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I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we tell
about efforts to climb Mount Everest. Last month, an eighteen-year-old American
became one of the youngest people to climb the tallest mountain on Earth. And, a
71-year old Japanese man became the oldest.
Mount Everest is at the border of Nepal and Tibet. It was named for Sir
George Everest, who recorded the mountain’s position in 1841. Since 1953, more
than 10,000 people have attempted to climb to the top of the world's highest
mountain. The summit of Mount Everest is 8,848 meters high.
Climbers have reached the summit more than 3,000 times. However, more than
two hundred people died while attempting to get there.
They all battled low temperatures. Wind speeds of up to one hundred sixty
kilometers an hour. Dangerous mountain paths. And they all risked developing a
serious health disorder caused by lack of oxygen. All for the chance to reach
the top of the world.
The first and most famous of the climbers to disappear on Mount Everest was
George Mallory. The British schoolteacher was a member of the first three trips
by foreigners to the mountain. In 1921, Mallory was part of the team sent by the
British Royal Geographical Society and the British Alpine Club. The team was to
create the first map of the area and find a possible path to the top of the
Mallory also was a member of the first Everest climbing attempt in 1922. But
the attempt was canceled after a storm caused a giant mass of snow to slide down
the mountain, killing seven ethnic Sherpa guides.
Mallory was invited back to Everest as lead climber of another expedition
team in 1924. On June fourth, Mallory and team member Andrew Irvine left their
base camp for the team's final attempt to reach the summit. The climbing team
had great hopes of success for the two men. A few days earlier, expedition
leader Edward Norton had reached a record height of 8,573 meters before he
Mallory and Irvine were using bottles of oxygen. Mallory believed that was
the only way they would have the energy and speed to climb the last three
hundred meters to the top and return safely. Team member Noel Odell saw Mallory
and Irvine climbing high on the mountain the following day.
Odell said they had just climbed one of the most difficult rocks on the
northeast path. He said they were moving toward the top when clouds hid them. He
never saw them again. The disappearance of Mallory and Irvine on Mount Everest
remains among the greatest exploration mysteries of the last century.
During the next twenty-nine years, teams from Britain made seven more
attempts to climb Everest. Until the early nineteen fifties, British teams were
the only foreigners given permission to climb Mount Everest.
On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers
known to reach the summit of Everest. The two were part of a British team lead
by Jon Hunt. They had made a difficult climb from the southeast, through
recently opened Nepalese territory.
Edmund Hillary was a beekeeper from New Zealand. It was his second trip to
Everest. He had been on the first exploratory trip to the mountain that had
mapped the way up from the southern side. Tenzing Norgay was a native Sherpa
from Nepal. He was the first Sherpa to become interested in mountain climbing.
His climb with Hillary was his seventh attempt to reach the top.
Hillary said his first reaction on reaching the summit was a happy feeling
that he had “no more steps to cut." The two men placed the flags of Britain,
Nepal, India and the United Nations. Hillary took a picture of Norgay.
They looked out over the north side into Tibet for any signs that Mallory or
Irvine had been there before them. Then they began the long and difficult trip
back down. The success of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay led to many new
attempts on the mountain. Today, Everest has been climbed from all of its sides
and from most of its possible paths.
Reinhold Messner of Italy and Peter Habeler of Austria made another historic
Everest climb in 1978. The two men were the first to reach the summit without
using bottled oxygen. Messner said when he reached the top he felt like a single
At the time, scientists believed that a person at the top of the mountain
would only have enough oxygen to sleep. Scientists believed that Messner and
Habeler would die without oxygen. Scientists now know that two conditions make
climbing at heights over eight thousand meters extremely difficult. The first is
the lack of oxygen in the extremely thin air. The second is the low barometric
Today, scientists say a person dropped on the top of the mountain would live
no more than ten minutes. Climbers can survive above 8,000 meters because they
spend months climbing on the mountain to get used to the conditions. Several
things have made climbing Everest easier now than it was for the first climbers.
These include modern equipment and clothing. They also include information
gained from earlier climbs and scientific studies.
1993 was the fortieth anniversary of the first successful climb of Mount
Everest. 129 people climbed to the summit that year. That was a record number.
Hundreds of people have reached the summit each year during the past few years.
Some expert climbers have begun leading guided trips up the mountain.
Some people have paid as much as 65,000 dollars for the chance to climb
Everest. However, many of these people have little climbing experience. This can
lead to serious problems.
In 1996, Everest had its greatest tragedy. Fifteen people died attempting to
reach the top. This was the deadliest single year in Everest history. A record
ten people died on the mountain in one day. Two of the world's best climbers
were among those killed.
Several books by climbers have described the
incident and the dangerous conditions. The best known is “Into Thin Air” by Jon
Krakauer. The book sold many copies around the world and increased the interest
in climbing Mount Everest.
Last year, another tragedy on Mount Everest was in the news. Several climbers
told news reporters that they had passed a British climber in trouble without
stopping to rescue him. David Sharp had been climbing alone, without a guide or
teammates. He was lying on a rock 450 meters below the summit. Reports say
as many as forty climbers passed Sharp as he lay dying. The climbers who left
him there said that rescue efforts would have been useless. He later froze to
This year has been reportedly the most successful ever for Mount Everest
climbers. More than five hundred people have reached the top of the world's
Last month, eighteen-year old Samantha Larson of Long Beach, California
became one of the youngest people to reach the top. She made the climb with a
group that included her father. Larson is believed to be the youngest person in
the world to have climbed all of the "seven summits," the highest mountains on
each of the continents.
Also last month, a retired teacher from Japan became the oldest person to
reach the top of Mount Everest. Katsusuke Yanagisawa is seventy-one years old.
He said climbing the mountain was more difficult than he expected. He said he
was not attempting to set a record. Instead, he said he was just trying his
hardest not to die.
Another record was set last month. Nepali mountain
guide Apa reached the summit for the seventeenth time. That broke his old world
This program was written by Shelley Gollust. Mario Ritter was our producer.
I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Steve Ember. You can see pictures of Special English listeners on our
Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA