The first recorded climb up and return from the highest mountain in the world occurred 65 years ago today. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit (in that order) and survived to tell about it.
Some deem the feat another example of Western Imperialism, since Hillary was recorded as the first to set foot on the peak and as the English dubbed the mountain “Everest,” though it is known by other names locally, one of which translates tellingly to “Holy Mother Peak.”
Famously, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine died in the first known attempt in 1922. No one is quite sure whether they died in their ascent or descent. Mallory’s body was found near the summit in 1999.
Everest, if you will, is accepted as the highest peak in altitude above sea level, but Mauna Kea in Hawaii is far taller, if you include its height from sea floor to sea level. One peak in Ecuador is taller, if you measure from the center of the earth, since the rotation of the planet causes it to bulge neare the equator. Still, Everest deserves its reputation. Even though a few have ascended it without aide, its height above sea level, makes the use of oxygen tanks the rule.
There are a number of lesser peaks that are technically harder climbs, particularly today. In recent years, the Everest industry has used Sherpas at the beginning of each season to build and repair what amounts to a rope stair rail up the most difficult sections of the ascent. This has enabled large numbers of sometimes marginally athletic climbers (often wealthy or well-sponsored) to take the climb off their bucket lists. I exclude the few but notable handicapped climbers from any such derision. Last year 648 accomplished their goal.
Everest is known for its dangers, from avalanche, earthquake and unpredictable storms; but fatalities have been lower than many believe. According to Wikipedia, deaths number about 4 per 100 successful climbs.
In fact, Everest has become something of a place for extreme stunts. One skied from the summit, and lived (barely) to tell about it. Two, who did not have oxygen to rescind, paraglide down. The summit has now even been used for a helicopter landing. Only bungie jumping seems left.
When traveling, I sometimes scan a mountain and wonder if anyone has ever made the climb. I suspect that there are many mountaintops with no footprints to mar their peaks. For its time and technology, Hillary and Norgay’s accomplishment deserves its place in history. Only the first footprints on the moon stand taller.