At 29,028 feet (8,848 meters), Mount Everest is the tallest mountain of the world. It is considered one of the most challenging mountains to climb, and is part of the Seven Summits, which have the highest peaks on each continent. Though it's impossible to say how many people have reached Everest's summit at any given time since the number changes every year, as of September 2011 over 3,100 climbers from over 20 countries had made over 5,100 recorded climbs, mostly after 2000 CE. As of 2012 there were over 220 recorded fatalities, most of which took place before 1990. Changes in climbing equipment led to a sharp drop in fatalities in the 2000s, with the death rate dropping from 37% in 1990 to about 4.4% in 2004.
The first officially recorded summit was accomplished by Sir Edmund Percival Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a sherpa from Nepal, on 29 May 1953. There were several claims that previous climbers had reached the summit before them, notably George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine. Mallory and Irving may have summited Mount Everest in 1924, but they died in the attempt and it's unclear from the placement of the bodies whether they actually reached the top or not.
The first woman to climb Mount Everest was Junko Tabei, who reached the summit in 1975. Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, which they did in 1978. In 1980, Messner was also the first solo climber to reach the summit. Other notable ascents include:
- Min Bahadur Sherchan, 25 May 2008: the oldest person to summit the mountain as of 2011. He was 76 when he reached the top.
- Jordan Romero, 25 May 2010: the youngest person to summit the mountain as of 2011. He was 13 when he reached the top.
- Erik Weihenmayer, 25 May 2001: The first blind climber to summit Mount Everest.
- Tamae Watanabe, 19 May 2012: The oldest woman to reach the top. She was 73 years old.
- Apa Sherpa 10 May 1990 - 11 May 2011: the person who has made the most summits as of 2011. Sherpa climbed Everest 21 times between 1990 and 2011.
- Mona Mulepati and Pem Dorje Sherpa, 30 May 2005: the first couple to get married on top of Mt. Everest.
Making an Ascent
There are a total of about 15 recognized routes for climbing Mount Everest, but only two main ones. One starts in Nepal, and runs up the southeast ridge of the mountain, and the other starts in Tibet, and runs up the north ridge. Each of these routes has its own base camp for people to start out from, called the South Base Camp and the North Base Camp, respectively. The South Base Camp is generally more popular, since the southeast ascent is easier and several permits are required to go to the North Base Camp. As both of the camps are high above sea level, most people stop over for a few days to get used to the altitude.
After resting in the base camp, climbers generally start their ascent very early in the morning, as its much more dangerous to try to summit after around 11 in the morning. People almost always go as part of an expedition or guided tour. Many expeditions and tours include helpers and people to carry equipment, and sometimes even cooks. Members of a local ethnic group, called Sherpas, often work as guides or helpers. Climbers make their ascent and descent in steps, moving from camp to camp over the course of several days, which gives them time to adjust to the changing altitude and to rest in between climbs.
Effects on Climbers
The combination of cold and altitude has a number of physical effects on climbers. Many people experience altitude sickness, which causes dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. There is only about a third of the oxygen at near the top of Everest as there is at sea level, which makes it difficult to breathe, and puts climbers at risk for High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain. Climbers are also at risk for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPA), a condition in which fluid accumulates in the lungs. The cold also causes frostbite and hypothermia.
Impact on the Mountain
The increased climber and tourist traffic on Mount Everest has led to an increase in litter and waste being left behind. As of 2008 there was an estimated 120 tons of litter on the mountain, mostly oxygen tanks, tents, and other equipment. Human waste is also an issue, with almost 900 pounds (about 400 kg) of human waste having been collected off of Mount Everest between 2008 and 2011.