Think you know everything there is to know about the world's tallest peak? Think again! We have seven little known facts about Mt. Everest that are sure to give you a new perspective on this iconic mountain, which remains an alluring destination for adventure travelers, trekkers, and climbers even in the 21st century.
Just How Tall is Everest?
Back in 1955 a team of Indian surveyors visited Everest to take an official measurement of the mountain's height. Using the best equipment of the day, they determined that it stood 29,029 feet (8848 meters) above sea level, which remains the official altitude recognized by both the Nepali and Chinese governments to this day.
But, in 1999 a National Geographic Team placed a GPS device on the summit and recorded the altitude as 29,035 feet (8849 meters). Then, in 2005, a Chinese team used even more precise instruments to measure the mountain as it would stand without the ice and snow that have accumulated on the summit. Their official measurement of just the rock itself came in at 29,017 feet (8844 meters).
Which one of these measurement is correct? For now, the official height of Everest remains 29,029 feet, but plans are afoot to measure the mountain once again, particularly since it is believed that the height may have changed following the 2015 earthquake. Perhaps we'll finally get a consensus of the true height at long last.
The Mystery of Mallory's Camera
The first successful summit of Everest was recorded by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953. But, there are some who believe that it was actually climbed much earlier.
Back in 1924, an explorer by the name of George Mallory, along with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, were part of an expedition attempting to complete the first ascent of the mountain. The duo were last seen on June 8 of that year just below the summit but making steady progress upwards. Shortly thereafter, they simply disappeared, leaving behind a mountaineering mystery for the ages. Did they actually make it to the top nearly three decades before Hillary and Norgay or did they perish somewhere below the summit?
In 1999, a team of climbers discovered Mallory's remains high on the slopes of Everest. The body did little to reveal whether or not he actually reached the top and unfortunately the team's camera was not found amongst his gear. It is believed that Irvine was actually carrying the camera when they made their ascent, and that device could hold the photographic evidence of their success or failure. To date, Irvine's body – and the camera – has not been found, but if it is ever uncovered, it could potentially change mountaineering history forever.
Who Has Climbed Everest the Most?
Climbing Everest is no small feat, and reaching the top remains a tremendous accomplishment. But for some people, climbing the mountain once just isn't enough. In fact, a climber by the name of Kami Rita Sherpa has been to the summit on 22 separate occasions, giving him the record for most successful attempts on the mountain. Mountain guide Lhakpa Sherpa holds the record for most summits by a woman, having climbed to the highest point on the planet nine times.
The record for most summits by a non-Sherpa is held by American Dave Hahn, a guide for RMI Expeditions. He's made the trip to the summit 15 times as well, which is an impressive number too.
For most climbers, reaching the summit takes several days with stops at various campsites to rest and recover along the way. But a few talented alpinists have been able to go from Base Camp to the summit in blazingly fast times, setting speed records in the process.
For instance, the fastest time for an Everest summit from the South Side in Nepal is currently held by Lakpa Gelu Sherpa who in 2003 managed to go from BC to the top in just 10 hours and 56 minutes. Lakpa spent a few minutes on the summit enjoying his accomplishment before turning back, completing the round-trip journey in just 18 hours, 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, on the North Side in Tibet, the record stands at 16 hours and 45 minutes and was set by Italian mountaineer Hans Kammerlander back in 1996.
The Puja Ceremony: Seeking Permission From the Mountain Gods
In the Buddhist culture of the Himalaya Everest is known as Chomolungma, which translates to "Goddess Mother of Mountains." As such, the peak is seen at a sacred place, requiring all mountaineers to ask for permission and safe passage before they actually step foot on the mountain. This takes place during a puja ceremony, which is traditionally held in Base Camp prior to the start of the climb.
The puja is performed by a Buddhist Lama and two or more monks, who build an alter out of stones at the campsite. During the ceremony they ask for good fortune and protection as the climbers prepare for their ascent. They also bless the team's climbing equipment, including ice axes, crampons, harnesses, and so on.
For the Sherpa people this is an important step that must be completed prior to starting the expedition. Most won't even begin and Everest expedition without undergoing a puja ceremony first. Is this just a superstition? Quite possibly. But it is also a tradition that dates back hundreds of years and one that most foreign climbers are honored to take part in.
Oldest and Youngest Climbers
Age is just a number when it comes to climbing Everest. Sure, most of those who travel to the mountain are experienced climbers in their 30's and 40's, but others certainly fall outside that age group. For instance, the record for the oldest climber to ever reach the summit is currently held by Yuichiro Miura of Japan, who was 80 years, 224 days old when he topped out back in 2013. The youngest person to ever summit the mountain is American Jordan Romero, who accomplished that same feat at the tender age of just 13 years, 10 months, and 10 days in 2010.
Recently, the governments of Nepal and China have agreed to put age restrictions on climbers, requiring them to be at least 16 years old before attempting the mountain. Both countries have done away with a cap on the age, although more senior climbers may be required to pass a medical exam before starting their expeditions.
Sadly, Miura passed away on Everest in 2017 while attempting to reach the summit once again at the age of 85.
It's Not Actually the Tallest Mountain on the Planet
While the summit of Everest may be the highest point on the surface of the Earth, it isn't actually the tallest mountain on the planet. That distinction goes to Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is actually 33,465 feet (10,200 meters) in height, a full 4436 feet (1352 meters) taller than Everest.
So why isn't Mauna Kea recognized at the highest peak instead? Because most of the mountain actually sits below the surface of the ocean. Its summit only rises 13,796 feet above sea level, making it appear to be relatively modest in size when compared to the Himalayan giants.