George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared trying to do it in 1924. Some believe they were actually the first. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary finally did it in 1953 and had the film footage to prove it.
Many have since climbed to the summit of Mount Everest, but almost 200 have died trying–most recently 16 Sherpa guides who were killed in an avalanche in April while hauling supplies on the mountain.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, written by Jon Krakauer and published in 1997 (which I had read a few years back and read again now after the April tragedy) tries to explain why so many, including the author, have found climbing Everest irresistible.
But the rewards of the endeavor of summiting Everest (the beauty, the awesome thrill of the senses, and the feeling of accomplishment of this amazing feat) are eclipsed by Krakauer’s vivid account of the danger, the ethical dilemmas, the ego trips and the sometimes gruesome effects of climbing at 25,000 feet. As the recent avalanche in the news and previous tragedies prove, the book’s cover also relates a dark side of the mountain:
“When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin his long, dangerous descent from 29,028 feet, twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly toward the top. No one had noticed that the sky had begun to fill with clouds. Six hours later and 3,000 feet lower, in 70-knot winds and blinding snow, Krakauer collapsed in his tent, freezing, hallucinating from exhaustion and hypoxia, but safe. The following morning he learned that six of his fellow climbers hadn’t made it back to their camp and were in a desperate struggle for their lives. When the storm finally passed, five of them would be dead, and the sixth so horribly frostbitten that his right hand would have to be amputated.”
There is more than enough concern to go around. The consensus among many climbers is that tour companies running the expeditions (obtaining permits, visas, supplying tents, food and guides) often present the experience as something for practically anyone who has the time and money. Also, tourism is the lifeblood of the small towns in the area. Krakauer’s account is nothing short of amazing, filled with details and even quotes from criticisms of his own actions/inactions on that fateful expedition.