In India, 1847, the British were making a long survey of India. One of its objectives was to find the height of the highest mountain on Earth.
This mountain was then thought to be Kanchenjunga, a 28,169-foot peak in the forbidden kingdom of Nepal. The survey, however, included a peak behind it which was named "Peak B". Efforts were made to measure this distant peak, but were thwarted by clouds. In 1849, however, the British were back at the border of Nepal, measuring peak "B". Observations were made from five different locations, and the estimated height was 30,200 feet. This survey did not consider light refraction. However, the survey showed that the peak was higher than Kanchenjunga, a significant step forward. Then the surveyor contracted malaria.
The next surveyor who came to the area named the mountains after roman numerals, and renamed peak "B" and called it "Peak IV". From there, a Bengali surveyor found out that Peak IV was the highest in the world. Andrew Waugh, the surveyor general of India, took charge of measuring the peak himself. After checking and re-checking the results, Peak IV was found to be 29,000 feet high. To make sure the public would not think this was an estimate, the peak was publicly announced as 29,002 feet high, and Andrew Waugh was the first person to put "two feet" on top of the peak. Since the surveyor could not find a local name, he named it after the surveyor George Everest.
Since the peak was sandwiched between Nepal and Tibet, both countries closed to foreigners, nobody attempted to summit Everest for over half a century.
A 1921 climb led by the British climber George Mallory ascended to a flat plain called the North Col, at 7,005 meters. From there, Mallory saw a route to the top. But the party was exploratory only and they descended. The expedition was special because the climbers had found a route to the top, the North Col and northeast ridge route.
The British returned again next year. George Finch departed from high camp and climbed at an amazing rate and climbed with oxygen to the amazing altitude of 8,320 meters before turning back. It was the first time a human had climbed over the 8,000 meter line into the so-called "death zone", a place climbers thought nobody was able to get into. George Mallory climbed with Felix Norton to the North Col, but there was an avalanche on the journey back.
In 1924, an expedition led by Mallory was aborted by weather. Norton and Somervell climbed to 8,550 meters, but had to turn back because they were tired. The last effort of the year was Mallory and the young climber Andrew Irvine.
The two departed from high camp at an unknown time, because nobody else was with them. Climbing partner Odell was at advanced base camp on the day of the expedition when he observed a blanket of mist lift and saw two black dots at the foot of what he thought was the Second Step, a 30 meter wall of rock on the summit ridge, at 12:30 PM. One of the black dots moved up the Second Step and got to the top in just five minutes, a pace not matched since. The clouds moved back and Odell's view was blocked.
Mallory never returned, and his body was found in 1999 below the First Step. Nobody knows, to this day, whether he made it to the summit or not. There are many things in Odell's sighting that are very strange, such as the fast ascent of the Second Step and the time, which meant the climbers were five hours late. There is increasing evidence that what Odell saw were just birds; this mistake has been repeated since.
After the disaster, the Dalai Lama closed Tibet to Everest climbers, so it was nine years until the next expedition, which was closed to bad weather. In 1933, a formation of airplanes flew over Everest in an attempt to deploy the British flag at the top. A 1936 expedition also failed. By this time, nobody thought anybody was ever going to try for the top again, that it was impossible for anyone to climb to the top of the world.
Very soon afterward, World War II began and the Brits were too busy fighting to climb Mount Everest. As expeditions rallied for the summit after the war, the Chinese made a sudden invasion of Tibet. In 1950, Tibet closed, but a year before that, Nepal had opened. So it came that in 1950 an exploratory expedition marched right up to what is now Everest base camp. In 1952, a Swiss expedition blazed a route from the base camp through the Khumbu Icefall, a maze of unstable seracs, and up the Lhotse Face to the South Col. Raymond Lambert and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay climbed to a height of 8,595 meters, setting a new climbing record.
In 1953, the ninth British expedition on the mountain made two attempts to climb Everest. The first climbing pair came within 100 meters (the height of the hill behind my house!) from reaching the summit before running into oxygen problems. The next, successful, attempt was made by (you guessed it!) Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on the 29th of May 1953.
Since then, climbing on Mount Everest has become more popular. Below is what happened on the years following the ascent of Hillary:
1956: Two climbers summited
1957: Two climbers summited
1963: Four climbers summited
1965: Six climbers summited
1970: Two climbers summited
1973: Six climbers summited
1975: Twelve summited, includes first woman
1976: Two summit
1978: 20 summit, two without supplemental oxygen
1979: 14 summit
1980: 10 summit, 2 in winter, 1 solo
1981: 6 summit
1982: 14 summit
1983: 18 summit
1984: 12 summit
1985: 24 summit
1986: 2 summit
1987: 1 summits
1988: 35 summit, 1st woman without supplemental oxygen, 1st descent by paraglider
1989: 20 summit
1990: 75 summit
1991: 30 summit
1992: 85 summit
1993: 120 summit
1994: 40 summit
1995: 80 summit
1996: 90 summit, 8 of which die afterward in 1996 Everest storm
1997: 85 summit
1998: 115 summit
1999: 110 summit
2000: 130 summit
2001: 190 summit
2002: 170 summit
2003: 280 summit
2004: 325 summit
2005: 305 summit
2006: 500 summit
2007: 625 summit
2008: 420 summit
2009: 450 summit
2010: 520 summit