In a deadly season that’s already claimed 11 lives, these 6 essential reads explore the reasons behind summiting the world’s highest mountain.
Reaching the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point in the world at 29,029 feet, has long been an object of fascination for explorers. But in a year that has already claimed 11 lives amid concerns of overcrowding on the summit—making it the deadliest season since a 2015 avalanche killed at least 17 at Everest’s base camp—many are left to wonder: Why do people keep climbing Mount Everest?
“Because it’s there,” the British mountaineer George Leigh Mallory famously told the New York Times when asked why he was attempting Everest’s peak before his 1924 attempt ended in his death.
For others it can be for the status and prestige of saying they’ve accomplished such a feat or because they’re predisposed to risky behavior. To further understand why people attempt the climb each year despite the dangers of going above 26,000 feet—otherwise known as the “death zone”—here are six must-read stories about those who have done it:
What It’s Actually Like to Be an Expedition Guide on Mt. Everest
In October 2015, AFAR’s deputy editor Jenn Flowers profiled Dawa Gyaljen Sherpa, an expedition guide who had reached the summit of Everest four times by the age of 29. In this Q+A, he details what it takes to become a guide, how he sees climbing as an addiction, as well as the challenges he’s seen develop with overcrowding on the mountain over the years.
Tenzing of Everest
Read Now: The New Yorker
For its June 5, 1954, issue, the New Yorker sent a reporter to Darjeeling, India, to profile Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who with Sir Edmund Hillary became one of the first people to summit Everest in 1953. While Hillary drew most of the international acclaim for the feat, this long read focuses on Norgay (styled Norkay back then) and his life after returning from the top of the world.
The Man Who Knocked the Bastard Off
Read Now: Outside
Shortly after George Leigh Mallory’s body was finally found on Everest in 1999, Sir Edmund Hillary granted a rare interview to Outside magazine at the age of 80. In it, he talks about how Everest was more of a beginning than an end to his life of adventure and how his main motivating factors were his stubbornness and his fear of boredom. “All of my life I’ve been afraid of having nothing to do, having no challenges to meet, being bored,” Hillary said. “The whole of my life has been a battle against boredom.”
Into Thin Air
Buy Now: Amazon.com
In what has become one of the most famous books about climbing Everest, journalist Jon Krakauer details his account of surviving the 1996 disaster that claimed eight lives in one day on the mountain. It all began as an assignment about the commercialization of climbing Everest for Outside magazine; the story of this ill-fated journey has since been developed into two movies: 1997’s Into Thin Air and 2015’s Everest.
The Real Story of Sandy Hill Pittman, Everest’s Socialite Climber
Read Now: Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair profiled Sandy Hill Pittman, the New York socialite who also survived the 1996 Everest disaster in August 1996. While some argue that she was unfairly painted as one of the villains in Krakauer’s story, this feature digs into her reasons for climbing Everest—including a strong desire to be in the media spotlight.
Deliverance From 27,000 Feet
Read Now: The New York Times
According to the Himalayan Database, around 300 people have died on Mount Everest since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first reached its summit in 1953. Because of its famously harsh conditions, an estimated 200 of those bodies remain on the mountain. This New York Times feature details the harrowing efforts of Sherpas to recover the remains of a group of Indian climbers who died on Everest in 2016.