Tibetans call the world’s highest mountain Chomolungma, ‘Goddess Mother of the World’, while the Nepali authorities use the name Sagarmatha. The British on the other hand named it after a Welshman, Sir George Everest who first accurately surveyed the peak from India.
Fasten your seatbelt
With its scarily short runway and high-altitude setting, Lukla airport (aka Tenzing-Hillary) is not for the faint-hearted. Given the right weather conditions, though, flights here are a thrilling experience and provide a panoramic view of the Himalayas.
Life in the foothills
Around 10,000 Sherpas live in the Khumbu Valley surrounding Everest. Originally from Tibet (their name means ‘people of the east’), Sherpas are now synonymous with high-altitude guiding though many are forced to leave the mountains and find work in Kathmandu.
© Blazej Lyjak/Shutterstock
A few days’ walk from Mount Everest, Tengboche monastery has one of the most stunning settings in the Himalayas. Its monks follow one of the oldest sects of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingmapa. A sister monastery, Rongbuk, lies on the Tibetan side of Everest.
Tengboche monastery © Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock
Around 35,000 trekkers tackle the Everest trail every year. While this keeps hundreds of Nepalis employed as guides, porters and service staff, it also puts pressure on the environment. To find out how to trek responsibly visit Visit www.keepnepal.org.
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Namche Bazaar (3750m), the “Sherpa capital” is the largest town in the Everest region. Among its tightly packed streets are dozens of outdoor shops, a Buddhist monastery and an Irish pub. In May 1953 the radio station here broadcast the news that Everest had been climbed.
View of Namche Bazaar in Nepal © R.M. Nunes/Shutterstock
Beasts of burden
Dzopkio, a shaggy-haired cross between a cow and a yak are used to transport everything from trekking equipment to crates of beer. If you meet one on a mountain path just remember to give way.
Above 3500m, trekkers and climbers are increasingly prone to acute mountain sickness or AMS. Usually the only cure is to descend, either being carried down in a special pressurized bag or evacuated by helicopter (the latter costing £6,000 per flight).
© S. Hanusch/Shutterstock
Mani stones are a common sight in the Khumbu Valley. Usually carved in Tibetan script they may display a single mantra (chant) or a complete prayer. Many repeat the famous mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’. or ‘Oh you in whose lotus is a jewel’.
King of the mountain
Snow leopards disappeared from the Everest region in the 1960s. In 2004 a survey team confirmed the return of these majestic big cats within Sagarmatha National Park. Incredibly rare and elusive, their survival depends on education and conservation.
Snow leopard © Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock
A Room with a view
Phortse Teahouse (3810m) boasts one of the most stunning settings in the Khumbu Valley. Ancient drystone walls and rhododendron forests dot the landscape while a canopy of 5000m peaks looms above. Not a bad spot for a bucket shower.
Phortse village lodge © LUC KOHNEN/Shutterstock
Mind the gap
Summiting Everest is an epic endurance test featuring treacherous ice, capricious weather and extreme altitude. Above 7500m climbers enter the ‘Death Zone’, above which the body quickly begins to deteriorate without artificial oxygen.
Climber passes a crack in the glacier on the ladder on the way to Mount Everest © Zhosan Olexandr/Shutterstock
Paying the price
An estimated 233 climbers have died on Everest. Among those commemorated with memorials are Scott Fischer who died with eight others in May, 1996 (a tragedy described in John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air) and Canadian Shriya Shah Klorfine who died hours after reaching the summit in 2012.
© Maciek A/Shutterstock
Much of the Everest region including the peak itself lies within the Sagarmatha National Park, one of the most geologically interesting regions in the world. Its stunning landscapes, fragile wildlife and Sherpa culture are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ama Dablam Lhotse and top of Everest with stupa – Nepal © Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock
1953 and all that
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary return from conquering Everest on May 29, 1953. A media storm soon engulfed the pair, not least a controversy over who set foot on the summit first. Tenzing finally settled the argument in 1955: ‘Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him.’
New Zealand Five Dollar bill with Edmund Hillary portrait © Wendy Kaveney Photography/Shutterstock
Are we nearly there yet?
Last stop before Base Camp, the teahouse at Gorak Shep (5140m) is dwarfed by a vast lunar landscape stretching towards the Khumbu Glacier. The footpath to the left leads to Kala Patthar (5550m) a trekking peak with awesome views of Everest.
© Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock
View from the top
Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first scaled Everest in 1953, around 6000 climbers have repeated the feat. Among them are over 2000 Nepalese, 536 Americans and 264 Brits. In 2013, 80 year-old Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura became the oldest person to climb Everest.
Roof of the world
Splitting Nepal from Tibet along a razor sharp ridge, Everest (8848m) and its sister peaks Nuptse (7861m) and Lhotse (8414m) glow in the sunset. Swiss climbers, so close to beating the British to Everest in 1952 were the first to scale Lhotse, three years later.
What goes up…
The most dangerous part of most attempts on Everest is the descent. Here two climbers negotiate ‘the yellow band’, a distinctive golden ring of dolomite rock below the black summit.
Bedtime at base camp
Every Spring several hundred mountaineers make Everest Base Camp their home for up to eight weeks. A clinic known as ‘Everest ER’ is set up to treat them. Once dubbed ‘the highest rubbish dump in the world’, the camp is now carefully cleaned up once the climbers depart.
Top image © Meiqianbao/Shutterstock