EXPLORATIONS #1958 - Climbing Mount Everest

By Linda Burchill and Jill MossThis is Shirley Griffith.And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today, we tell about efforts to climb the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. And we tell about the first blind person to do so.

More than eight-hundred people have successfully climbed the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest. It is at the border of Nepal and Tibet. One in about every five of those who have stood on the mountain top did not survive the trip down. Many others died before reaching the eight-thousand-eight-hundred-fifty meter summit. They all battled freezing temperatures. Winds up to one-hundred-sixty-kilometers per hour. Dangerous mountain paths. And they all risked developing a serious illness 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 school teacher was a member of the first three trips by foreigners to the mountain. In Nineteen-Twenty-One, 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 great mountain. They found a possible path from the northeast side of the mountain.

Mallory also was a member of the first Everest climbing attempt in Nineteen-Twenty-Two. But the attempt was canceled after a storm caused a giant mass of snow to slide down the mountain, killing seven native ethnic Sherpa guides.Mallory was invited back to Everest as lead climber of another expedition in Nineteen-Twenty-Four. On June fourth, Mallory and team member Andrew Irvine left their base camp for the team's final attempt to reach the mountain top. 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 eight-thousand-five-hundred-seventy-three meters before he turned back. He knew it was too late in the day for him to climb to the summit and return to base camp before dark.Mallory and Irvine were using bottled 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. He 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 century.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))During the next twenty-nine years, teams from Britain made seven more attempts to climb Everest. Until the early Nineteen-Fifties, teams from Britain were the only foreign climbers given permission to climb Mount Everest.

On May twenty-ninth, Nineteen-Fifty-Three, 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 bee-keeper 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 Nepalese Sherpa. 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 that his first reaction on reaching the top of Mount Everest was a happy feeling that he had "no more steps to cut." The two men planted a stick holding 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.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Reinhold Messner of Italy and Peter Habeler of Austria made another historic Everest climb in Nineteen-Seventy-Eight. 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 giant lung. 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 air pressure.Today, scientists say a person lowered onto the top of the mountain would live no more than ten minutes. Climbers survive in this so-called "death zone" above eight-thousand meters because they spend several months climbing to higher points on the mountain to get used to the conditions.

Several things have made climbing Everest today easier than for the first climbers. These include modern equipment and clothing. They also include information gained from earlier climbs and scientific studies.In Nineteen-Ninety-Three, a record one-hundred-twenty-nine people climbed Mount Everest. Many were inexperienced climbers. In recent years, some expert climbers have begun leading guided trips up the mountain. Some people have paid as much as sixty-five-thousand dollars for the chance to climb Everest.

In Nineteen-Ninety-Six, Everest had its greatest tragedy. A record ten people died on the mountain in one day. Two of the world's best climbers were among those killed. Three guided groups were trying to reach the summit of the mountain that day. Several books by climbers have described the incident and the dangerous mountain conditions. The best known is "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer. The book became an international best seller and increased the interest in climbing Mount Everest.In Nineteen-Ninety-Nine, an American group of climbers went to Everest. They tried to find out if George Mallory and Andrew Irvine should be included among those who have succeeded in climbing Mount Everest. The Mallory and Irvine Research team had information they thought would lead them to Irvine's body. Instead, they found the body of Mallory. The climbers said the evidence they discovered did not solve the mystery of whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit. The climbers said the evidence shows only that Mallory died in a fall while climbing down the mountain.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Climbing to the top of Mount Everest is a major victory for any person, but imagine if the climber could not see. Last month, the first blind man successfully reached the top of Everest. Erik Weihenmayer (WINE-may-er) is a thirty-two-year-old American. He climbed to the summit with the help of his team. Each member of the team wore bells on his clothes for Weihenmayer to hear. They also called out warnings to help him cross dangerous areas. It took the group more than two months to reach the summit. The National Federation of the Blind helped pay for the climb.Weihenmayer already had climbed several of the world's tallest mountains. He says he often told himself that he could not fail to reach the top of Everest. Failing would confirm that mountain climbing is a sport only for people who can see.

Historians may consider this the most successful climb of Mount Everest in history, and not just because of Weihenmayer. A record nineteen climbers from his team reached the summit. So did the oldest man ever to climb Mount Everest. He is sixty-four-year-old Sherman Bull.

)This program was written by Linda Burchill and Jill Moss. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Shirley Griffith.And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English from the Voice of America.

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