Mount Everest: Everything You Wanted to Know

Everest

Some of us love Mount Everest, some of us hate it, and some of us feel both ways. Here, we’ve collected over 50 facts, some well-known, some obscure, about the Big E. Because no matter how we feel, it’s hard to ignore the world’s highest mountain.

Mount Everest Basics

Age of Everest

Mount Everest formed over 60 million years old, when the subcontinent of India moved rapidly north and collided with Eurasia. The collision of the two plates produced the Himalaya.

Half a kitchen: Climber on the summit of Mount Everest. Photo: Shutterstock

How big is the summit of Everest?

The summit is half the size of a normal kitchen. A maximum of six climbers can stand there at the same time.

What is the summit made of?

The rock at the top of Everest is a marine limestone that was deposited on what was then the seafloor approximately 450 million years ago.

Height of Everest

The first measurements of its height began in 1849. In 1854, the mountain was estimated at 9,000m, a pretty fair guess. Then in 1856, Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, Surveyor General of India, determined its height at 8,839m. In 2020, Nepal and China jointly remeasured Everest’s height. It is now officially 8,848.86m.

Everest gets a little higher every year

Everest grows each year by approximately 44 millimetres.

The name game

In the 1850s, the mountain was first called Peak B. Later, it became Peak XV. Sir Andrew Scott Waugh proposed the name Everest after his distinguished predecessor as Surveyor General of India, George Everest. In 1865, the Royal Geographical Society officially finalized the name change to Mount Everest.

The Tibetan name of Everest, Qomolangma, means Holy Mother. Everest’s Nepali name is Sagarmatha, which means Goddess of the Sky.

Into even thinner air

If Mount Everest, which is at 28˚ latitude, were at the latitude of Denali (63˚), everyone would have to climb with bottled oxygen, because Everest would feel almost 1,000m higher. That is because the density of air thins with latitude as well as altitude.

Routes to the top

The two main routes to the top are from the southeast in Nepal (the standard route) and from the north in Tibet. There are at least 18 routes in all. This old ExplorersWeb article lists the main ones.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Photo: Shutterstock

The real highest mountain

The highest mountain on Earth is not Everest but the Mauna Kea volcano (4,207m) in Hawaii. If we measure the mountain from its base at the bottom of the ocean to its summit, it is actually 10,200m high.

A yellow-billed alpine chough at Cho La Pass, near Mount Everest. Photo: Shutterstock

Plants and animals on Everest

Above 6,400m, only one species of moss survives on Everest. Now thanks to climate change, the moss is expanding its habitat. Of animals, a bird called a chough was seen at 7,920m, and back in 1953, George Lowe reported a bar-headed goose flying over the summit. On the ground itself, a minute black jumping spider has turned up at 6,700m.

What country is Everest in?

Mount Everest lies on the border of Nepal and China, so the countries share this tallest mountain in the world. They also share its modest summit. Last spring, the Chinese wanted to divide the summit in two, so that their climbers would not come close to any summiters from the Nepal side, where COVID was rampant. The Chinese did not summit, and nothing ever came of this odd proposal.

Climbing and Mount Everest

Best month to climb Mount Everest

The greatest number of ascents take place in May, just before the monsoon, when the weather is best.

A UK stamp commemorates the first successful ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Photo: Shutterstock

First summiters

Of course, the first people to climb Everest were Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, on May 29, 1953. Neither ever revealed who was the first of them to step onto the summit.

Did Mallory and Irvine summit?

Since 1924, climbers have debated whether George Mallory and Andrew Irvine reached the summit of Everest before they disappeared. This would have made the British pair the first to climb Everest, rather than Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. From 7,900m, their teammate Noel Odell spotted two black dots moving near the summit. Exactly where has been the subject of much speculation. Conrad Anker tried to free climb the Second Step in 1999 — the year he and his party found Mallory’s body — and rates the 5.10 pitch beyond Mallory’s capabilities. But the debate remains alive, at least until someone finds the duo’s long-lost camera with, perhaps, a summit photo.

First woman

Junko Tabei of Japan summited Mount Everest on May 16, 1975, 22 years after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. She was part of an all-female team, but only Tabei summited. Twelve days earlier, she had almost died when an avalanche buried her near Advanced Base Camp. Sherpas managed to dig her out in time.

First without bottled oxygen

In 1978, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first to reach the top without supplemental oxygen. Two years later, Messner returned and did it alone and without bottled oxygen. “Climbing Everest solo … was the hardest thing I have done,” Messner said later. He stayed 40 minutes on the summit. In 1922, George Mallory, Howard Somervell, and Edward Norton reached 8,225m without oxygen, which they considered unsporting.

Oldest person

The oldest person to climb Everest is Yuichiro Miura of Japan. In 2013, he reached the top at the age of 80.

Youngest person

The youngest person to ascend Everest was Jordan Romero in 2010, when he was 13 years and 10 months old, among women the record is held by the Indian Poorna Malavath who in 2014 reached the top, being 13 years and 11 months old.

Fastest ascent with O2

The fastest ascent from Base Camp to summit was made by Pemba Dorje Sherpa in 2004, in 8 h 10 minutes, with the use of supplemental oxygen.

Fastest ascents without O2

The fastest ascent with neither bottled oxygen nor fixed ropes is Kilian Jornet of Spain, in 26 hours. That same week, he summited again from Advanced Base Camp (6,500m), in 17 hours, also without O2.

Astonishing as Jornet’s time is, way back on May 24, 1996, Hans Kammerlander did ABC to summit in about the same time, without bottled O2: 16 hours and 45 minutes. Because Kammerlander did not start from BC, his remarkable achievement does not count as a full summit.

Kilian Jornet, trail runner and alpinist who double-summited Everest within a week. Photo: Kilian Jornet

Fastest woman

Tsang Yin-hung, 44, of Hong Kong broke the speed record for women earlier this year, topping out in 25 hours and 50 minutes, with bottled O2 and Sherpa support.

An eco-friendly approach

Some years ago, Kim Chang-Ho set the 14×8,000m record time of 7 years, 10 months 6 days. For his No-O2 Everest ascent, he used an eco-friendly approach, taking 60 days to reach Base Camp by kayak, bicycle, and on foot. Nowadays, such speed records usually involve the use of O2 and flying by helicopter between the peaks.

Eco-friendly, next level: Goran Kropp

In 1996, offbeat but skilled Swedish adventurer Goran Kropp cycled all the way from Sweden to Everest. Then he made a solo ascent without bottled oxygen or Sherpa support. Kropp died in 2002 when he fell 18m while day climbing in Washington State.

First summit tweet

Briton Kenton Cool (Kenton has been 15 times on the highest peak in the world so far) sent the first tweet from the top of Everest, on May 6, 2011. There was only 3G at that time. Technology has improved, the ascents can now be broadcast live online.

First full ski descent

The first to ski the entire route from summit to Base Camp was Davo Karnicar of Slovenia in 2000.

First snowboard descent

Marco Siffredi made the first snowboard descent of the North Face of Everest via the Norton Couloir in 2001. His remains the fastest snowboard descent from summit to Advanced Base Camp at 6,400m: 2.5 hours. Siffredi died a year later when he tried to snowboard down Everest’s Hornbein Couloir.

Marco Siffredi on the summit of Mount Everest prepares for his fatal attempt to snowboard the Hornbein Couloir. To his right, Phurba Tashi Sherpa. Photo: Transworld Snowboarding

Highest BASE jump

Valery Rozov executed the highest BASE jump in the world from 7,220m on the North side of Everest, on May 5, 2013. Unfortunately, Rozov passed away four years later, on November 11, 2017, while BASE jumping from the 6,812m summit of Ama Dablam.

Rozov launches from Everest. Photo: Red Bull

First twins

In 2013, Tashi and Nungshi Malik from India became the first twins to summit Everest together. They are also the first siblings and twins to climb the Seven Summits. Together they also did last-degree trips to the North and South Poles.

The Malik Twins. Photo: Wikipedia

Most ascents with oxygen

Kami Rita Sherpa holds the record for the most Everest ascents (with oxygen). In spring 2021, he summited for the 25th time, beating his own record. Among women, Lhakpa Sherpa has the most summits, at nine.

Most ascents without oxygen

Ang Rita Sherpa climbed Everest 10 times without bottled oxygen between 1983 and 1996.

Great Everest bivouacs

In 1963, Willi Unsoeld, Tom Hornbein, Lute Jerstad, and Barry Bishop bivouacked at 8,534m. About how they survived the night, Tom Hornbein memorably wrote: “Each one dedicated himself to shivering from the cold until the first light, then the Sun rose over the Kangchenjunga, and the whole world woke up.”

In 1975, Doug Scott and Dougal Haston stayed overnight at 8,763m. Incredibly, they did not suffer frostbite, despite hallucinations and no supplementary oxygen.

In 2011, Bhakta Kumar Rai of Nepal spent 32 hours on top of Everest. He spent 27 of those hours in meditation, including 11 hours without supplemental oxygen.

In 1999, Nepali climber Babu Chhiri Sherpa stayed on the summit for 21 hours and 30 minutes without bottled oxygen. The highest fully no-O2 bivouac ever.

Thomas Hornbein during the 1963 American Everest Expedition. Photo: Thomas Hornbein

Highest number of permits

In 2021, 408 Everest permits were issued for foreigners, the most ever.

No longer a lonely place

Everest used to be a lonely place. Between 1953 and 1974, just 38 climbers summited Everest, all of them with supplementary oxygen. The years 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, and 1974 saw no summits at all.

After that, there were summits every year until 2015, the year of the deadly earthquake. And there have been summits every year since then, including the COVID year of 2020, when 28 Chinese reached the top from the Tibetan side.

Elisabeth Hawley. Photo: Wikipedia

The Sherlock Holmes of the Himalaya

Elisabeth Hawley was one of the great Everest personalities, yet she was not a climber. She was the so-called notary of climbs in the Himalaya. Born in the U.S., she fell in love with Nepal and moved there in the 1950s. In less crowded times, Miss Hawley met almost every expedition that passed through, interrogated them about their climbs, and chronicled their successes and failures. Her Himalayan Database became the unofficial record of climbs in Nepal. She died in 2018.

The dark side of Mount Everest

Total number of deaths on Everest

So far, 309 people have lost their lives on Mount Everest, including the four who died last May.

Number of bodies still on Everest

There are more than 200 corpses on the mountain. Several of them serve as landmarks, even on some maps. There has already been talk of trying to lower them, but a frozen body is heavy, and chipping one away from its icy tomb would take many hours. Removing a body from the highest points is practically impossible. As the climate warms and snow and ice recede, more bodies — and body parts — have recently been exposed. The movement of the Khumbu Icefall has brought others to the surface.

First fatalities

The first fatalities on Everest were the Sherpas Dorje, Lhakpa, Norbu, Pasang, Pema, Sange, and Temba. These seven were members of the British Mount Everest Expedition and died in an avalanche on June 7, 1922, below the North Col.

Note, however, that in 1921, Dr. Alexander Kellas died of a heart attack during the approach trek to Everest Base Camp. He was part of the first expedition to this mountain. So we could consider him the first Mount Everest fatality.

Worst season

The deadliest season on Everest was on April 25, 2015, when the 7.8 earthquake killed 24 people.

Who is Everest’s Sleeping Beauty?

The first American woman to summit Mount Everest without bottled oxygen was Francys Arsentiev in 1998. She climbed with her husband Sergei Arsentiev. After two failed attempts, in which they remained very high on the mountain, they succeeded on their third try. They accidentally separated during the descent. While her husband initially got down safely, Francys perished from exhaustion, hypothermia, altitude sickness, or all three. Sergei went back up to try to rescue her and died in a fall. Her body can still be seen on the mountain and is called The Sleeping Beauty.

Francys Arsentiev. Photo: Mysteryu

What is the Rainbow Valley?

Rainbow Valley is an area on Everest above 8,000m. Many climbers have died here, and their bodies, clothed in different-colored jackets, remain — hence the deceptively attractive name for this unattractive place.

What is the Death Zone?

The highest part of Everest, above 8,000m, is called the Death Zone. No matter how well-acclimatized you are, the body cannot adapt to that altitude. You must get up and down quickly, to a more liveable altitude.

Nowadays, many people often push for the summit on the same day. This creates queues so long that climbers may die when they run out of oxygen while awaiting their turn. If somebody has a problem in the Death Zone, it is very difficult to get him or her down.

A crowded Death Zone. Photo: Adrian Ballinger

Dirtiest mountain on earth

One of the biggest cleanups on Mount Everest took place in 2019 when 10,880kg of garbage was removed. Even in 2021, workers spent 47 days removing 2.2 tons of garbage. Everest is the dirtiest mountain on Earth.

Tons of rubbish accumulate on the mountain every year. Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP

Brown snow

In 2019, 8,000 kilograms of human excrement were left behind on Everest. This number is probably higher this year. Because of climate change, everything that we give to the mountain is returned to us when the gifts begin to thaw.

No toilets higher up the mountain. Photo: Shutterstock

Everest Base Camp: one of a kind

Everest Base Camp, 2021. Photo: Kenton Cool

One extra-hot yak milk latte to go, please

For more than a decade there has been a bakery at Everest Base Camp. Dawa Steven Sherpa saw that there was little social life among the members of the expeditions and founded a bakery where you can buy bread, chocolate cake, apple pie, croissants, donuts, etc. There is also a bar for drinks.

Bakery at Everest Base Camp, serving cappuccino and croissants to start the day. Photo: Baking Bites

Whining about the wine

After returning from Everest, one climber criticized the wine list available at Base Camp.

Sex parties

In 2019, after 11 people died in the same week on the mountain, a climber reported “sex parties, as couples romped in toilets after escaping death“. The cringe-worthy article went on to suggest that “Everest is not the only thing being mounted.”

First DJ party

Paul Oakenfold performed the first (and highest) DJ party in 2017 at Everest Base Camp.

Party time with Paul Oakenfold. Photo: The Wild Cone

First canine

It is believed that Rupee the rescue dog was the first canine to reach Everest Base Camp. Rupee was homeless and starving when Joanne Lefson rescued him in northern India. In 2013, Lefson took Rupee to Everest.

Rupee, the first canine trekker to Everest Base Camp. Photo: Joanne Lefson

Weird Everest

Up Everest, in shorts

One of the most oddball Everest climbs was that of the Dutchman Wim “The Iceman” Hof, who went up in shorts. No goose-down onesies, no oxygen tanks or goggles, just the shorts and a pair of open-toed sandals. Alas, at 7,460m he stopped. “So I had a deep mental conversation with my foot and it reported frostbite,” Hof explained. Still, he holds the record for reaching this height only in shorts.

Wim “The Iceman” Hof, prêt-a-porter on Everest. Photo: Wim Hof

First (and only?) summit striptease

Nepali climber Lhakpa Tharke Sherpa did the first (and likely only) striptease on the summit of Everest in 2006. He became the first naked man on top of the world.

High-altitude haircut

The record for haircut height went to Heather Werner, who this year styled her client at 6,522m.

Haircut by Heather, on Everest. Photo: Heather Werner

Aviation illusion

According to a note in the American Alpine Journal in 1945, an aviator sighted a mysterious giant peak in Qinghai province of western China that appeared to be higher than Everest. That mountain was really Mount Amne Machin, which measures just 6,282m.

No five stars on Tripadvisor

After climbing Everest, one client complained, “The view at the top was rather disappointing. We also expected complimentary transportation…back down.” That day may eventually come: Last spring, outfitters flew some clients directly from Base Camp to Camp 2 by helicopter, and later back again.

Photo: Neil Laughton

World’s highest dinner party

In 2018, former British Marine Neil Laughton organized the world’s highest dinner party at 7,050m at the North Col of Everest. The tux-and-tie/evening gown affair featured six men and two women. Champagne flowed, at least until it began to freeze in the -25oC conditions.

Classic conversation

The most original radio conversation occurred in 1963, between the base camp of the American expedition and Tom Hornbein. He and Willi Unsoeld were at a point of no return along the couloir that now bears Hornbein’s name.

Hornbein: We are on the slope, everything is great. Over.

BC: You seem drowned. Any problem?

Hornbein: There is a slight breeze. It’s not me, it’s the wind. Over.

BC: Sorry, sorry for this accusation, thinking it was you. Over.”

A detailed reenactment

In 2000, a Spanish expedition dressed up just like the members of the 1924 expedition, they gave themselves completely to the cause, even climbing dressed like the 1924 expedition members had. The group reached 8,500m.

Above: The British group of 1924. Photo: John Noel
Below: The reconstruction of the photo by the Spanish team. Photo: Sebastian Alvaro

Maurice Wilson’s last words: “Gorgeous day.”

One of the strangest objects found on Everest was the diary of a God-fearing UK man named Maurice Wilson. In 1934, full of self-confidence but with very little climbing experience and rubbish equipment, the 36-year-old Wilson tried to climb Mount Everest alone. He died of exposure at 6,500m. He wrote about his attempt in a diary, which was found beside his body one year later. His last entry was, “Off again. Gorgeous day.”

The 1934 diary of Maurice Wilson. Photo: Shutterstock

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About the Author

Kris Annapurna

Kris Annapurna

@KrisAnnapurna reports about outdoor activities, current expeditions, and stories related to the history of mountaineering in the Karakorum, Himalaya, Tien Shan, and other ranges.

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OldHikerDude
OldHikerDude
2 months ago

The Image of the “iceman” Hof in shorts and sandals while high on Everest is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in mountaineering. He decided to ditch all of his protective clothing and gear, but there was just no way he going to leave that ice axe behind……..that would be insane! Thanks for the stories Kris!

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Hugo Torres
2 months ago

Earth is not a perfect sphere, but is a bit thicker at the Equator due to the centrifugal force created by the planet’s constant rotation. Because of this, the highest point above Earth’s center is the peak of Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo, located just one degree south of the Equator where Earth’s bulge is greatest. The summit of Chimborazo is 20,564 feet above sea level. However, due to the Earth’s bulge, the summit of Chimborazo is over 6,800 feet farther from the center of the Earth than Everest’s peak. That makes Chimborazo the closest point on Earth to the stars.

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Rodrigo
Rodrigo
2 months ago

From the sweetest moments of the summit to the most bitters

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tapan sarkar
tapan sarkar
2 months ago

It was Radhanath Sikdar and not Andrew Waug who gave an accurate measurement of the height of Everest. Andrew Waug named it Mt Everest.

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jams
jams
2 months ago

Utter bollocks that “climate change” is revealing more bodies on the mountain. The snow cover varies from year to year and is the reason for this.

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Eddy De Wilde
Eddy De Wilde
1 month ago

I’m not that interested in Mt Everest but found this most interesting. Surprised to read that two 13 year olds made it to the top. Terrible death toll over all. Thanks Kris

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B Johnson
B Johnson
1 month ago

In 2003 during our Autumn Berg Adventures Expedition to Mt Everest, we had a female dog from Gorak Shep stay with us at basecamp for most of the expedition. She returned to Gorak Shep at one point to give birth to 4 puppies. I imagine that it is possible this dog had been to basecamp before following other people or the yaks. We were the only expedition on Everest that season (6 Sherpa and 5 westerners), a very special experience.

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