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The greater Himalayan chain spans 1500 miles but is, on average, only 100 miles wide. In Nepal, it extends the full length of the country. When early explorers first took an interest in the mountains, Kanchenjunga was believed to be the world’s highest mountain due to its mighty mass standing in relative isolation and towering above its neighbors.
Everest, hidden shyly behind surrounding peaks, was only noticeable from the little-frequented Tibetan side. In 1847, Peak XV (later named Everest) was identified, but its true height wasn’t published until 1856, establishing it as the world’s highest summit. The first interests in climbing Everest were tentatively made by Lord Curzon in 1898 when he estimated such an expedition would cost £5,000 to £6,000.
Until 1950, Nepal’s borders were closed to foreigners, so early explorers approached Everest from Darjeeling and the north. In 1905, Sir Francis Younghusband, traveling within 60 miles of Everest on his way to Lhasa, had a clear view of the mountain. He identified the North Ridge and recorded that ‘this might be a possible route to the summit.’
Known by three different names—Sagarmatha in Nepal, Chomolungma in Tibet, and Qomolangma in China—Peak XV is now commonly known as Everest, named by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor of India, in 1865 after his predecessor, Sir George Everest.
The first British reconnaissance expedition reached the base of Everest from the north in 1921, discovering that the mountain was essentially a rock peak, not the previously assumed snow peak. Their expedition budget was £3,000 to £4,000.
Subsequently, 14 expeditions, including nine British ones, took place. Notable attempts included a Canadian illicit attempt in 1947, an Anglo-American expedition in 1950, a Danish illicit attempt in 1951, a Swiss attempt in 1952, a Soviet attempt in the same year, and a British training team’s preparation on Cho Oyu in 1952. In 1953, Colonel John Hunt led a determined team, and on May 29, 1953, EP Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing reached the main summit.
Today, the Everest Base Camp Trek is one of the world’s most popular treks, with hundreds of people flying into Lukla each season to start their Himalayan adventure. Lodges along the trail eliminate the need for camping equipment. Nevertheless, there are still many less-traveled corners in the Everest region for those seeking a close view of the world’s highest mountain.