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People have been climbing as long as they've existed, and for those who relish the challenge, nothing can top Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet at over 29,000 feet. As Sir Edmund Hillary put it, "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." Elaborating on that, he also asserted, "I think I mainly climb mountains because I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it. I never attempt to analyze these things too thoroughly, but I think that all mountaineers do get a great deal of satisfaction out of overcoming some challenge which they think is very difficult for them, or which perhaps may be a little dangerous. I think that the fact that something has a spice of danger about it can often add to its attraction, and to its fascination."

Of course, the sheer size of the mountain and its location in Asia all but precluded Westerners from even making such attempts before India became a colonial possession of the British. Once that was accomplished, however, scientists and explorers were able to report back in depth about the Himalayas and the biggest giant of them all.

From that point forward, the race was on for those who aspired to climb Mount Everest, and several of these men have gone down in history, not just for their accomplishments but for their controversies. One of the earliest and most famous mountaineers to begin climbing Everest was George Mallory, who made several expeditions in the early 1920s in an attempt to reach the summit. While there is still a lingering debate over whether he actually succeeded in 1924, the goal of being the first documented individual to reach the peak continued until Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Everest in 1953.

Naturally, even after that, people have continued to take on one of the most extreme challenges the world has to offer. In fact, climbing Mount Everest has become enough of a business that even those with no climbing experience can pay to make an attempt to summit with experienced guides. Given how treacherous the climb is, this has been frequently criticized (including by Hillary himself), and as recently as April 2014, 16 Sherpa guides were killed on the mountain by an avalanche, but interest in Everest remains as high as ever.

Jim D. Johnston
hr min
February 24
Charles River Editors