Seventy years ago, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first humans to summit Everest. The British expedition made the two men household names worldwide and changed mountaineering forever. Since then, thousands have scaled the 8,849-metre (29,032-foot) peak, though hundreds have also lost their lives on its unpredictable slopes. Nevertheless, despite concerns about overcrowding and pollution, the mountain continues to draw people who dream of reaching the top.
When the British explorers set out to conquer Everest in 1921, they had no idea what lay ahead. The climb was arduous, and they were constantly faced with icefalls, rockfalls, and fierce winds that could blow their tents off the mountain. They were not the first to attempt to reach the summit, but their efforts were the most successful.
The British team was bolstered by Sherpa guides, who helped them carry equipment and food and fix ropes and ladders. These hardworking, highly skilled people became synonymous with high-altitude guiding and helped make climbing the world’s highest peak a multimillion-dollar industry. The Sherpa guides’ role is still crucial to the success of modern-day expeditions to Everest. But in recent decades, a younger generation of Nepali climbers has taken on an increasing share of the responsibilities of being a Sherpa guide.
A century later, the mountain still challenges the strongest of climbers. The route to the summit is treacherous, with notches, seracs, and an icefall that can trap climbers and lead to death. In addition, the summit is covered with rock-hard snow and so high in the atmosphere that it only has about a third of the oxygen found at sea level.
Even the exact height of Everest has been a subject of debate. Different measurements and methods of determining the height have resulted in 29,028 feet (8,848 meters) being used as a standard. The actual height varies, however, because of snow level variations, gravity deviation, and light refraction.
Despite earthquakes, insurgency, and COVID-19, Nepal continues to attract adventurers, and climbing remains an essential industry in the country’s mountainous north. A growing number of Sherpas have established their own companies to attract foreign climbers and provide them with high-quality service. They are renowned for their strength, endurance, and knowledge of the mountain. Sherpa climber Kami Rita, who has reached the summit of Everest 14 times, says that mountaineering is a way of life for her and her family.