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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mount Everest



Revered as Chomolungma ("goddess mother of the world") by Tibetans and called Sagarmatha ("goddess of the sky") in Nepal, Mount Everest is the highest mountain peak in the world. Till the advent of 19th century it was known as Peak XV among Westerners. This name was given because of the fact that it was the 15th peak to fall in sight when one starts counting peaks from the Nepalese side. This name was given to Everest way before surveyors established that it was the highest mountain peak on Earth. When this fact was first revealed, it came as a rude shock to the climbers because Peak XV looked smaller than the other Himalayan peaks in the surrounding area. The point of reference and direction were the main reasons behind this illusion.


Although Everest had commanded attraction for many years, it was as late as 1852 that this giant was first measured. Though some sporadic efforts for its measurement were done earlier too but all of them were abandoned in the middle. In the year 1852, The British Trigonometrical Survey of India measured Everest's elevation as 29,002 feet above the sea level. How could, with such limited means and such primitive instruments, anyone find the actual height of the Everest? But surprisingly, that figure was extremely close to the actual height. This remarkably accurate figure remained the officially accepted height for more than one hundred years. It was only in the year 1955 that this figure was slightly adjusted. The adjusted height was merely 26 feet adrift of the 1852 figure. The adjusted figure stands at 29,028 feet (8,848 m). The mountain received its official name in 1865 in honor of Sir George Everest, the British Surveyor General from 1830-1843 who had mapped the Indian subcontinent. He had some reservations about having his name bestowed on the peak, arguing that the mountain should retain its local appellation; a standard policy of the then geographical societies. His thoughts were in accordance to the Victorian norms of that era.


The expeditions to the summit started as early as 1924 when two British climbers tried to scale the Everest. They never returned. After many unsuccessful efforts, came the year 1951. A British expedition led by Eric Shipton and Edmund Hillary, traveled into Nepal to survey a new route via the southern face. Taking their cue from the British, in 1952 Raymond Lambert and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay turned back just 200 meters short of the summit. In 1953, The British expedition, led by John Hunt, returned to Nepal. The first effort failed miserably when the climbers got exhausted. The next day, the expedition made its second and final assault on the summit with its fittest and most determined climbing pair. The New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay from Nepal climbing the South Col Route eventually reached the summit at 11:30 am local time on May 29, 1953. At the time, both acknowledged it as a team effort by the whole expedition, but Tenzing revealed a few years later that Hillary had put his foot on the summit first. They paused at the summit to take photographs and exchange sweets and buried a small cross in the snow before descending. News of the expedition's success reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II coronation. The Queen took it as a good omen and Knighted Hillary and Hunt.



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