Monday, May 30, 2011

Ascents Of Mount Everest

Early expeditions

Mount Everest as seen from the Rongbuk Monastery.
In 1885, Clinton Thomas Dent, president of the Alpine Club, suggested that climbing Mount Everest was possible in his book Above the Snow Line.

The northern approach to the mountain was discovered by George Mallory on the first expedition in 1921. It was an exploratory expedition not equipped for a serious attempt to climb the mountain. With Mallory leading (and thus becoming the first European to set foot on Everest's flanks) they climbed the North Col 7,007 metres (22,989 ft). From there, Mallory espied a route to the top, but the party was unprepared for the great task of climbing any further and descended.

The British returned for a 1922 expedition. George Finch ("The other George") climbed using oxygen for the first time. He ascended at a remarkable speed—950 feet (290 m) per hour, and reached an altitude of 8,320 m (27,300 ft), the first time a human climbed higher than 8,000m. This feat was entirely lost on the British climbing establishment—except for its "unsporting" nature. Mallory and Col. Felix Norton made a second unsuccessful attempt. Mallory was faulted for leading a group down from the North Col which got caught in an avalanche. Mallory was pulled down too, but seven native porters were killed.

The next Expedition was in 1924. The initial attempt by Mallory and Bruce was aborted when weather conditions precluded the establishment of Camp VI. The next attempt was that of Norton and Somervell who climbed without oxygen and in perfect weather, traversing the North Face into the Great Couloir. Norton managed to reach 8,558 metres (28,077 ft), though he ascended only 100 feet (30 m) or so in the last hour. Mallory rustled up oxygen equipment for a last-ditch effort. He chose the young Andrew Irvine as his partner.

On 8 June 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made an attempt on the summit via the North Col/North Ridge/Northeast Ridge route from which they never returned. On 1 May 1999 the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition found Mallory's body on the North Face in a snow basin below and to the west of the traditional site of Camp VI. Controversy has raged in the mountaineering community whether one or both of them reached the summit 29 years before the confirmed ascent (and of course, safe descent) of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

In 1933, Lady Houston, a British millionaire ex-showgirl, funded the Houston Everest Flight of 1933, which saw a formation of aircraft led by the Marquess of Clydesdale fly over the summit in an effort to deploy the British Union Flag at the top.

Early expeditions—such as Bruce's in the 1920s and Hugh Ruttledge's two unsuccessful attempts in 1933 and 1936—tried to make an ascent of the mountain from Tibet, via the north face. Access was closed from the north to western expeditions in 1950, after the Chinese asserted control over Tibet. In 1950, Bill Tilman and a small party which included Charles Houston, Oscar Houston and Betsy Cowles undertook an exploratory expedition to Everest through Nepal along the route which has now become the standard approach to Everest from the south.

The Swiss expedition of 1952, led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant, was granted permission to attempt a climb from Nepal. The expedition established a route through the Khumbu ice fall and ascended to the South Col at an elevation of 7,986 metres (26,201 ft). No attempt at an ascent of Everest was ever under consideration in this case. Raymond Lambert and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were able to reach a height of about 8,595 metres (28,199 ft) on the southeast ridge, setting a new climbing altitude record. Tenzing's experience was useful when he was hired to be part of the British expedition in 1953.

First successful ascent by Tenzing and Hillary

In 1953, a ninth British expedition, led by John Hunt, returned to Nepal. Hunt selected two climbing pairs to attempt to reach the summit. The first pair (Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans) came within 100 m (300 feet) of the summit on 26 May 1953, but turned back after running into oxygen problems. As planned, their work in route finding and breaking trail and their caches of extra oxygen were of great aid to the following pair. Two days later, the expedition made its second and final assault on the summit with its second climbing pair, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali sherpa climber. They reached the summit at 11:30 a.m. local time on 29 May 1953 via the South Col Route. At the time, both acknowledged it as a team effort by the whole expedition, but Tenzing revealed a few years later that Hillary had put his foot on the summit first. They paused at the summit to take photographs and buried a few sweets and a small cross in the snow before descending.

News of the expedition's success reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, June 2. Returning to Kathmandu a few days later, Hunt (a Briton) and Hillary (a New Zealander) discovered that they had been promptly knighted in the Order of the British Empire, a KBE, for the ascent. Tenzing (a subject of the King of Nepal) was granted the George Medal by the UK. Hunt was ultimately made a life peer in Britain, while Hillary became a founding member of the Order of New Zealand. Hillary and Tenzing are also nationally recognized in Nepal, where annual ceremonies in schools and offices celebrate their accomplishment.

First ascents without supplemental oxygen and first solo ascent 

On 8 May 1978, Reinhold Messner (Italy) and Peter Habeler (Austria) made the first ascent without supplemental oxygen, using the southeast ridge route. On 20 August 1980, Messner reached the summit of the mountain solo for the first time, without supplementary oxygen or support, on the more difficult Northwest route via the North Col to the North Face and the Great Couloir. He climbed for three days entirely alone from his base camp at 6,500 metres (21,300 ft).

First winter ascent 

In 1980, a team from Poland led by Andrzej Zawada, Leszek Cichy, and Krzysztof Wielicki became the first to reach the summit during the winter season.

 1996 disaster

During the 1996 season, 15 people died while climbing on Mount Everest, making it the deadliest single year in the mountain's history. Eight of them died on 11 May alone. The disaster gained wide publicity and raised questions about the commercialization of climbing Mount Everest.

Journalist Jon Krakauer, on assignment from Outside magazine, was in one of the affected parties, and afterwards published the bestseller Into Thin Air, which related his experience. Anatoli Boukreev, a guide who felt impugned by Krakauer's book, co-authored a rebuttal book called The Climb. The dispute sparked a debate within the climbing community. In May 2004, Kent Moore, a physicist, and John L. Semple, a surgeon, both researchers from the University of Toronto, told New Scientist magazine that an analysis of weather conditions on 11 May suggested that freak weather caused oxygen levels to plunge approximately 14%.

Apa Sherpa has reached the summit 21 times

The storm's impact on climbers on the North Ridge of Mount Everest, where several climbers also died, was detailed in a first-hand account by British filmmaker and writer Matt Dickinson in his book The Other Side of Everest. 16-year-old Mark Pfetzer was on the climb and wrote about it in his account, Within Reach: My Everest Story.

2005: Helicopter landing

On 14 May 2005, pilot Didier Delsalle of France landed a Eurocopter AS 350 B3 helicopter on the summit of Mount Everest (without any witness) and took off after about four minutes. (His rotors were continually engaged, constituting a "hover landing", and avoiding the risks of relying on the snow to support the aircraft.) He thereby set rotorcraft world records, for highest of both landing (de facto) and take-off (formally).

Delsalle had also performed, two days earlier, a take-off from the South Col; some press reports suggested that the report of the summit landing was a misunderstanding of a South Col landing.

2006: David Sharp controversy

Double-amputee climber Mark Inglis revealed in an interview with the press on 23 May 2006, that his climbing party, and many others, had passed a distressed climber, David Sharp, on 15 May, sheltering under a rock overhang 450 metres (1,480 ft) below the summit, without attempting a rescue. The revelation sparked wide debate on climbing ethics, especially as applied to Everest. The climbers who left him said that the rescue efforts would have been useless and only have caused more deaths. Much of this controversy was captured by the Discovery Channel while filming the television program Everest: Beyond the Limit. A crucial decision affecting the fate of Sharp is shown in the program, where an early returning climber (Max Chaya) is descending and radios to his base camp manager (Russell Brice) that he has found a climber in distress. He is unable to identify Sharp, who had chosen to climb solo without any support and so did not identify himself to other climbers. The base camp manager assumes that Sharp is part of a group that has abandoned him, and informs his climber that there is no chance of him being able to help Sharp. As Sharp's condition deteriorates through the day and other descending climbers pass him, his opportunities for rescue diminish: his legs and feet curl from frostbite, preventing him from walking; the later descending climbers are lower on oxygen and lack the strength to offer aid; time runs out for any Sherpas to return and rescue him. Most importantly, Sharp's decision to forgo all support left him with no margin for recovery.

As this debate raged, on 26 May, Australian climber Lincoln Hall was found alive, after being declared dead the day before. He was found by a party of four climbers (Dan Mazur, Andrew Brash, Myles Osborne and Jangbu Sherpa) who, giving up their own summit attempt, stayed with Hall and descended with him and a party of 11 Sherpas sent up to carry him down. Hall later fully recovered. Similar actions have been recorded since, including on 21 May 2007, when Canadian climber Meagan McGrath initiated the successful high-altitude rescue of Nepali Usha Bista.

Various records

The youngest person to climb Mount Everest was 13-year-old Jordan Romero in May 2010. Apa Sherpa holds the record for reaching the summit more times than any other person (21 times as of May 2011).

The fastest ascent over the northeast ridge was accomplished in 2007 by Austrian climber Christian Stangl, who needed 16h 42min for the 10 km distance from Camp III to the summit, just barely beating Italian Hans Kammerlander's record of 17 hours, accomplished in 1996. Both men climbed alone and without supplementary oxygen. The fastest oxygen-supported ascent over the southeast ridge was Nepalese Pemba Dorjie Sherpa's 2004 climb, using 8h 10min for the 17 km route. The fastest ascent without supplementary oxygen over the southeast ridge was accomplished by French Marc Batard who reached the summit in 22h 30min in 1988.

The first descent by paraglider was by Jean-Marc Boivin on 26 September 1988, and the first descent by ski was in 2000 by Davo Karnicar.

The oldest climber to reach Mt. Everest's summit is 76-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan, who did so 25 May 2008 from the Nepal side. Sherchan beat the previous record set in 2007 by 71 year old Katsusuke Yanagisawa. The oldest climber to summit Mt. Everest from both sides (Nepal and Tibet) of the mountain is 60-year-old Julio Bird, a Puerto Rican cardiologist who reached the summit of Mt. Everest from the north side on May 17, 2010.

Min Bahadur Sherchan was nearly 77 years old, when he reached the top on his first attempt


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