Mount Everest: How to climb the world’s highest mountain
There are two main routes used by climbers to reach the summit of Everest, the North Ridge Route – which begins in Tibet and is a technically harder climb – and the South Ridge Route, which starts in Namche Bazaar, Nepal, and is the easier and more popular way up top. Within these two routes there are roughly 15 different ways to reach the summit of the mountain, a choice that rests on the experience and number of people ascending.
The South Ridge Route, which is the focus of this guide, is split into five camps (including Base Camp) and takes on average four days for its climbers to reach the summit. This route technically begins at Base Camp (5,380m), a six to eight day hike from Kathmandu that allows climbers to acclimatise to the higher altitudes.
Once acclimatised at Base Camp, climbers are then forced to cross the Khumbu Icefall, a treacherous series of ice sheets, crevasses and shifting blocks that have claimed the lives of many Sherpas and mountaineers. With the help of fixed ropes and metal ladders however, climbers can then progress up the Icefall to Camp I (6,065m).
From Camp I climbers then continue up the Western Cwm (Cwm is pronounced ‘coom’), a relatively flat, gently sloping glacial valley nicknamed the ‘Valley of Silence’ due to its lack of wind, to the bottom of the Lhotse face where Camp II (6,500m) is situated. From there, climbers must then ascend the Lhotse face by a series of fixed ropes up to Camp III (7,470m), which itself is positioned on a small, narrow shelf of rock, snow and ice. 500 metres on from Camp III lies the last of the five camps on Everest’s South Col (Camp IV – 7,920m) and at the start of the Death Zone, the point where the levels of oxygen cannot sustain human life over extended periods of time.
Camp IV is the point of no return for climbers attempting to reach the summit, and for many, this is the point where a summit ascent ends, as if the weather does not suit it is impossible to continue. Providing all is well however, climbers then make their final and most dangerous push to the summit, a task which must begin between 12 and 1am in order for the ascent and descent to be made in a single day.
Between the camp and the peak lies two imposing obstacles, the ‘Cornice traverse’ – a knife-edge horizontal ridge with the 2,400m southwest face on one side and the 3,050m Kangshung face on the other – and then, at the end of the traverse, the daunting ‘Hillary Step’ 12- metre high rock wall. Again through a series of fixed ropes, climbers must ascend this to reach the gentler – albeit heavily exposed – slopes that wind their way to the summit (8,848m).
Mount Everest Statistics
Name: English – Everest, Tibetan – Chomolungma
Height: 8,848m (29,029ft)
Routes to summit: 15
Climbing cost: $25,000 (average permit)
Climbing season: May, September and October
How to survive the climb
1. Training is key
Plan ahead and undertake strict cardiovascular and weight-based training consistently throughout the 12-month run-up to the climb. Taking supplements to your diet is also recommended.
2. Mentally prepare
It is going to be harder than you think. Despite the guide being present you’re not going to be dragged up the mountain by them.
3. Be patient
There will be a lot of down-time in order to allow for acclimatisation. Learn to relax while you have the opportunity as you’ll need the energy later.
4. Cost it out
Climbing any mountain over 8,000 feet is very costly, both in terms of equipment and permits, and the last thing you should do is compromise on your kit quality.
5. Understand the risks
Many climbers never return from mountains, while others suffer from side-effects such as alpine trench foot, hypothermia and frostbite, or even acute mountain sickness.
The kit you’ll need
5-7 x oxygen canisters
1 x satellite phone
1 x two-way radio
1 x harness
2 x ice axe
2 x ski poles
1 x altimeter
1 x rappel device
4 x crampons
Top 5 Everest facts
Mount Everest was named after the Surveyor General of India, George Everest, in 1865. Interestingly, Everest himself actually disapproved of the name.
The first successful accent of Mount Everest was completed back in 1953 by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa.
3. Close shave
The very first aircraft to fly over the peak of Mount Everest was an RAF Westland PV3 in 1933. Its crew recorded that they only just scraped over the summit.
4. Death toll
Although over 200 people have died on Everest, most of their corpses have never been recovered, with bodies purposely left due to safety considerations.
5. King of kings
Everest beats its closest competitor, Pakistan’s K2, in raw height by 227 metres. This fact comes despite K2 being the harder climb out of the pair.
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Plus take a look at:
Why does the air on top of Everest contain only half the oxygen of air at sea level?
When does a hill become a mountain?