Mt. Everest

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The name

Deaths on the Everest, some figures, 2004-16; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, May 30, 2016
Altitude sickness and some casualties on the climb up to Mt. Everest in April- May 2016, the first climbing season since 2014; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, May 24, 2016

There’s a case for renaming Mt Everest but is it ours to rename? / SANDIP ROY/ The Times of India

The mountain’s height was measured by Radhanath Sikdar in 1852 as part of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. He named the peak Peak XV based on the nomenclature in use at the time. In 1865, it was confirmed that this was indeed the world’s tallest peak instead of Kanchenjunga.

The British named it Everest honouring Colonel George Everest who had been the Surveyor-General between 1830 and 1843. His successor Andrew Waugh proposed it because the peak was “without any local name that we can discover”, unaware of or ignoring the Tibetan Chomolungma and Nepali Sagarmatha. Or perhaps the Calcutta correspondent of The Times put it more accurately when he said the peak “had no name intelligible to civilised men”, civilised of course being a euphemism for white. Everest had nothing to do with the peak. He had never even seen the peak named after him or been involved in measuring it. “It’s fascinating how he’s one of the few people, if not the only person who actually has his name attached to a Himalayan peak,” says Stephen Alter, author of Wild Himalaya. Everest’s connection to the peak was Sikdar. He had hired the 19-year-old Sikdar from Hindu College in Calcutta to be his “computer”.

There have been intermittent demands to name the peak after the mathematician who actually measured it. In 2021 on Everest Day (May 29), the principal of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Group Captain Jai Kishan said ,“Why should not the Indian mountaineering fraternity call the peak Mount Sikdar seven decades after British rule came to an end?” Sikdar makes for an appealing choice. He was fined for protesting the exploitation of survey department workers in 1843. His name was left out of the edition of the Survey Manual that came out after his death though the mathematical chapters were written by him and Everest called him “his right arm”. Whether or not he really ran into his boss’s office shouting “Sir, I have discovered the highest mountain in the world”, he makes for a far more appealing candidate than the crotchety Everest who once complained about being “bled to fainting” by a thousand leeches for his various maladies according to Stephen Alter. Alter writes that while the Great Arc, the ambitious project that measured the Himalaya and mapped the topography of the Indian subcontinent, contributed immensely to our understanding of geography, we should not romanticise it. It was ultimately a colonial enterprise to map the Raj’s dominions often using forced labour.

But there is a problem with Mt Sikdar. Mt Everest is not even in India so is it ours to name or rename? To protest cultural appropriation with another dose of cultural appropriation could be a Himalayan blunder,,, India would do well however to make the name of Radhanath Sikdar as well known to generations as those of George Everest or Edmund Hillary. How many of us are aware of the museum in Sikdar’s name in his hometown of Chandannagar?

The irony, says Alter, is that we all pronounce Everest wrong. Everest pronounced his name not like “cleverest” but like “cleaverest” and was apparently quite touchy about it being mispronounced.

1840-2016: a history

The Times of India, May 30 2016

When was Everest discovered?

In the 1840s, Andrew Waugh, the British surveyor general of India, found a peak in the eastern end of the Himalayas.In 1852, Indian mathematician and surveyor Radhanath Sikdar calculated the peak's height and it was discovered that it was higher than Kangchenjunga, believed at that time to be the world's highest peak. The mountain previously known as Peak XV was renamed Mount Everest in 1865 after Sir George Everest, British surveyor general of India from 1830 to 1843.

What is the height of Mt Everest?

The long accepted figure was 29,028 feet or 8,848 metres. This figure was calculated as part of the Indian government's 1952-54 survey . In 1975, Chinese surveyors calculated that the height was 8,848.11 metres. An Italian survey using GPS and laser measurement yielded the figure of 8,846 metres by subtracting the height of the peak's ice cap. Until 1999, the value used by most research value used by mo ers and mapping agencies was the figure established by the Indian survey . In 1999, a US team using satellite technology obtained a figure of 8,850 metres, which today is the most accepted height of the peak. Analysis of satellite data after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal suggested that Everest might have shrunk by about 2.5 cm.

Why do many mountaineers criticise Everest's commercialisation?

There is a growing concern about the commercialisation of climbing Everest. Many tour companies promise they can take ordinary people to the top if they can bear the expense.This has increased the number of people attempting the climb as well as the death toll. Several people have died in the attempts and their remains are left on the peak. It has also increased pollution on Everest, now littered with oxygen canisters, human waste and dead bodies.


8,848.86m (29,031.7ft). / 2020

Bhadra Sharma & Emily Schmall, December 9, 2020: The Times of India

Mount Everest has risen almost 3 feet. China and Nepal, which share a mountainous border, announced on Tuesday they have jointly determined the height of the world’s tallest mountain as 8,848.86m (29,031.7ft).

For 65 years, Everest’s height had been considered to be 8,848m (29,028.87ft). India had in 2017 offered to remeasure Everest, but Nepal rejected it, saying its surveyors were capable of doing it.

However, earlier this year, with Covid hitting the climbing season, China sent a survey team to the summit with global satellite receivers to measure its northern side. Nepal had measured the southern side in 2019. NYT

How Mount Everest Got Taller

December 13, 2020: The Times of India


It’s official. Mount Everest is now 8,848.86m. That’s 86cm higher than the mountain’s previously recognised height. A look at the challenges of measuring a mountain

Where did 8,848 come from?

Everest height was first calculated at 8,840m in 1956 by a team led by British surveyor Sir George Everest, the man whom the mountain was named after. An Indian survey in 1953 readjusted the height to 8,848m following Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ever survey of the peak. In this pre-satellite era, surveyors would lug around a device called the theodolite to measure its height

Why did they measure Everest again

Some geologists suggested that the devastating 2015 earthquake may have impacted Everest’s height by making its snow cap shrink. Others argued that the plate tectonic collision that has been occurring for the last 40 to 50 million years as the Indian plate pushes into the Eurasian plate could have increased the height. So both Nepal and China decided to ascertain its true height

Peak confusion over estimates

China believed that the mountain should be measured according to its rock height, while Nepal went by snowcap and thus came up with a taller estimate. The issue got mired in politics till surveyors from both countries coordinated and finally agreed on the new height of 8,848.86m

How Nepal went about it

2 years’ training for Nepalese surveyors since this was the first time they were measuring Everest themselves.

300 Nepali surveyors were on the job — some walking, others overhead on helicopters

1 toe lost as Nepal’s lead surveyor Khimlal Gautam had frostbite while installing GPS equipment on the summit

250km sequence of line-ofsight stations built to triangulate an accurate height

Sources: BBC, National Geographic, France24

How mountains are measured

How the height of mountains is measured
From: December 14, 2020: The Times of India

See graphic:

How the height of mountains is measured

Deaths on the Mt. Everest


June 4, 2019: The Times of India

Deaths on the Everest, 1921-2019
From: June 4, 2019: The Times of India

See graphic, ' Deaths on the Everest, 1921-2019'

Over 300 dead on Mount Everest in more than 9 decades

Conquering the 8,848 meter-high Mt. Everest is every mountaineer's dream. But did you know that the world's highest mountain has seen over 300 climbers dead since 1921. As many as 11 climbers lost their lives this year alone.


2019: 11,000 kilos of trash removed

June 6, 2019: The Times of India

The clean-up drive follows a debate about the ‘traffic jam’ at the Everest summit sparked by this image captured by Nirmal Pujra on May 23 which went viral. The image shows around 100 climbers lining up for hours to stand at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain
From: June 6, 2019: The Times of India

First-ever Everest clean-up throws up 11,000 kilos of trash, four bodies



Nepali climbers have retrieved four bodies and collected some 11 tonnes of decades-old garbage from Mount Everest and its approach below the base camp as part of the first drive to clean up the world’s highest mountain since it was first scaled by climbers 66 years ago, the government said.

Climbers returning from the 8,850-metre mountain say its slopes are littered with human excrement, used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers left behind by climbers, a embarrassment for a country that earns valuable revenue from Everest expeditions.

The garbage, along with the bodies of some of the 300 people who have died over the years on Everest’s slopes, have been buried under the snow for many years. Melting glaciers, a grim result of global warming, have been are revealing rubbish which has gathered over decades of mountaineering by climbers who pay little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind.

A clean-up team of 20 sherpa climbers collected five tonnes of litter in April and May from different camps sites above the base camp and another six tonnes from the areas below, said Dandu Raj Ghimire, director general of the Department of Tourism. “Unfortunately, some garbage collected in bags at the South Col could not be brought down due to bad weather,” Ghimire said in a statement.

Everest was first conquered by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and about 5,000 people have since reached the summit. South Col, on the Southeast Ridge route pioneered by Hillary and Tenzing, is located at some 8,016 metres (26,300 feet), and it is the site of the final camp from where climbers begin their summit attempts.

Cleaning campaign coordinator Nim Dorjee Sherpa, head of the village where Mount Everest is located, said two bodies were collected from the treacherous Khumbu Icefall and two from camp three site at the Western Cwm. “They were exposed from the snow when the sherpas picked up and brought them down,” he said. None of the four bodies have been identified and it was not known when they died.

Nine mountaineers died on the Nepali side of Everest in May while two perished on the Tibetan side, making it the deadliest climbing season since 2015. Climbers returning from Everest have talked of crowding and delays on the Nepali side just below the summit in the “death zone”, so-called because at that altitude the lack of oxygen can be fatal.

Ghimire, of the department of tourism, said the deaths were not because of congestion but due to bad weather and short summit windows. However, Nepal is considering tightening access to Mt Everest. “We are looking into having a minimum requirement for climbers, fixing more ropes or taking more oxygen and sherpas,” said Mohan Krishna Sapkota, secretary at Nepal’s tourism ministry. REUTERS

1965: India 4th nation to scale Everest

May 20: The day India broke Everest jinx

The Times of India, Jaideep Mazumdar,TNN | May 19, 2015

On May 20, 1965, an Indian expedition ascended to the top of the world. It was a pilgrimage, as the expedition leader, Manmohan Singh Kohli, says. A pilgrimage that put India in the exalted league of nations who had ascended the world’s highest point—the 8848 meter high Mount Everest that had been scaled only thrice earlier.

May 20 1965 was a historic day worth remembering: a feverish excitement gripped the nation, people danced on the streets, All India Radio broadcast ecstatic bulletins repeatedly, the Prime Minister, his cabinet colleagues and other senior politicians scrambled to issue congratulatory messages and the nation erupted in a collective euphoria over a victory that, more than anything else, helped the nation regain its wounded pride.

On May 20, 1965, an Indian expedition ascended to the top of the world. It was a pilgrimage, as the expedition leader, Manmohan Singh Kohli, says. A pilgrimage which was cathartic for the nation that was still reeling under the ignominious debacle of 1962. A pilgrimage that put India in the exalted league of nations who had ascended the world's highest point—the 8848 meter high Mount Everest that had been scaled only thrice earlier.

Kohli, then a Lieutenant Commander in the Indian Navy, has vivid memories of that day. "It was a glorious moment for India. We set a record by putting nine of our expedition members on the summit in four successive successful attempts," Kohli, who now lives in New Delhi, said. Captain Avtar.Singh Cheema and Nawang Gombu were the first to scale the peak on May 20, followed by Sonam Gyatso and Sonam Wangyal on May 22, C.P.Vohra and Ang Kami on May 24 and Major Hari Pal Singh Ahluwalia, Harish Rawat and Phu Dorji on May 29. This record—of nine members of an expedition summiting—remained unbroken for 17 years. "There was a complete sense of fulfilment since the effort to scale this peak was going on for a long time with four pre-Everest expeditions and two unsuccessful attempts to summit in 1961 and 1963. The success of the expedition gave an exceptional boost to sports in the country," said Kohli.

The expedition's success electrified the nation. Prime Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda broke protocol to receive the expedition members at the Palam airport and immediately announced Arjuna Awards for all the 19 team members and Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree for eleven of them. Chief Ministers of almost all the states invited and hosted the team and organized felicitations and civic receptions for them. Kohli, who later retired as a Navy Captain, was invited to address a joint session of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in the central hall of the Parliament on September 8 that year where leaders of all political parties vied with each other to pay tributes to the expedition. Indira Gandhi described the expedition's success as one of India's six major achievements after Independence. A special commemorative stamp was released on August 15 that year.

"A few months later, we were in Kolkata on the invitation of Chief Minister P.C.Sen. I particularly remember a felicitation at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium where a kilometer-long queue of people with garlands in their hands waited to greet us. The pile of garlands was seven feet high. I then realized the Bengal was the most sports-loving state in the country," said Kohli. Another civic reception hosted by the Mayor at the Town Hall was also attended by thousands of people. Kohli recalls that the CM threw a big party for the team members.

Kohli's book, 'Nine Atop Everest—Spectacular Indian Ascent' was penned in 1968,

A film on the expedition—Challenge of Everest—which had music by Shankar Jaikishan—was made in the late 1960s.

HMI Principal Colonel Gulshan Chadha explained the significance of the 1965 expedition's success: "The mood in the entire country, especially the Himalayan region, was very low after the 1962 debacle. The success of the 1965 expedition injected hope and positivity among Indians. Two earlier Indian army expeditions to the Everest in 1961 and 1963 failed just short of the summit and everyone was very depressed. The 1965 expedition broke that jinx and made the nation feel that we could do it and scale the highest peaks. More so since there had been only three successful expeditions to the Everest till then—the one in 1953 by the Hillary-Tenzing duo, the second in 1954 by the Swiss and in 1960 by the Americans. The 1965 expedition put India at the high table of successful nations".


1970s-2015: 28% shrinkage

The Times of India, Dec 09 2015

Glaciers in Everest have shrunk by 28% in 40 years 

Glaciers on Mount Everest, source of major Asian rivers like Brahmaputra, have shrunk by 28% over the past 40 years due to climate change, according to a report. The glacial shrinkage area is compared to the measurements taken in the 1970s in the report released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Hunan University of Science and Technology , and Mount Qomolangma Snow Leopard Conservation Centre.

The glacial area on the south slope of the world's highest mountain, in Nepal, has decreased by 26% since the 1980s, the report said.

Part of the report also said Everest, known as Mount Qomolangma in Tibet, has been getting warmer for the past 50 years.

Kang Shichang, a researcher with the State Key Labo ratory of Cryospheric Sciences under the CAS, said the data was based on long-term remote sensing and on-site monitoring.

At present, there are 1,476 glaciers in China's Mt Qomolangma national nature reserve, covering 2,030 square kilometres, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The shrinking glaciers have resulted in swelling of glacial lakes and higher river levels downstream, Kang, who has led several glacier inspection teams, said.

Remote sensing data showed that the area of a glacial lake in Mount Everest nature reserve increased from about 100 square kilometres in 1990 to 114 square kilometres in 2013, Kang said.

Mount Everest is the source of a number of major Asian rivers, including Brahmaputra and Ganges.

Earlier in May , a group of international researchers had warned that the estimated 5,500 glaciers in the Hindu KushHimalayan region -site of many of the world's tallest peaks, including Mount Everest -could reduce their volume by 70-99% by 2100, with dire consequences for farming and hydropower generation downstream.

Rapidly losing ice

Mt Everest’s highest glacier rapidly losing ice, says study, February 7, 2022: The Times of India

Kathmandu: Ice on a glacier near the summit of Mount Everest that took millennia to form has shrunk dramatically in the last three decades due to climate change, a new study has shown. The South Col formation may already have lost around 55 metres of thickness in the last 25 years, according to research led by the University of Maine and published this week by Nature.

Carbon dating showed the toplayer of icewas around2,000 years old, suggesting that the glacier was thinning over 80 times faster than the time it took to form, the study said. At that rate, South Col was “probably going to disappear within very few decades”, lead scientist Paul Mayewski told National Geographic. “It’s quite a remarkable transition,” he added. 
The South Col glacier is around 7,900 metres above sea level and a kilometre below the peak of Mt Everest. Other researchers have shown that Himalayan glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate. As the glaciers shrink, hundreds of lakes have formed in the foothills of Himalayan mountains that could burst and cause floods. 

See also

Nepal earthquake: 2015

Nepal earthquakes: 2015-16

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