Nothing endures quite like a mystery frozen in time at the top of the world. But behind the legend, of which most of us know only the bullet points, is a heap of story: the gruesome realities and bitter fallout of a nation gutted by World War I, the character of hegemony in pursuit of a peak, the gasping of empire. Set aside a season for this extraordinary expedition. The key players in the pursuit of Everest were plucked from a generation devastated by the horrors of World War I, horrors the author explores through historical documents and diaries in wonkish, sometimes lurid, detail.
Shortly after enlisting, a young English soldier named George Mallory found himself in the Battle of the Somme, a vicious bloodletting that killed tens of thousands in a matter of days. The war left a million British dead, and 2.
Bayonets, cavalry and trench warfare met up with new weaponry — machine guns, poison gas and air bombing. The smell in the trench was of fear, and of sweat, blood, vomit, excrement, cordite and the putrescence of cadavers. With their empire in tatters, postwar Britons were desperate for a source of renewal to pierce their collective mourning; they needed grand projects to restore national pride.
They looked eastward, and up. Starting in the lexicon and tactics of war were applied to the attempts to scout and conquer Everest. Vast expeditions — the first in had taken a load so hefty that 88 porters died of exhaustion — made their way across the Tibetan plateau.
Tibetans were similarly befuddled by the British mission. I felt great compassion for them to suffer so much for such meaningless work. View all New York Times newsletters. But even he was bested in the end — or was he? It is only right the heart feels that these climbers, clad in tweed and hobnailed boots, war-torn survivors of the worst that the trenches and altitude could deliver, should own this remarkable achievement.
But the question of whether Mallory and Irvine summited before their deaths has hung in the ether for over 75 years. Certain victory came in , more than a quarter of a century after they died, when the Nepali Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and a Kiwi beekeeper named Edmund Hillary reached the top of Everest — and got back alive.
By then it was a different geopolitical era, and the redemption of empire and the brandishing of colonialism were nonstarters. The mountain has become bigger than itself. This year I was back on Everest, as writer-in-residence for the Sheffield-based expedition company Jagged Globe. We flew into the rugged airstrip of Lukla, a white-knuckle experience in its own right.
South Africans who made history on Everest
A night in a cosy Nepali teahouse loses some of its charm when you know the rock walls around you have only just been rebuilt, and the hefty beams over your head are still splintered right through. Climbers, of course, are made of sterner stuff. When we arrived, 34 teams were hauling their tonnes of gear up to Base Camp, and summit permits had been issued.
Roughly sherpa support workers — high-altitude climbers, porters, ice-fall doctors, cooks — were also on their way up.
Then there are the lodge workers, the yak drivers, the helicopter pilots and the shopkeepers in the villages along the way. Countless Nepali families depend on Everest for their livelihood. Veteran Everest blogger Alan Arnette has spotted a revealing trend. The more Everest takes lives, the more people come. Who are they, these individuals who travel half-way around the world to risk their lives in a game of high-altitude roulette? Are they the same people who run with the bulls at Pamplona, who go wing-suiting out of helicopters at the weekend?
See a Problem?
Not if the climbers I was with were anything to go by: Ian, Mary, Nick, Richard, Steve, years of mountain experience between them, grounded, extremely fit and savvy. For them, it would be a first. They were matter-of-fact about the risks. I asked Nick to estimate how much less lung function he had than the other team members, and he said 15 percent. Up there, at m, that 15pc could easily mean the difference between life and death.
Last Climb: The Legendary Everest Expedition of George Mallory
They were assisted by five sherpa climbers under the direction of Sirdar Pem Chhiri. The chat around the mess tent table was about the biggest change of all — towards sherpa-led and sherpa-owned expeditions. What do you get for your money? You get no guarantees, but there is a grungy glamour to climbing Everest. You may well find yourself rubbing Gore-Tex-clad shoulders with the elite of the mountain world.
These days, writs flutter about the slopes of Everest like the crows that make a healthy living from Base Camp scraps. Accusations of cheating also roll around, with all the predictability of the annual monsoon. In the closing days of each climbing season, there are fewer eyes around to scrutinise summit claims.
This year an Indian couple were accused by other mountaineers of faking a summit shot. Such disputes are rarely resolved. Everest keeps its secrets. And that rat is still up there — waiting patiently, with glittering eyes, calling those, like myself, who are too foolish to resist. I am planning to return in Watch this space. Richie Hunter, 31, mountain guide from New Zealand on his first ascent.
He and the group interviewed below summited on May 13, The challenge for me is to maintain momentum for all the climbers. You become a close family; I build a trust and rapport with each climber. When people are maxed out, their history comes alive. In April , my attempt was aborted by the Khumbu icefall. I started to feel it was my lot in life to enjoy the journey but never make it to the top, yet I had confidence in my sherpa, Nawang Tenjing.
Friday 13, the day I summited, will always be lucky for me now. We were the first in our group to summit. We hugged, and I was just stunned to be there, given the weather. We were in a whiteout, a windy snow storm on the highest mountain in the world. I got to know him on Ama Dablam in Nepal. It can be hard to get to know people here: You feel awestruck by the surroundings and everything is overwhelming.
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I felt it was the least I could do. Tracee Metcalfe, 42, doctor from Colorado, US Other climbers can push themselves to the limit, but I have to be careful and stay aware of my exhaustion levels. The best place for them to be is Base Camp, so they can communicate by radio; it was unusual that I got to do this. Someone who has never been in these conditions before would find that extremely hard. I spent two years training physically and.