Climbing Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is akin to being at the top of the world. It's glorified in movies and literature but, when it comes to the reality of the climb, it's the most dangerous in the world. Two routes take climbers to the summit of this 29,032-foot monolith and while one is considered to be easier, the term is used very loosely.

On technical merit alone, one route is less dangerous due to its terrain but brings with it the threat of avalanches and a shorter, steeper climb. The other is more technical in its ascent with climbers at higher altitudes for longer, worse weather patterns, but no icefall. More importantly, rescue from higher altitudes is only possible on one of these routes - but climbers must determine if it's worth the steep climbs and potentially hazardous terrain in the event of an emergency. Here's a complete detail of both the North and South routes up to the summit of Mount Everest.


The South Route Of Everest Is Technically Easier

Climbers taking the South route up to the summit of Everest will start at a base camp that sits at 17,700 feet on the Nepal side of the mountain's base. It's interesting that this route is considered the easier path up the side of the mountain because, in regard to its terrain, the ascent is much steeper than that of the North route. The reason the South route claims the title of being easier is due to a multitude of things, one of which is the fact that rescues can be done from two major points: Base Camp and Camp I, which is just above the Khumbu Icefall. The North route doesn't provide these options which means that while the ascent is not as steep, rescue is simply not an option. Choosing a route isn't made any easier by the fact that both routes are entirely different in both their ascents and descents.

Climbers who opt for the 'easier' South route will encounter a total of five base camps on their way up to the summit:

  • Base Camp: This is used mainly for climbers to get their bearings and acclimatize; most will spend a couple of weeks here before their first ascent to Camp 1. Base Camp sits at an elevation of 17,500 feet.
  • Camp I: This is the first camp that climbers will reach after ascending the Khumbu Icefall. It sits at an elevation of 19,900 feet.
  • Camp II: Also known as Camp ABC (Advanced Base Camp), this is technically the second camp that climbers will reach after passing through the Western Cwm. It sits at an elevation of 21,000 feet.
  • Camp III: The second to last camp before the final summit push, this is where things become technically challenging. Climbers will need to ascend via the fixed rope that's attached to a ledge on the Lhotse face, before climbing another 1,640 feet to reach the final camp before the summit.
  • Camp IV and the summit: At an elevation of 27,600 feet, climbers will begin the final push to the summit, starting at the 'Balcony.' At the snow dome ridge, climbers will then spend the next 10-12 hours (starting at midnight) climbing to the summit.

Related: 8 Hikes That Are Easier Than Everest Base Camp But Still Challenging

The North Route Is Shorter But Inconsistent

While the North route to the summit of Everest from Tibet does cover a shorter distance, it's incredibly unforgiving in its nature. Not only does the route begin at a higher altitude, but climbers spend more time in these zones which means a higher risk of altitude sickness with not enough time to acclimatize properly.

Additionally, the weather on this side of the mountain is worse and somewhat unpredictable, with hurricane-force winds occasionally whipping up enough to delay climbers or worse. With a final push that includes some treacherous climbs, the North route is home to six base camps in total:

  • Camp I: Starts just below the Rongbuk Glacier at an elevation of 16,990 feet.
  • Camp II: After climbing the Rongbuk Glacier, climbers will end up at the Changtse with an elevation of 20,000 feet.
  • Camp III: Camp ABC sits at an elevation of 21,300 feet and it's where climbers will start a major portion of their ascent.
  • Camp IV: After passing through the North Col., climbers will be at Camp IV, which sits at an elevation of 23,100 feet. The glacier can be climbed with the help of fixed ropes.
  • Camp V: Past the halfway point, climbers move from Camp IV to Camp V via the North Ridge, a rocky, diagonal climb that requires concentration and endurance.
  • Camp VI: This brings climbers to the start of the final ascent, called the Yellow Band, at an elevation of 27,000 feet.

From the Yellow Band, climbers must go from 27,890 feet to 28,000 feet, which is harrowing in itself at such an altitude. Then, they must climb another 730 feet with the help of a metal ladder that's adhered to the rock face. The final push, called the Third Step, accounts for the last 360 feet to the dome of the North route.

Next: If Everest Base Camp Intimidates You: Try These Climbs Instead