Before Everest is First Climbed
  • 1841: Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, records the location of Everest.
  • 1848: Peak b is surveyed the British, which ruled India; The height is calculated at 30,200 feet from measurements taken 110 miles away.
  • 1852: The Great Trigonmetrical Survey of India determines the Peak XV is the highest mountain in the world.
  • 1854: Peak b renamed Peak XV.
  • 1856: Surveyor Andrew Waugh completes the first height measurement, declaring Everest to be 8840 meters high. (29,002 feet).
  • 1865: Peak XV re-named Mt. Everest to honor Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India. Everest is known as Chomolungma in Tibet and Sagarmatha in Nepal.
  • 1903: The Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, concerned about possible Russian influence inside Tibet, sends Sir Francis Younghusband to ostensibly negotiate "frontiers and trade". The Tibetans refuse to enter negotiations, so Younghusband leads a British Army Expedition to Lhasa. A treaty is eventually signed in September, 1904, after the Dalai Lama flees to Mongolia.
  • 1904: A member of Younghusband's staff, J. Claude White, photographs the Eastern side of Everest from Kampa Dzong, 94 miles away. While not the first photograph of Everest ever taken, it's the first to show any significant details of the mountain.
  • 1907: Natha Singh, a member of the British Indian Survey, obtains permission to enter the Mount Everest region from the Nepalese side. He maps the Dudh Kosi valley - gateway to the southern route up the mountain - all the way to the end of the Khumbu Glacier.
  • 1913: Captain John Noel, a British military officer, travels to Tibet in disguise (at the time foreigners were forbidden in Tibet) to find the best way to approach Everest. He comes to within 60 miles of Everest, only to find his way blocked by an unexpected mountain range that did not appear on his faulty maps. Noel is able to view the top 1000 feet (300 meters) of Everest when it appears out of the shifting mists, a "glittering spire of rock fluted with snow".
  • 1920: The Dalai Lama opens Tibet to outsiders after the political situation involving China and Russia relaxes somewhat. The Royal Geographic Society and the Alpine Club hold a joint meeting to discuss how to proceed with an expedition to Mount Everest. Explorers had reached both the North and South Poles, so the next "feat" was Everest. The Mount Everest Committee is established by Younghusband, and a formal resolution is passed stating that an expedition would take place the following year with reconnaissance as the first priority, (although a summit attempt was not discouraged). A full-scale summit attempt was to be launched the following year in 1922.
  • 1921: The First British Everest Reconnaissance Expedition to the mountain, led by Lt. Colonel Charles Howard-Bury. This is George Leigh Mallory's first trip to the mountain. After spending ten weeks exploring the northern and eastern reaches of the mountain, on September 24, 1921, Guy Bullock and George Mallory were the first climbers to reach the North Col of Everest at an altitude of around 23,000 feet (7000 meters). The northern route up the mountain had now been established.
  • 1922: The Second British Everest Expedition to the mountain, led by Brigadier General C.G. Bruce, following the same route reconnoitered the previous year. George Mallory returns along with climbers George Finch, Geoffrey Bruce, Henry Morshead, Edward Norton, Howard Somervell, and John Noel as expedition filmmaker. On May 22nd, Mallory, Norton, Somervell and Morshead make the first assault, and climb to 26,800 feet (8170 m) on the North Ridge before retreating. On May 23rd, George Finch and Geoffrey Bruce climb up the North Ridge and Face to 27,300 (8320 meters) feet using oxygen. On June 7th, Mallory leads a third attempt on the summit that claims the lives of seven Sherpa climbers in an avalanche below the North Col, the first reported deaths on Everest.
  • 1923: While on a lecture tour in the United States, a reporter asks Mallory why he wants to climb Everest, and Mallory immortally replies "Because it's there".
  • 1924: The Third British Everest Expedition to the mountain, led by Acting Leader Lt. Colonel Edward Norton after Brigadier General C.G. Bruce is indisposed due to a flare-up of malaria. As a result George Mallory is promoted to Climbing Leader. Geoffrey Bruce, Howard Somervell, and John Noel return from the previous year, along with newcomers Noel E. Odell and Andrew Comyn Irvine.
    June 4th: After weeks of appalling weather, a string of camps are established on the northern side of the mountain, culminating in Camp 6 at 26,700 feet (8140 meters) on the North Ridge. Norton and Somervell attempt an oxygenless ascent, following an ascending diagonal line across the North Face of the mountain towards the Great Couloir. After Somervell is forced to give up at about 28,000 feet (8500 meters), Norton continues alone, reaching a high point of 28,126 feet (8570 meters) near the top of the Great Couloir, a height record not exceeded by anyone for the next 29 years!
    June 8th: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine attempt the summit using oxygen and Irvine's modified oxygen apparatus. Noel Odell, climbing in support below, catches a glimpse of the climbers at 12:50 pm ascending a "great rock step" on the NE Ridge above. According to Odell they were behind schedule but climbing "with alacrity"; the first of many climbers on Everest to go for the summit too late. Odell originally thought he spotted the two climbers ascending the Second Step, but later changed his mind to the First Step when told how difficult the Second Step looked to a later generation of Everest climbers (the 1933 British Expedition). During the 1933 expedition, Andrew Irvine's ice ax is found on the upper slopes of the mountain at about 27,690 feet (8440 meters) and approximately 250 yards (meters) east of the First Step. Eric Simonson's 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition discovers an oxygen bottle that belonged to the pair near the base of the First Step, and Mallory's remains were found at 26,750 feet (8150 meters), on a line vertically below the ice ax position. No evidence of a successful summit bid has been found, nor have any signs of the two climbers been found above the Second Step, the key to the route. Despite the lack of hard evidence, the debate on whether they reached the summit of Everest continues to this day.
  • 1931: March 19: The Mount Everest Committee is re-established with Sir William Goodenough as Chair. Concerned of the growing reputation of American and German climbers - the latter having gained much experience on Kangchenjunga - the Committee makes inquiries into the possibility of another British expedition to Everest. Eventually the Dalai Lama gives "reluctant permission" so that "friendly relations may not be ruptured".
  • 1933: April 3: First flight over Mount Everest by two British Westland biplanes powered by turbocharged Pegasus engines. The planes take off from Purneah, India. Buffeted by downdrafts and Everest's plume, the flight fails to obtain a photo of the summit when the photographer blacks out due to a ruptured oxygen line. The flight is successfully repeated on April 19th, although the actual summit wasn't flown over this time.
    The Fourth British Expedition. A new generation of climbers attempts Everest under the Leadership of Hugh Ruttledge. These new climbers include Jack Longland, Frank Smythe, Eric Shipton, P. Wyn Harris, and L.R. Wager. Along with a powerful and spirited team of Sherpa "Tigers", Camp 6 is established on a ledge half-way up the Yellow Band at a height of 27,300 feet (8320 meters) - the Sherpas wanted to continue higher to a campsite at the base of the First Step, but it is wisely decided that they would not get back to the North Col before dark. Longland leads the Sherpas back down, but they are caught in a fierce and unexpected storm. Longland manages to keep his bearings and keeps the party en route down the spine of the North Arete. During the descent they discover the remains of the 1924 Camp 6, and even find a working battery-operated torch in the debris.
    May 30th: The first oxygenless summit attempt by Wyn Harris and Wager. Their plan is to reconnoiter Mallory's ridge route, and if not feasible, attempt Norton's Great Couloir route instead. Early in the ascent they find Andrew Irvine's ice ax at 27,690 feet (8440 meters), some 250 yards (meters) east of the First Step. The pair continues traversing below the NE Ridge, but are unable to gain the Ridge via a shallow gully below the Second Step, having missed their only chance to gain the Ridge by ascending a 4th class gully on the north side of the First Step. They continue traversing into and across the Great Couloir, and manage to reach Norton's high point before admitting defeat.
    June 1st: A second oxygenless attempt is made by Eric Shipton and Frank Smythe. In a truly superhuman effort, they make an  attempt after spending two nights in the Death Zone without oxygen waiting for good weather. They follow essentially the same ascending line taken by Wyn Harris and Wager to the base of the First Step, but continue along Norton's traversing Great Couloir route. Shipton is forced to give up a little past the First Step, and Smythe continues alone, crossing the Great Couloir somewhat lower down than his predecessors where the ledges were more favorable. Smythe too gives up at Norton's high point, so the 1933 Expedition ends up unsuccessful.
  • 1934: The eccentric Maurice Wilson attempts to solo Everest, having no mountaineering experience but possessing an inner faith to succeed. Camped at the base of the North Col, Wilson asks his Sherpas to wait ten days for him to return, after which they would be free to leave. He doesn't return, so the Sherpas return to Darjeeling, where Tenzing Norgay reports seeing them with large amounts of money. Wilson's body is later found at approximately 21,000 feet (6400 meters) below the North Col by members of the 1935 Reconnaissance Expedition. He was found in the remains of his tent; apparently he had died while in the act of taking off his boots. How far did he get? No one knows... His body was buried in a crevasse and it periodically resurfaces over the years as the East Rongbuk Glacier continues its steady advance downhill.
  • 1935: Fifth British Expedition (Reconnaissance). A small post-monsoon expedition led by Eric Shipton, that was Tenzing Norgay's first trip to the mountain as a young porter. Expedition members include Bill Tilman, Dr. C.B.M. Warren, E.G.H. Kempson, L.V. Bryant, and E.H.L. Wigram. The expedition concentrates on exploring, surveying, and climbing in the Everest region (where off in the distance they can see that Everest is in perfect condition to climb). The party doesn't reach Rongbuk until early July, where coated in monsoon snow, the mountain is out of condition to climb. Nevertheless, since investigating the possibility of a post-monsoon attempt is one of the charges of the reconnaissance, they establish Camp III at the base of the North Col, where they find the remains of Maurice Wilson. On July 12 they reach the North Col with enough supplies for two weeks. Continuous monsoon snows prevent any further advance up the mountain, so the expedition splits into several groups that engage in an orgy of climbing and exploring in the region before returning to Darjeeling.
  • 1936: Sixth British Expedition with Hugh Ruttledge returning as Leader. Also returning to Everest are Frank Smythe, Eric Shipton, P. Wyn Harris, E.G.H. Kempson, Dr. C.B.M. Warren, and E.H.L. Wigram along with two newcomers, P.R. Oliver and J.M.L. Gavin. Tenzing Norgay returns for his second expedition as a porter. For the first time, lightweight radio sets are taken to Everest. A large, strong, and experienced expedition with many hopes of reaching the top, it failed because of the early onset of the monsoon on May 25th. Interestingly enough, the only two expeditions to Everest that had a late monsoon were the '21 and '35 Reconnaissance!
  • 1938: Seventh British Expedition. Led by Bill Tilman who advocated smaller, less expensive expeditions (although he is convinced to bring four oxygen sets along). Accompanying Tilman are Eric Shipton, Frank Smythe, C.B.M. Warren, P. Floyd, P.R. Oliver, and Noel Odell from the tragic 1924 expedition. Odell is now 47 years old, but extremely fit after climbing Nanda Devi in 1936 with Tilman. Returning yet again as a porter is the persistent Tenzing Norgay. Remembering the early onset of the monsoon suffered by the 1936 expedition, they arrive at Rongbuk early on April 6th and surprisingly find the mountain already clear of winter snow. Three weeks later Camp III is established below the North Col, but the weather is too cold and the party too ill to continue. They retreat to the Kharta Valley to recuperate at the lower altitude. When they returned to Everest a week later, the monsoon had unbelievably broken on May 5th and the mountain was covered in snow. Nevertheless a camp is placed on the North Col, and then Camp 6 is established on a scree slope below the Yellow Band at 27,200 feet (8290 meters). In back-to-back assaults, Smythe and Shipton are turned back by the deep snow, as are Tilman and Lloyd the next day. The expedition fails, but it had proved that a small expedition could place climbers in position for a serious summit bid.
  • 1947: A successor to the old Everest Committee is formed - the Himalayan Committee of the Alpine Club and Royal Geographical Society. Canadian-born Brit Earl Denman attempts to illegally climb Everest from the North along with Sherpas Ang Dawa and Tenzing Norgay, the latter back after nine years for his fourth attempt on the mountain. After nearly being arrested by a Tibetan patrol en route, the trio reach the Rongbuk Monastery. Using Denman's woefully inadequate equipment, and suffering terribly from the cold, they reach the foot of the North Col but in a terribly weakened condition. After a feeble attempt on the lower slopes of the Col, they admit defeat and turn back. Denman is forced to walk part of the way back to Darjeeling in bare feet after his boots wear out. Amazingly the whole 600-plus mile (1000 km) roundtrip from Darjeeling to Everest and back took only five weeks by foot.
  • 1950: In October the Communist Chinese invade Tibet, and Tibet falls under Chinese rule. Everest expeditions from the North are prohibited. After a palace revolution in which the ruling Rana family are overthrown, Nepal opens up to the West, partially as a result of the Chinese takeover in Tibet. Foreign expeditions are allowed access to the southern side of Everest for the first time.
    Anglo-American Nepal Reconnaissance. Organized and led by the American Dr. Charles Houston and including Bill Tilman. The group enters the Solu Khumbu region - homeland of the Sherpas - and explores to the base of the Khumbu Icefall. Tilman concludes that the route up into the Western Cwm is not a viable one!
  • 1951: Without official permission from Nepal, and only a few months after the 1950 Anglo-American Nepal Reconnaissance, the Dane Klavs Becker-Larsen attempts to climb the Northern pre-war Everest route but via a southern approach. With a party of Sherpa porters and guides, he attempts to enter Tibet via the Lho La, and actually climbs about halfway up before being turned back by rockfall and his lack of experience (it was the first time he had ever used an ice ax!). Undeterred, Larsen crosses the Nampa La instead and reaches the Rongbuk Monastery. Several days later Larsen and two Sherpas attempt to climb the North Col but turn back after yet more rockfall. Larsen wisely gives up the attempt and returns to Nepal.
    British Reconnaissance supported by the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographic Society. A post-monsoon exploration led by Eric Shipton with M.P. Ward, T. Bourdillon, W.H. Murray, and New Zealanders Edmund Hillary and H. Riddiford, the expedition was forced to contend with swollen streams, washed-out bridges, leeches, and reluctant porters. On the 22nd of September they reached Namche Bazaar, and three days later left with the objective of scaling the Khumbu Icefall and entering the Western Cwm. From a vantagepoint on the lower slopes of Pumori, they could see that the route up to the South Col looked feasible. Eventually the expedition pushed the route almost completely through to the top of the Icefall before retreating.
  • 1952: Swiss Expeditions sponsored by the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research
    Spring Attempt: led by Dr. E. Wyss-Dunant with climbers G. Chevalley, R. Lambert, R. Dittert, L. Flory, R. Aubert, A. Roch, J. Asper, E. Hofstetter, and Tenzing Norgay as Sirdar. The party ascends the Geneva Spur and places Camp VI on the South Col. Camp VII is placed at approximately 27,500 feet (8382 meters) on the SE Ridge. After a miserable night without sleeping bags or a stove, Tenzing Norgay and Raymond Lambert make an attempt using oxygen but fail below the South Summit at an altitude of 28,210 feet (8595 meters), beating Norton's height record by only 84 feet (25 meters)!
    Post-Monsoon Attempt: led by G. Chevalley with climbers R. Lambert, E. Reiss, J. Buzio, A. Spohel, G. Gross, N.G. Dyhrenfurth. The indomitable Tenzing returns again as expedition Sirdar. Instead of climbing the Geneva Spur, the route is pushed up the Lhotse Face instead, now the standard route. Unfortunately the expedition is fraught with bad luck and the Sherpa Mingma Dorje is killed on the Lhotse Face by falling ice, the first Everest fatality in twenty years since Maurice Wilson. Climbing along with the same party, incredibly a second rope slips on the ice and falls 600 feet (180 meters) to the bottom of the slope. Miraculously no one else is injured. A camp is established on the South Col, but the arrival of winter's bitter cold and fierce gales puts an end to the attempt. The expedition lays the groundwork for 1953.
    Rumors of a post-monsoon Russian attempt from the North led by Dr. Pawel Datschnolian, possibly with the hope of beating the Swiss to the top and scoring major propaganda points in an age of Sputnik. There are reports that this expedition left Moscow on October 16th and eventually placed Camp VII at 26,800 feet (8170 meters) before six climbers (including Datschnolian) simply disappeared. The Russians deny the expedition ever took place and the Chinese have never made any mention of it. Interestingly enough, in an interview with the Tibetan Gonbu (also known as Gonpa), a member of the successful 1960 Chinese first ascent of the North Ridge, a "mystery camp" was encountered at 27,900 feet (8500 meters). Located above the Yellow Band, this camp could not have been placed there by any of the British pre-war expeditions. Was the camp placed there by this "mystery" Soviet expedition?
  • 1953: British Expedition and FIRST SUMMIT. Led by Colonel John Hunt and consisting of climbers Dr. R.C. Evans, G. Band, T. Bourdillon, A. Gregory, Edmund Hillary, W.G. Lowe, C. Noyce, M.P. Ward, M. Westmacott, and C.G. Wylie. Returning as Sirdar from the Swiss attempts is yet again Tenzing Norgay. The route through the Icefall is completed by April 22, Camp VI is established at the foot of the Lhotse face at 23,000 feet (7000 meters), and after a lengthy delay, the South Col is reached via the Lhotse Face route pioneered by the Swiss the year before.
    May 26: First Assault by Evans and Bourdillon from the South Col using closed-circuit oxygen sets. The same day Hunt leads a party of Sherpas from the South Col with the intent to establish Camp IX on the SE Ridge for the second assault party consisting of Hillary and Tenzing. Evans and Bourdillon reach the South Summit at 1 PM at an elevation of 28,750 feet (8770 meters), but are forced to descend due to the lateness of the hour, strong winds, and lack of oxygen.
    May 29: Second Assault by Hillary and Tenzing using open-circuit oxygen sets. They leave Camp IX at approximately 27,900 feet (8500 meters) by 6:30 AM, and reach the S. Summit by 9 AM. After negotiating the 40 foot (12 meter) Hillary Step, they are the first to reach the summit of Everest, reaching the top at 11:30 AM. After descending to the South Col, they are met by George Lowe where Hillary states: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!"
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