May 29th 2023 marks 70 years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay completed the first ascent of Mount Everest. This film explores the history of Everest, those who successfully reached the peak and the ways in which the mountain has shaped the lives of those who live and work in the region.
A century ago, no-one had reached the summit of Mount Everest. Now, hundreds of people stand on the top of the world every year. In this programme, Mount Everest summiteers reveal how the world’s tallest mountain has been conquered, then and now.
In 1924, a British expedition team set out to climb to the peak of Mount Everest, a height of 8848m. Among the climbers was Howard Somervell. His cousin, Graham Hoyland, reveals that Somervell was just 300m from the summit when illness forced him to turn back.
Unlike many of today’s climbers, Sommervell was not using supplementary oxygen. Professor Mike Grocott, a critical care consultant at University Hospital Southampton, explains that the oxygen level at the summit is a third of what’s available at sea level. In 2013, Mike led an expedition to the summit of Mount Everest to measure the oxygen level in climbers blood. Just 500m from the summit, at an altitude of 8382m, one of the team members had an oxygen reading that was typical of a dead person.
In 1953, Edmund Hillary, a Kiwi, and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, became the first people to stand on the summit. Tim Mosedale, an Everest guide who has summited six times, explains how developments in mountaineering science made the 1953 summit possible; the climbers had better oxygen systems, better clothing and a better understanding of how to fuel themselves.
Today, the backbone of every expedition is the Sherpa porters and guides. By living in the foothills of Mount Everest for centuries, they have evolved so they can perform well at altitude. In 2013, Professor Mike Grocott’s team returned to Everest. They discovered a Sherpa’s physiology is suited to producing the energy they need to power their bodies when oxygen is scarce.
Today, the peak of Mount Everest has become a tourist trap. Often hundreds of climbers are forced to wait for hours in queues. This is dangerous because the oxygen level is so low. 2019 is one of the deadliest years in the mountain’s history with 11 deaths.
Available for the 70th anniversary in 2023.