are seen today.
The same process continues in the present, although they are usually happening too slowly and subtly to be felt, except of course when strong, sudden movements happen along the two plates and cause earthquakes. Geologists know that this is true because they constantly measure the height of the Himalayan range and found that Mt. Everest and the rest of the Himalayas are still increasing in height at a rate of just a little less than two inches every year.
Due to its enormous height, Mt. Everest has always posed some sort of challenge to people who know of it—perhaps it is a human thing to want to master and control the environment, especially the big, seemingly untamable ones such as this mountain.
One of the earliest and most widely known suggestions of a possibility of a successful conquest of the summit of Mt. Everest was in the late 19th century, when Clinton Thomas Dent of the Alpine Club in England claimed the same. Of course, it is also a distinct possibility that locals who lived around the foot of the mountain have already speculated about that. And who knows, one or many of them may even have achieved it, though their achievement may never be recognized for lack of documentation.
In any case, after Dent made his beliefs known to a larger population, reaching the peak of Mt. Everest became a very attractive prospect to adventurers and explorers not just from England but from other countries from all over the world as well. The heightened interest in the mountain launched many expeditions, many of which ended in failures, injuring and even claiming the lives of so many people.
What those expeditions did, though, was to help discover the secrets that could help other expeditions to reach Mt. Everest’s peak in the future. The early expeditions helped plot the two most popular routes to the mountain’s summit and the threats that await the unwary mountain climber. The expeditions also helped other adventurers develop equipment and gear that will help people make the trek to the top of the mountain safer.
The resulting literature of knowledge about the trip to Mt. Everest’s peak all led to the first recorded successful conquest of the summit on the 29th of May 1953, made by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Nepali sherpa, Tenzing Norgay through the southeastern route. Since then, thousands of successful attempts to reach Mt. Everest’s apex had been made, some of them solo trips by both men and women, some without oxygen masks. There are attempts made by blind people, teenagers, and sexagenarians. Some climbers had even made multiple trips to the top. In 2010, more than 5,100 ascents of about 3,000 individuals had been completed.
Today, there are two very famous routes to the top of Mt. Everest. There is the northern ridge on the mountain’s Tibet side. Another one is known as the southeastern ridge, which is on the Nepal side. The latter is more popular than the other one because it is easier to navigate technically. Nepalese government policies are also very welcoming of tourists and expeditions. The Tibet route is harder to manage, according to experienced climbers. Aside from being more technically tricky, the Tibet route is also harder to access because of volatile political conditions in China-run Tibet. Each route is intricately connected to two different sets of base camps.
In this piece, the focus is on the Nepalese southeastern route, which is more easily accessible to a lot more people. The climb to Mt. Everest’s peak is never a straight trip to the top. Mountain climbers usually do a few rounds of climbing a little up, then going back down, then going back up again before making the final assault in order to let their bodies acclimatize, or adjust, to the severe cold and altitude of the mountain. This is a crucial step to ensure that their bodies can withstand the foreign conditions on the way to the top as well as to hedge their chances of coming back healthy after the climb.
Every trip begins at the foot of the mountain, then goes through four camps on different altitudes. Usually, an expedition takes about 30 days. The climbers will usually climb high for a whole day, then go back down a little to sleep. They will repeat this process over and over again through Base Camp (at an altitude of about 5,400 meters), Camp One (6,100 meters), Camp Two (6,500 meters), Camp Three (7,400 meters), and Camp Four (8,000 meters) before reaching the Summit.
Truly, humanity has come far in challenging the might of the mountain, withstanding the wrath of the elements on world’s highest peak, and conquering Mt. Everest’s crest. But every successful climb all comes with a price to a tune of tens of thousands of dollars and a lengthy physical and mental training, not to mention the deep emotional investment.
Expeditions up Mt. Everest are major sources of income for Nepal. The permits alone, without which no one can be allowed to trek up the mountain, costs about US$25,000 per person. Roundtrip airfare from the United States, consular fees and tourist visa fees from will cost about US$8,000 to US$10,000. A few more thousands will go into paying for travel guides and local porters. Surprisingly, expensive expeditions organized by commercial climbing companies are not very popular. These commercial guides can go as high as US$80,000. However, more climbers prefer to go with trips that are funded by the government or by scientific organizations, which are a lot less costly. Lead guides for an expedition can also command upwards of US$25,000, depending on the popularity of the guide. Fees for optional members of a team of guides, such as assistant guides, doctors, liaison officer, cooks, and climbing sherpas, can go from US$3,000 to US$10,000 per person.
Additional means of communications are also another added cost, with satellite phone permits priced at about US$2,300. Gears such as the oxygen tanks cost about US$30,000. Transportation include helicopters (about US$17,000) and yaks (about US$8,000). Some other additional expenses are entrance fees to the Sagarmatha National Park and the Khumbu Icefall, as well as ritual fees to appease the goddess of the sky. For people who feel that they need more preparation before making the trek to the top of the mountain, pre-climb training costs about US$8,000 per day.
Mt. Everest will always be a mystery, a challenge, and an invitation to humanity. Throughout generations, men and women will be lured into answering her call. With each successful climb, a little of its wonder is brought to people and revealed to the world.
- By our guest author Joyce
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