Record Number of Climbers Reach Top of World's Highest Mountain

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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 seventy-one-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 eighteen forty-one.  Since nineteen fifty-three, more than ten thousand people have attempted to climb to the top of the world's highest mountain.  The summit of Mount Everest is eight thousand eight hundred forty-eight meters high.

Climbers have reached the summit more than three thousand 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 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.

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 ethnic Sherpa guides.

Mallory was invited back to Everest as lead climber of another expedition team 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 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 eight thousand five hundred seventy-three meters before he turned back.

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 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 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 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 dropped on the top of the mountain would live no more than ten minutes.  Climbers can survive above eight thousand 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.

Nineteen ninety-three was the fortieth anniversary of the first successful climb of Mount Everest.  One hundred twenty-nine 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 sixty-five thousand dollars for the chance to climb Everest.  However, many of these people have little climbing experience.  This can lead to serious problems.

In nineteen ninety-six, 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 four hundred fifty 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 death.

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 highest mountain.

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 record.

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 Special English.

Voice of America Special English

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