Almost every kid in the U.S. should have learned that Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world, but maybe that's all they know about it. Although people have successfully reached the mountain's summit, climbing Mount Everest is not a feat for everyone. While many have reached summit, more than 200 people have died trying. Some have died because their bodies couldn't handle the lack of oxygen and the freezing temperatures. Others have fallen to their deaths. Still yet, others have been buried in avalanches or caught in sudden storms. Many of the dead still lie on Mount Everest with the cold snow as their tombs. You'll celebrate the successes of those who climbed to the top, and you will mourn the people who lost their lives trying to become a part of history.
The Tallest Mountain in the World
Mount Everest lies in a region bordering the countries of Nepal and Tibet in the mountain range called the Himalayas. The Tibetans named the peak "Chomolungma," meaning "Goddess Mother of the World," but Sir George Everest of Great Britain lent his name to the mountain in 1865. The Himalayas began forming between 25 million and 30 million years ago, and Mount Everest actually grows a fraction of an inch each year. The U.S. National Geographic Society measured the height of Mount Everest as 29,035 feet, which is the figure accepted by specialists and mapmakers. Above 25,000 feet, is the region called "The Death Zone," where many climbers cannot survive without extra oxygen.
Conditions at the Top
The conditions at the summit of Mount Everest are brutal. The winters see average temperatures of -33 degree Fahrenheit. During the peak of summer, the temperatures at the top rise to -2 degrees Fahrenheit. At times, temperatures dip to a low of -76 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides being extremely frigid, the summit of Mount Everest contains only a third of the normal oxygen in the atmosphere, much less oxygen than many people need to survive. Winds whip around the summit at about 100 miles an hour.
Breathing Atop Mount Everest
Climbers have great difficulty breathing the closer they get to the top. The air pressure decreases the higher you climb, and the reduction in air pressure means less oxygen is available for you to breathe. Normal air contains 21 percent oxygen; at 21,000 feet, the oxygen level decreases to only 14 percent. At the summit of Mount Everest, only one-third of the normal oxygen is available. Humans suffer altitude sickness when their bodies react to the low oxygen levels at high elevations. People become confused and get headaches; their eyes go blurry; they feel tired and nauseous; and they can't sleep or eat well. In more serious situations, fluid fills the lungs and the brain swells, causing death. To combat altitude sickness, climbers ascend very slowly so that their bodies can get used to the lack of oxygen.
Some people have made the Himalayas their home. These native people, called Sherpas, actually live in the valleys found up to 14,000 feet up the mountains. They were traders at one time and would travel from place to place to find pastures for their animals. Sherpas have become the guides for tourists and mountain climbers who wish to see the summit of Mount Everest. In 2007, a team of researchers led by Dr. Stacie Wing-Gaia found that the bodies of Sherpas have adapted to life in the Himalayas. The scientists found that Sherpas actually gained weight as they climbed while other climbers lost weight. Even though the Sherpas became dehydrated at high elevations, they didn't get headaches or become nauseous. Their bodies used oxygen better than other climbers. Sherpas adapted quickly to the altitude so that they were able to climb to the top of Mount Everest in 10 days instead of the three weeks it took the bodies of other climbers to adapt to the conditions on Mount Everest.
Those Who Made It to the Top
The first person ever to climb to the top of Mount Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary and his friend, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. In 1980, Reinhold Messner became the first climber to reach the summit without needing a bottle of oxygen. Other notable climbers include Sherpa Pemba Dorje, who reached the summit in just more than eight hours; Apa Sherpa, who made his 21st ascent in May 2011; 13-year-old Jordan Romero from the U.S., the youngest person to reach the top of Everest; and 80-year-old Yichiro Miura, who, in 2013, became the oldest person to climb to the top of the mountain.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Mount Everest, "Since 1990"
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Mount Everest, "Geology and relief" and "The height of Everest"
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Mount Everest, "Drainage and climate"
- Nova Online Adventure: Everest-Climbing Without O's
- The Tech: Everest: The Mountain-Physiological Effects of Altitude
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Mount Everest, "Habitation"
- University of Utah Health Care: Sherpa Performance on Top of the World
- The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest; Steve Jenkins
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images