Mount Everest


As the tallest mountain in the world, Everest holds a special place in the minds and hearts of many. It has religious significance for inhabitants of nearby regions and it can be said that it holds a similar significance for the many mountaineers and climbers who have attempted to summit it to stand “on top of the world.” Join Active Minds as we explore the stories of Everest—both triumphs and tragedies—and examine different perspectives on the mountain’s past, present, and future.

Key Lecture Points

  • 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Their achievement ranks with other legendary heroic exploits of the 20th century such as the first trek to the South Pole by Amundsen in 1911 and Lindbergh’s first nonstop solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.
  • Mount Everest is the world’s tallest peak at 29,029 feet (1999 measurements using GPS place the altitude at 29,035)—5 ½ vertical miles above sea level. This high elevation presents many dangers to climbers, from extreme cold, hurricane force winds, and avalanches to thin air that contains only about 1/3 of the oxygen at sea level.
  • For centuries, Mount Everest has been a sacred place for Buddhists. Traditionally the people of the Himalayas refrained from any attempt to climb to the peak out of respect for the gods residing in the mountain. It was not until the early 20th century that British expeditions began to attempt to reach the top.
  • The most famous of the early Mount Everest explorers were George Mallory and Andrew Irvine who disappeared in 1924 during their heroic attempt to reach the summit. Did they make it to the top and perish on the way down or did they die in the attempt to reach the top? Speculation around this mystery continues as pieces of their equipment still surface on the mountain.
  • Hillary, a beekeeper from New Zealand, and his Sherpa partner, Norgay were instant heroes after their successful ascent but also found themselves in the midst of a post-colonial controversy over which man was the first to reach the summit—the New Zealander or the Sherpa? In the post-colonial climate, the official stance was that the 2 reached the summit at the same time. Years later both men clarified that it was actually Hillary who was the first to the top.
  • Mount Everest continues to capture our imagination. Organized tours make it possible for less experienced climbers to attempt the summit—at a cost of $65,000 or more. The increased accessibility raises concerns about commercialism and ecological damage.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major dangers in climbing Mount Everest?
  • Who were the early climbers of the mountain and how did they contribute to the history of Mount Everest?

Reflective Questions

  • Why do you think Mount Everest and the first successful climb to the summit by Hillary and Norgay continue to fascinate us?
  • Have you climbed any major peaks in Colorado? If so, how do you think your experience compares with climbing Mount Everest? Similarities and differences?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. Anchor, 1999. 368 pages. Krakauer’s personal account of the tragedy that befell his climbing party and his investigations afterwards to understand what went wrong.
    Click here to order
  • Davis, Wade. Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest. Vintage, 2012. 688 pages. This is the story of the British adventurers who survived the trenches of WWI and their heroic efforts to climb Mount Everest.
    Click here to order
  • Thubron, Colin. To A Mountain in Tibet. (e-book) HarperCollins, 2011. The author’s account of his journey to Kailas, Tibet, the holiest mountain on earth for both Buddhists and Hindus.