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Mount Everest the most famous highest peak in the Himalayas. Mount Everest is known by the name of Sagarmatha among the Nepalese and Qomolangma (Chomolangma) in Tibet, meaning goddess-mother.The highest point on earth, Mount Everest rises majestically up to a height of 8,848 m (29,028 ft) above sea level. This is the official figure as recorded by the 1954 Indian Government Survey, although recent surveys have suggested slightly varying figures.

On Mount Everest, three mountain ridges -- the Southeast, the Northeast, and the West - - meet to form two summits: the main Mount Everest summit at 8,848 m (29,028 ft) and the South Summit at 8,748 m (28,700 ft) above sea level. The North face of Mount Everest rises about 12,000 ft above the Tibetan Plateau. Viewed from the Nepal side, Mount Everest forms a cluster of high mountain peaks along with other Himalayan giants -- Changtse from the north (7,560 m), Khumbutse from the northwest (6,665 m), Nuptse from the southwest (7,861 m), and Lhotse from the south (8,501 m).

The Quest for Mount Everest

In 1590, a Spanish missionary to the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar undertook the work of mapping the Himalayas for the first time ever. However, it was only in the middle of the 19th century that the heights of the Himalayan peaks were measured correctly. In 1856, a British mapping team established Peak XV at 8,848 m (29,028 ft) as the highest point on earth. Mount Everest was given its name in 1865 in honor of surveyor Sir George Everest, who was the surveyor general of India from 1830 to 1843.

The Early Years

Explorers have attempted to climb the mountain from the early years of the 20th century. In the early years, not much was known about the physiological effects of extreme altitude, and mountaineers the world over had their doubts whether one could possibly climb Mount Everest. It was a leap into the world of the unknown, traveling to far off lands and launching huge expeditions up the slopes of the Himalaya to altitudes no human had ever experienced. In the early years, the initial problems faced by these explorers was of merely gaining access to Mount Everest, since neither Tibet nor Nepal, on either side of the mountain, welcomed outsiders. It was only after a personal appeal to the Dalai Lama that permission was granted for a British expedition to visit Everest from the Tibet side in 1921. Their goal -- to find out if a route to the summit of Mount Everest could be found. After early disasters struck, British mountaineer George Leigh Mallory assumed responsibility for most of the exploration carried out by this expedition.

Why climb Mount Everest? "Because it's there", was the classic answer of George Mallory who became legendary due to his exploits on the highest peak of the world. British expeditions attempted Mount Everest again in the following years, and Mallory arrived in 1924, in what was to be his last attempt on Mount Everest.

In a final attempt for the summit, Mallory was accompanied by the young Oxford University student Andrew Irvine. They were attempting the Northeast Ridge to the summit of Everest. The two mountaineers were climbing with the help of bottled oxygen and were spotted by Noel Odell towards 1 p.m. on their summit day, on a rocky outcrop on the ridge. In Odell's words they were 'going strong for the top'.

But, they disappeared into the clouds and were never seen again. It is a famous mountaineering debate whether Mallory and Irvine might have actually reached the top before the men who finally climbed Mt Everest in 1953. It will forever remain one of the greatest mysteries in the history of mountaineering.

The 1950s

After World War II, the Dalai Lama declared Tibet off-limits to foreigners, and mountaineers were forced to look for alternative routes to the top. Mountaineering attempts began to be made from the Nepal side of the mountain. In 1952, a Swiss expedition reached within 46 m (150 ft) of the goal.

A British expedition was scheduled to attempt Mount Everest in 1953. This was the last chance for the British because a number of Everest expeditions from other countries were scheduled in the following years, and it was felt that one of them would surely make it to the top. The pressure to succeed was high, and this was evident as the leading British mountaineer Eric Shipton was replaced as expedition leader by the military mountaineer with a flair for organization, Colonel John Hunt. Shipton was so disappointed at the turn of events that he withdrew from the expedition altogether. Under John Hunt's leadership, a very able group of mountaineers lined up for the expedition. Edmund Hillary and George Lowe from New Zealand, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, and others including Charles Evans, George Band and Tom Bourdillon.

With fantastic planning, the route was developed by setting up a number of camps. The frightening Khumbu icefall was crossed, the south face of another eight thousander, Lhotse, was traversed to reach the South Col. On the 26th of May, Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon, using artificial oxygen, launched the first summit attempt but were pushed back less than 300 ft from the actual summit due to malfunctioning of one of their oxygen sets.

Finally came the opportunity for Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the strongest and fittest climbers in the team. They set up a high camp above the South Col, at a breathtaking altitude of 27,900 ft above sea level, and spent a very uncomfortable night there.

Twenty-nine years after Mallory and Irvine disappeared on the higher slopes of Mount Everest, Hillary and Tenzing made their bid for the highest point on earth. And at 11:30 am on May 29, 1953, Tenzing Norgay of Nepal/India and Edmund Hillary of New Zealand became the first men to reach the top of the loftiest mountain in the world.

Tenzing, Hillary and Hunt became popular international figures. Tenzing received a hero's welcome in Nepal and India. Hillary and Hunt were knighted, while Tenzing, unfortunately, was awarded the inferior British Empire Medal.

Since that golden day in the history of mountaineering, more than 550 climbers from some 20 countries have accomplished the feat. Wang Fu-Chou in a Chinese expedition team reached the summit for the first time via the North Col. route from Tibet. Mrs Junko Tabei of Japan was the first woman to stand on the top of the world, on the 16th of May 1975, and another Japanese, Yuichiro Miura, was the first to ski back down, in 1970.

Climbers, nowadays, attempt new and difficult routes and methods. Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first men to climb Everest without the benefits of artificial oxygen on May 8, 1978. Messner returned later for a solo climb of Mt Everest -- again, without oxygen.

Sherpas on Mount Everest

The famed mountaineers from Nepal, the Sherpas, have displayed their superb skill, physical stamina and unmatched spirit on Mount Everest since the very beginning. In fact, they were so successful at high altitude mountaineering that soon it became a common practice for most Himalayan expeditions to employ Sherpas for climbing and ferrying loads up the high mountains.

Sherpas have played quiet but critically important roles in the history of Everest climbing. It is their hardiness, fantastic skill and, above all, a love for their fellow climbers and companions that have won them laurels. The Sherpas, while carrying equipment to high altitude camps, have been known to take risks far greater than those encountered by their employers.

Unfortunately, this has also resulted in a disproportionately high number of Sherpa deaths and injuries on the high mountains. In the 1922 British expedition, seven Sherpa porters were buried under an avalanche on Everest's North Col. Sherpas have accounted for more than one-third of the total deaths on Mount Everest in the first 70 years of everest climbing -- 43 deaths. In the past, the achievements of the Sherpas have been recorded only in footnotes in the annals of mountaineering history. It is only in recent years that Sherpas have been given the rightful credit that they truly deserve.

Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, along with Edmund Hillary of New Zealand, holds the record of being the first man on top of Mount Everest. A handful of Sherpas have now climbed Mount Everest five times or more. Ang Rita Sherpa holds the incredible record of 9 successes on Mount Everest. Pasang Lyamu was the first Nepali woman to have climbed Mount Everest.

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