More than 3,000 people have reached the peak of Mount Everest – the tallest mountain in the world – since it was first summited in 1953. Not all Everest climbs, however, are created equal. Some attempts, for instance, are made without the help of supplemental oxygen. Others are made under deadly weather conditions or plotted along particularly challenging routes. There’s no easy way to the top of the world, but the Everest climbs listed below might be considered the most impressive.
First Ascent: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay – 1953
It was kind of a big deal when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent of the world’s tallest mountain on May 29, 1953. They became heroes; enormous crowds in London and India celebrated the climb and the queen knighted Hillary for the accomplishment.
The New Zealander and Sherpa climbed 29,038-foot Everest following a series of expeditions in previous decades, including the famous 1924 attempt when George Mallory disappeared on the mountain. It is not known whether he reached the summit, making Hillary and Norgay’s climb the first confirmed ascent of the tallest mountain in the world. Hillary, a beekeeper and air force navigator during World War II, and his partner were part of an expedition of more than 400 people and 18 tons of equipment.
Today, a 40-foot rock wall near the summit, the Hillary Step, bears the adventurous Kiwi’s name. He and Norgay were first to climb this technical challenge, made all the more difficult, as was the entire endeavor, by the equipment of the day. Remarking upon his successful ascent, Hillary reportedly told his friend George Lowe, “well, George, we knocked the bastard off.”
Reinhold Messner Summits Everest Alone Without Oxygen – 1978 and 1980
Reinhold Messner, a flamboyant German climber regarded by many as the greatest high-altitude alpinist ever, has logged two of Everest’s greatest ascents. The first was on May 8, 1978, when he, along with partner Peter Habeler, became the first to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen. This was a breakthrough achievement many doubted was possible; today an oxygen-less ascent is still a statement of purity and extreme difficulty. Two years later, Messner again summited without oxygen – this time making the climb solo, spending three days on the mountain by himself. He was also the first to summit all 14 of the world’s peaks above 8,000 meters.
13-year-old Jordan Romero Reaches the Top – 2010
In May 2010, a 13-year-old from Big Bear, California, became the youngest person to set foot on the earth’s highest point. Jordan Romero, climbing with his father, stepmother and sherpas, summited Everest, adding to a growing list of impressive ascents undertaken by the adrenaline-fueled youngster. After climbing Everest, he was left with only one more ascent — Antarctica’s Vinson Massif — to finish all 8,000-meter peaks on each continent. The next year, he reached the frozen continent’s jagged peak, becoming the “boy who conquered the Seven Summits.”
Romero may remain the youngest to summit Everest for quite some time, if not forever. As a result of his Everest ascent, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, the organization that issues climbing permits for routes in Tibet, upped the requisite age to 18-years-old for climbers coming from the north.
Blind Adrenalist, Erik Weihenmayer, Makes The Climb – 2001
In 2001, Erik Weihenmayer, became the first blind climber to reach the summit of Everest. Born with an eye disease called retinoschisis, Weihenmayer gradually lost his vision, becoming totally blind by the age of 13. He refused, however, to do things as expected. He refused to use a cane or learn braille, relying instead on his other senses to do things that most humans can only dream of. He became his high school’s wrestling captain, representing his state in the national championship. In 1996, he carried the Olympic torch through Phoenix. He learned to climb ice by listening for the thunk sound heard when an axe finds placement in solid ice, and in 2001, he followed the sound of a bell rung by a climbing partner to the top of the tallest mountain in the world.
Following his Everest ascent, Weihenmayer went on to complete the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent. His Everest ascent turned him into an overnight media sensation garnering magazine articles and television appearances, even reality shows. All the while, he has been a champion of athletes with disabilities, ascending Himalayan peaks with wounded war veterans.
May 23, 2010
On a single day a couple of years ago, May 23, 2010, more climbers reached the top of the world than had summited in more than 30 years. That number: 169, a figure emblematic of the explosion in interest in the world’s tallest peak.
Today, fixed ropes and ladders provide passage over much of Everest’s more worn routes. Discarded oxygen bottles pile up in the snow, and the summit can become choked with climbers, hundreds of porters and expensive guides. An ascent with one of these guides can cost as much as $80,000 per climber.
The fervor over Everest may have started in the mid 1850s when the Royal Geographical Society crowned it the tallest mountain in the world. Interest in the peak, however, continues today at a pace that the mountain perhaps cannot sustain. This year, several climbers have died on the mountain, in no small part due to the commercialization of the mountain. Today, almost anyone can step foot on the world’s tallest mountain… for a price. Sometimes the price is more than anyone can account for.