Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world and while most know that much, many don't realize that it's also a literal graveyard for many who have attempted to reach its summit. The conditions at the top of the mountain, AKA the Death Zone, are uninhabitable - meaning a steady supply of oxygen, nearly perfect physical fitness, and generous lung capacity and endurance level is necessary to survive it.
With that being said, the increased popularity of the climb combined with continuously changing geological conditions has paved the way for multiple routes to the summit. The mountain can be conquered from both the north and south sides, however, neither should be underestimated. There is, and will never be, and "easy" way to conquer Everest - but there are some things to know about following the path more frequently taken.
16 The Basics: Know Whether To Come From Nepal Or Tibet
Access to the summit routes is granted through both of these regions but choosing one depends on which ascent a climber is most comfortable with. The north route, which is often shorter but considered more unforgiving, is accessible via Tibet. The south route, which is a bit more consistent, can be taken from Nepal.
15 The South Col Route Is Often Chosen For An Easier Climb
The south route up Everest takes climbers through the icefall, which is a steep, direct route up, as opposed to the rigidity and unevenness of the terrain on the mountain's north side. The reason this route is often considered more forgiving is due to the fact that rescues are performed more easily and climbers begin their hike from base camp I, and lower villages are more easily accessed for recovery prior to the hike to the summit.
14 While The Northeast Ridge Route Is Chosen For Its Shorter Ascent Time
While hikers won't find an icefall on the north side of the mountain, what they will encounter is a direct trail along the ridgeline of the mountain's highest peaks. The route leaves hikers in high altitudes for longer periods of time than the south route, thus posing a risk fairly soon in the climb.
13 Mental Preparation Is Just As Important As Physical, People Die Even On The "Easy" Route
For example, the Khumbu Icefall. This harrowing walk is guided by the mountain's sherpas, but that doesn't mean it's not fatal. Climbers must pass over the mountain's deeps crevice in the icefall while wearing crampons and balancing on a shaky ladder. This is one threat of many, including altitude sickness, falling off the mountain's edge, wind shear temps, bad weather, and exhaustion.
12 "Walking" Routes Vs. "Scrambling" and "Climbing" Routes
Once you've made it to a base camp on either route, hikers can say goodbye to their "walking" routes. Climbing Everest is no joke which is why so few people do it each year, and why the death toll is so high. Climbing, rope clipping, scrambling, and balance are all imperative to life-saving safety measures on the way to the 29,000' summit.
11 No Matter Which Way Climbers Go, Acclimation Must Be Respected
Similar to scuba diving, our bodies are not designed to ascend over 29,000 feet into the air while maintaining proper oxygen levels in our bloodstreams. Oxygen tanks are limited to the amount of gas they can carry and they're also heavy, thus being the first thing to weigh (literally) on a hiker. Not respecting a gradual acclimation adjustment, which must be done over weeks, is a deathwish.
10 Base Camps Are More Easily Accessed From The Southeast Route, Where Climbers Spend Less Time At Unforgiving Altitudes
The north route doesn't gain popularity based on its cozy base camps. In stark contrast, the south route allows hikers to rest, restart, and turn back with base camps being far more easily accessible (to an extent) while coming down the south side. In the event of an emergency, these have been literal life-savers.
9 The Southeast Has Four Base Camps Whereas The North Face Has Six, Each Becoming More Treacherous
As you can see, base camps along the northern route of the mountain sit at much higher altitudes than on the south route. These bad camps are also perched in precarious places, leaving little leniency for hikers who need to turn around or get rescued. Each trek forward means even less of a chance of making it back down.
8 Sherpas Will Guide You To The Top But They Risk Their Lives To Do It
Sherpas are the unsung heroes of the mountains of Nepal. They risk their lives to guide hikers to the top of a summit that was never intended for human contact, yet few realize they're the ones leading the pack. They know the terrain better than anyone and have acclimated to the atmosphere, making them incredibly valuable to every summit trek.
7 Know Your Ground: Ice Vs. Solid Ground And What Can Happen On Each
Gear is no joke when it comes to hiking Everest. Crampons - good ones - are a necessity to maintain balance on steep ledges and the icy ground underfoot. Furthermore, since much of the trek is over ice and through snow, there's no predicting how the ground will shift according to current weather conditions. Being aware, regardless of the chosen route, is key.
6 Weather Can Change In An Instant, Even Along The Easier Route
Anyone who has seen the movie Everest is likely well aware of how quickly things can change in a mountain climate. In fact, anyone who has vacationed or lived in the mountains knows how cruel and unforgiving the weather can be. With below-zero windchill, zero visibility, and frostbite as a threat, hiking Everest is far from glamourous.
5 It's Likely To Be Crowded Which Means A Wait At The Time, Check Your Oxygen Levels
Climbing Everest, and even hiking to its base camps, has become even more popular over the last few years. As more and more people line up to put their lives on the line and their skills to the test, crowds become an instant hazard. With low oxygen levels, small weather windows, and clogged trails, disaster is almost unavoidable at times.
4 Daylight And Nighttime Hours Vary From Route To Route So Schedules Are Imperative
While the times aren't drastically different, the south route is slightly warmer with more daylight, and the exact time of the setting sun can have a huge bearing on when to start a hike and when to end it. With such a short window during the year when people can actually survive to make it to the summit, treks are planned down to the minute with not a second to spare.
3 The South Route Will Be More Forgiving For Non-Athletes, But Still Shouldn't Be Underestimated
And sometimes, being athletic has nothing to do with it. This picture pretty clearly shows what to expect, but what it doesn't show is the weeks of exhaustion prior to this final push, the threat of falling off either side of the ridge, or the temperature that's undoubtedly below freezing. Not to mention, the wind can (and has) easily blown people off the face of the mountain.
2 Rescue Missions Are More Easily Carried Out On The South Side As Opposed To The North
With more ground to land, not to mention a slightly lower elevation than the first base camps on the north route, rescue missions are more easily carried out on the south side. In the event of an emergency, hikers might have a chance of rescue if they can make it back down to the lower base camps - something that's not necessarily an option on the northern route.
1 The North Side Prevents Injured Hikers From Getting Down Easily And Quickly, Something That Can Be Done (Somewhat) On The South Side
The first base camp on the north route is at an altitude of 17,000'. That means helicopter evacs are not an option, and all help (aside from instructors and leaders) is non-existent. All base camps after this are above 20,000 feet, and nothing short of monumental to climb up to.