Some 641 climbed it last year alone, and this month newspapers reported that Min Bahadur Sherchan, who became the oldest person to do so aged 77 in 2008, now aims to take back the crown claimed from him by a Japanese climber four years ago.
Sherchan is 86, by the way. While the former Gurkha is hardly a tourist trying to tick another item off the ’50 things to do before you die list’, the feeling persists that the challenge is perhaps not what it was for many other people with the right amount of money.
Back in 1922 that challenge was huge. It was to be 31 more years before Hilary and Norgay stood triumphant on top of the 29,035ft (8848m) giant.
George Mallory’s 1922 British Everest Expedition is thought to be the first which tried to scale the peak and sadly it set another 'first' when seven Sherpa died – the first deaths recorded on the mountain. Expedition members did reach over 27,000ft, however. Three unsuccessful attempts were made on the peak with an avalanche on the last one burying the Sherpa.
A group of remarkable direct positive glass lantern slides illustrating that expedition have been sold at auction in Somerset, vividly portraying the characters who took part. Lawrences of Crewkerne offered the 36 slides on February 3, when they sold for £4200 (plus a 25% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of £2000-3000.
Lawrences specialist Robert Ansell says: “There was keen interest before the sale. I took multiple enquiries from various parties, including relatives of the men who undertook the expedition, publishers and researchers. On the day we saw the bidding reach the hammer price quite quickly, mostly via phone bids. It sold to an overseas buyer.
“According to the Alpine Club, these slides were issued to members of the expedition for lecture purposes. We can’t say how many sets are still extant, but it would be fair to say they are uncommon.”
The 8cm square slides include views such as ‘Major Norton and Mr Mallory at 27,000 feet’, ‘The second climbing party Capt Finch and Geoffrey Bruce’, ‘Mount Everest Expedition 1922 in the Rongbuk Glacier (group photograph)’, ‘Changtse & Gyachung Kong from Camp V (25,000ft) on Mt Everest’, ‘Col Strutt and first climbing party on their return’, ‘Track avalanche of June 7’, ‘Mt Everest from base camp’, ‘The ice cliff of the Chang La’, ‘members of the Expedition at Darjeeling’ and ‘Start of the Second High climbing party’.
Captain JBL Finch was the official photographer on the expedition. Another photographer, John Noel, was present.
The slides lay undiscovered in a classroom cupboard until a teacher found them when his school was closed down 40 years ago. That teacher consigned them to Lawrences.
The photos are all the more poignant for the images of Mallory, a former artilleryman who had served on the Somme during the First World War. They also helped to raise funds for the 1924 expedition to Everest by Mallory with Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine.
It was to end in tragedy. In 1999 their bodies were finally found on the North Face. They had reached just 900ft short of the summit – but some believe they actually made the top.
A ‘tourist tick’ Everest may now be, but it is worth remembering that on average for every five people that reach the summit, one dies.