This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners and AirPano, now available on Google Arts & Culture
Part of a section of the Himalayas called Mahālangūr Himāl that is surrounded and drained by enormous glaciers, Everest received its English name in 1865 from the British Surveyor General of India, who named the peak for his predecessor.
The combined extremes of height, thin air, wind, crevasses, avalanches, and cold make this peak nearly impossible to climb.
Located on the border of Tibet (ruled by China today) and Nepal, Everest has been periodically closed to foreigners by both countries.
However, despite the obstacles, and despite the fact that the mountain has claimed some 200 lives, more than 4,000 people have climbed Mount Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first reached the summit in 1953.
There are 2 main climbing routes to Mount Everest: the most popular one from the southeast in Nepal and another from Tibet in the north. Most climbers fly into Lukla from Kathmandu and then hike to Base Camp.
They then hike over 6 to 10 days to acclimatize to the elevation and prevent altitude sickness. On the way, hikers pass by picturesque villages set against jagged pinnacles and get acquainted with the culture of the Sherpas, the native ethnic group.
Western Shoulder of Everest
If you’re like most hikers, you’ll spend a couple of weeks in Base Camp, gazing up at your goal, as Sherpas and their pack animals set up the necessary ropes and ladders in the Khumbu Icefall.
You can’t miss the colorful cloth flags, called Lung ta (“Wind Horses”) in Tibetan, fluttering on strings hung between poles and cairns. They’re meant to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom as they bless both the countryside and the climbers.
The Circus of Everest
Climbing Everest has exploded in popularity recently, and, increasingly, many climbers are inexperienced hikers who depend on professional guides.
Environmentalists call the onslaught of humans a “circus”; others criticize the “cesspit” of garbage, discarded oxygen tanks, and litter left behind.
Between 600 and 700 people attempt to climb Everest most years, but 2015 marked the first year in 41 years that no one climbed to the peak. This is because deadly earthquakes triggered avalanches that swept through Base Camp.
Khumbu Ice River
Not far above Base Camp, this icefall is considered one of the most dangerous stages of the South Col (the route up Everest from the south).
The glacier here moves at such high speeds—.9 to 1.2 meters (2.9 to 3.93 feet) per day—that sometimes, without warning, large crevasses open up, or large towers of ice suddenly collapse.
Remember to take precautions! Above all, always do exactly what your guide tells you to do: they know best.
Most climbers try to cross the icefall in the early morning because it’s partially frozen during the night. As the intense Himalayan sunlight warms Everest, the landscape begins to shift and groan, and the afternoons are the most dangerous.
The Worst Day
The worst climbing accident in the history of Everest occurred on April 18, 2014: 16 high-altitude climbing Sherpas were killed in the Khumbu Icefall. The tragedy happened when an enormous wedge of ice crashed to the slope below.
Beyond the top of the Khumbu Icefall is Camp I, at 6,065 meters (19,989 feet). At night here, you’ll hear the haunting murmuring and cracking sounds of the crevasses opening and closing deep in the glacier beneath.
Climbing Everest isn’t just hiking—it’s also acclimatizing. A successful Everest expedition can take up to 2 months, because you must make multiple rotations up and down the mountain to adjust to the incredibly thin air.
You’ll likely spend 10 to 15 days sleeping at Base Camp, sleeping at ever-increasing altitudes, to trick your body into making necessary physiological changes. Of the nearly 7,000 climbers who have summited the mountain, only about 200 have done so without supplemental oxygen.
The Valley of Silence
From Camp I, you'll ascend to Lhotse face via a small passageway called the Nuptse Corner. This part of the climb is called “The Valley of Silence” because the area’s topography cuts off nearly all wind and all sound.
Camps II through IV
From Camp II, you’ll ascend the Lhotse face up to Camp III, on a ledge at 7,470 meters. To get from Camp III to IV, you’ll cross a large rock buttress called the Geneva Spur.
Lhotse (8516 meters and Nuptse (7861 meters)
Some consider the jagged Lhotse the hardest mountain in the world to climb. As of 2008, 371 climbers have summited it; 20 have died trying. Many consider Nuptse and Lhotse one massive massif.
It’s desperately cold, dangerously icy, and eerily silent except for the incessant wind. Clip in carefully and look for the place called the Hillary Step, a nearly vertical rock face about 12.19 meters high--the end of your long journey.
Gokyo Valley and Lakes (4750 meters (15,583 feet))
Considered sacred by the locals, these lakes are cold, cold, cold! Both Hindus and Buddhists consider them sacred and believe that if you take a dip here, you will be pardoned from your sins and blessed with many children.
The turquoise waters entice many tourists, especially in August, when pilgrims and priests celebrate full-moon festivals. There are 6 main lakes in this system; Thomak Lake is the largest.
There may be no smaller town or (at an elevation of 4,750 meters) higher settlement on the planet than Gokyo Village. It’s barely a hamlet of huts that cater to hikers, and it closes down completely during harsh winters.
You can see how this glacier cut a path as it moved through the countryside, just below the sixth highest mountain in the world, Cho Oyu (aka “Turquoise Goddess”). As temperatures warm, this and other glaciers show signs of shrinking.
As you might guess, it’s not easy to rescue someone from these peaks, but helicopters have the best chance at these extreme elevations. In 2005, for the first time, a helicopter even made it to the peak of Everest.
Here, the pilot is unloading fuel to reduce the weight of his helicopter as he proceeds upward. Notice that the helipad consists of a few faint lines drawn into the hard rocks.
Kala Patthar (5545 meters (18,192 feet))
In the distance, you can see Kala Patthar, a landmark whose name means “black rock” in Nepali. It provides the most accessible point to view Mount Everest from Base Camp to peak. The world’s highest webcam is also here.
Pumori Mountain (7161 meters (23,494 feet))
Just 8 miles west of Everest, Pumori was named by George Mallory, a British mountaineer who participated in the first Everest expeditions in the 1920s. He and his partner disappeared here in 1924, but his remains were discovered in 1999.
Edmund Hillary’s Suspension Bridge
Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) was a New Zealand mountaineer who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first documented climbers to summit Everest on May 29, 1953, during an expedition sponsored by the British government.
Following this historic ascent, Hillary devoted most of his life to helping the Sherpas through an organization he founded called the Himalayan Trust. The trust built many schools and hospitals for the people of Nepal. As you can see here, Hillary’s trust built bridges, too.
Flora and Fauna
In some parts of the Everest landscape, very little grows. However, here you can see thick forests of pine, hemlock, juniper, and wild rhododendron. You may also catch a glimpse of wildlife such as musk deer and snow leopards.
Would you Dare?
You can see why the Bhote Kosi River is popular for rafting and kayaking. It’s the steepest river rafted in Nepal. The river carves a steep gorge in a long, continuous flow that offers a thrilling and intense adrenaline rush.