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Shigatse - Mount Everest

Tibet - Lhasa - Shigatse

This mountain peak in the Himalayas of southern Asia is considered the highest mountain in the world. Mount Everest is situated at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau (Qing Zang Gaoyuan), on the border between Nepal and Tibet.

Mount Everest

The mountain was named for Sir George Everest, a British military engineer who served as surveyor general of India from 1829 to 1843, during which time the peak was surveyed. Everest was the first person to record the location and height of the mountain, then known as Peak XV. Most Nepali people refer to the mountain as Sagarmatha, meaning "Forehead in the Sky". Speakers of Tibetan languages, including the Sherpa people of northern Nepal, refer to the mountain as Chomolungma, Tibetan for "Goddess Mother of the World".

In 1954, after various figures had been rejected, the height of Mount Everest was determined as 8848.13 meter. The mountain's actual height and the claim that Everest is the highest mountain in the world have been disputed. But additional surveys completed in the early 1990s continued to support evidence that Everest is the highest mountain in the world. In fact, the mountain is rising a few mm each year due to geological forces. Global Positioning Technology (GPS) has been installed on Mount Everest for the purpose of detecting slight rates of geological uplift.

In October 2005 however, Chinese cartographers came with new information. The Mount Everest seemed to have been lower then always had been assumed. The members of the expedition used different measurement techniques then in the last Chinese expedition in 1975. The giant is now 8844.43 meter instead of 8848.13 meter.

Mount Everest, like the rest of the Himalayas, rose from the floor of the ancient Tethys Sea. The range was created when the Eurasian continental plate collided with the Indian subcontinental plate about 30 to 50 million years ago. Eventually the marine limestone was forced upward to become the characteristic yellow band on the top of Mount Everest. Beneath the shallow marine rock lies the highly metamorphosed black gneiss (foliated, or layered, rock) of the Precambrian era, a remnant of the original continental plates that collided and forced up the Himalayas.

Mount Everest is covered with huge glaciers that descend from the main peak and its nearby satellite peaks. The mountain itself is a pyramid-shaped horn, sculpted by the erosive power of the glacial ice into 3 massive faces and 3 major ridges, which soar to the summit from the north, south, and west and separate the glaciers. From the south side of the mountain, in a clockwise direction, the main glaciers are the Khumbu glacier, which goes northeast before turning southwest; the West Rongbuk glacier in the northwest; the Rongbuk glacier in the north; the East Rongbuk glacier in the northeast; and the Kangshung glacier in the east.

The climate of Mount Everest is naturally extreme. In January, the coldest month, the summit temperature averages about -36° C and can drop as low as -60° C (-76° F). In July, the warmest month, the average summit temperature is -19° C. At no time of the year does the temperature on the summit rise above freezing.

Traditionally, the people who live near Mount Everest have revered the mountains of the Himalayas and imagined them as the homes of the gods. Because the peaks were considered sacred, no local people scaled them before the early 1900s.

However, when foreign expeditions brought tourist dollars and Western ideas to the area, people of the Sherpa ethnic group began to serve as high-altitude porters for them. Because Nepal had been closed to foreigners since the early 1800s, all pre-WW II Everest expeditions were forced to recruit Sherpa porters from Darjiling (Darjeeling), India, then circle through Tibet and approach Everest from the north.

In 1913 British explorer John Noel sneaked into Tibet, which was also closed at the time, and made a preliminary survey of the mountain's northern approaches, where the topography is less varied than on the southern side. In 1921 the British began a major exploration of the north side of the mountain, led by George Leigh Mallory. Mallory's expedition, and another that took place soon afterward, were unable to overcome strong winds, avalanches, and other hazards to reach the summit.

In 1924 a third British expedition resulted in the disappearance of Mallory and a climbing companion only 240 m from the summit. More attempts were made throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s. Then, with the conquest of Tibet by China in the early 1950s, the region was closed to foreigners again and the northern approaches to the mountain were sealed off.

In 1950, the year after Nepal opened to foreigners W. H. Tilman and C. Houston made the first ascent from the south and became the first people to see into the Khumbu cirque (a steep basin at the head of a mountain valley). A number of attempts to reach the mountain's summit followed in the early 1950s. In 1952 the Swiss almost succeeded in climbing the mountain from the South Col, which is a major pass between the Everest and Lhotse peaks and is now the most popular climbing route to the summit.

On May 29, 1953, under the 10th British expedition flag and the leadership of John Hunt, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay successfully completed the first ascent of Mount Everest via the South Col. Several expeditions have since followed.

In 1975 Junko Tabei of Japan became the first woman to summit Mount Everest. Later, in 1978, Austrians Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler established a new and rigorous standard by climbing to the summit without the use of supplemental oxygen, which, because of the thin air at Everest's high altitude, is important for the energy, health, and thinking skills of the climbers.

In 1991 Sherpas, who had carried the supplies for so many foreigners up Mount Everest, completed their own successful expedition to the summit. By the mid-1990s, 4000 people had attempted to climb Everest-660 of them successfully reached the summit and more than 140 of them died trying.

The difficulties of climbing Mount Everest are legendary. Massive snow and ice avalanches are a constant threat to all expeditions. The avalanches thunder off the peaks repeatedly, sometimes burying valleys, glaciers, and climbing routes. Camps are chosen to avoid known avalanche paths, and climbers who make ascents through avalanche terrain try to cross at times when the weather is most appropriate. Hurricane-force winds are a well-known hazard on Everest, and many people have been endangered or killed when their tents collapsed or were ripped to shreds by the gales. Hypothermia, the dramatic loss of body heat, is also a major and debilitating problem in this region of high winds and low temperatures.

Another hazard facing Everest climbers is the famous Khumbu icefall, which is located not far above Base Camp and is caused by the rapid movement of the Khumbu glacier over the steep rock underneath. The movement breaks the ice into large, pointed masses of ice cliffs and columns separated by huge crevasses, and causes repeated ice falls across the route between Base Camp and Camp I. Many people have died in this area. Exposed crevasses may be easy to avoid, but those buried under snow can form treacherous snow bridges through which unwary climbers can fall.

The standard climb of Mount Everest from the south side ascends the Khumbu glacier to Base Camp at about 5400 meter. Typical expeditions use 4 camps above Base Camp; these camps give the climbers an opportunity to rest and adapt to the high altitude. The route from Base Camp through the great Khumbu icefall up to Camp I at 6000 meter is difficult and dangerous; it usually takes 1 to 3 weeks to establish because supplies must be carried up the mountain in several separate trips.

Mount Everest

Once Camp II, at 6500 m, has been supplied in the same manner using both Base Camp and Camp I as bases, climbers typically break down Base Camp and make the trek from there to Camp II in one continuous effort. Once acclimatized, the climbers can make the move to Camp II in 5 to 6 hours.

Camp III is then established near the cirque of the Khumbu glacier. The route up the cirque headwall from Camp III to the South Col and Camp IV at 8,000 meter is highly strenuous and takes about 4 to 8 hours. The South Col is a cold, windy, and desolate place of rocks, snow slabs, littered empty oxygen bottles, and other trash.

From the South Col to the summit is a climb of only about 900 vertical m, although its fierce exposure to adverse weather and steep drop-offs poses many challenges. The section between 8530 meter and the South Summit at 8750 meter is particularly treacherous because of the steepness and unstable snow. From the South Summit there remains another 90 vertical meter along a terrifying knife-edged ridge. The exposure is extreme, with the possibility of huge vertical drops into Tibet on the right and down the southwest face on the left. A little more than 30 vertical meter from the summit is a 12 meter chimney across a rock cliff known as the Hillary Step; this is one of the greatest technical challenges of the climb.

As the popularity of climbing Everest has increased in recent years, so have safety problems. To pay the high climbing permit fee charged by the Nepalese government, many experienced climbers have recruited wealthy, amateur climbers as teammates. The combination of inexperience, crowdedsummit conditions (more than 30 have been known to summit the peak on the same day), and extreme weather conditions has led to a number of tragedies in which clients and competent guides alike have died attempting the climb.