Later this year I will be in Nepal, climbing to the Mt Everest Base Camp. The base camp sits at an elevation of 17,598 feet above sea level on the southeast face of the tallest mountain in the world. To give you some perspective, the base camp is 10 times the height of One World Trade Center and over 3,000 ft taller than any mountain in the continental US.
The hike to the Everest base camp is tough. The trek takes about 8 days of hiking at very high altitudes. Apart from the unpredictable mountain weather, altitude sickness is the most dangerous and potentially deadly risk. As my trip grows nearer and I tell people about my plans I often get the same response. “Why? Why would you want to do that?”
Well, spoiler alert. I don’t really know how to answer that question. I don’t really know why.
This awe-inspiring and unforgiving mountain has just always been in the back of my mind, calling me. Hiking in the Himalayas, and particularly Everest has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I had this coffee table book titled, “The 10 most beautiful hikes in the world” and in that book was the Everest Base Camp trail. In college I read the book “Into Thin Air,” about an ill-fated 1997 Everest expedition and my fascination with the mountain intensified. As I grew up and climbed taller and taller mountains the pull to experience Everest continued to grow.
My fascination with Everest is not unique. The native people of the Himalayan region considered Everest and other peaks in the region to be sacred. They are revered as protective deities, and in the native name for Everest means “Mother of the World.”
There is also a rich history of westerners, like us, being captivated by Mount Everest. At over 29k feet high, this mountain is seen as the ultimate challenge for the world’s top explorers and mountaineers. The dangers of the mountain – altitude sickness, severe weather, avalanches, crevasse, ice falls, and extremely high winds – have done little to deter thousands of people from attempting to climb to the summit. Everest is so incredibly tall that its peak extends into the upper troposphere and penetrates the stratosphere, so it is exposed to extremely fast and freezing jetstream winds that reach over 175 miles per hour. People have literally been blown off the mountain. There are well over 200 frozen corpses on the main climbing routes and many now serve as landmarks for other climbers.
The first documented attempt to climb Mount Everest was in 1921. After a number of unsuccessful expeditions two of the greatest mountaineers of the time, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, made a summit attempt on June 8th of 1924. They were seen high on the mountain in the late morning by their support team below, but clouds obscured the summit from view the rest of the day. The two never returned to their camp. They disappeared into the mountain. To this day the mountaineering community hotly debates whether or not they were the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest. The first climbers to officially reach the summit did so 29 years later in 1953.
In 1999, after over 7 decades of searching for the bodies George Mallory and his partner, the climbers who disappeared back in 1924, his body was finally found. Interestingly enough, my uncle was on the expedition team that discovered Mallory’s body. Months later, over Thanksgiving dinner, my uncle recounted the story to my family and I, showing us pictures from the expedition.
Now I am not going to attempt climbing to the top of Everest like the late George Mallory, although the thought has definitely crossed my mind. I want to climb to the base camp.
I want to stand in awe of the tallest mountain on earth.
To stand in the footprints of the incredibly brave and strong humans that have gone before me.
To push my mind and body to extreme conditions that I have never before experienced.
To prove to myself that I can do it.
To share in the rich and sacred history of the Himalayas.
Why do I want to hike on Mount Everest? I think the late George Mallory himself said it best. In 1923, they year before his final and fatal summit attempt, Mallory was asked by a New York Times reporter, “Why do you want to climb Everest?” Mallory responded with three simple words, “Because it’s there…”