In India, thousands of pilgrims go to the mountain every year to visit famous temples. School pupils and college students also make expeditions to historical places in the mountains and have to do a good deal of climbing to reach the top. They enjoy the exercise immensely. But all this is far from mountaineering in its true sense.
Mountaineering in the modern sense has been defined as “the ascent of high mountains for sports and adventure.” However, churches, monasteries and temples have been built on high mountaintops for countless ages, mountaineering for sport and adventure is a product only of the nineteenth century, when it gradually developed into a fine art.
The Swiss have always been expert mountain climbers, and some of their achievements in the Alpine ranges have earned them and admiration of the world. Other European nations have not been slow to follow the lead and many teams from England and elsewhere have been going to the Swiss Alps year after year.
As might be expected the great Himalayas in India have presented a challenge of their own to expert mountaineers throughout the world. They present far greater difficulties and problems than the Alps. The climbers have to make their way through ice and snow, and across dangerous glaciers; snowstorms, blizzards and avalanches may descend upon them without warning and wipe out the existence of entire parties. Another difficulty is that at the higher altitudes there is not enough oxygen to breathe. Climbers have to carry supplies of oxygen with them and the additional weight slows down their progress.
Every expedition has to be planned very carefully. The party must carry enough stock of woolen clothes, fur gloves and caps, food supplies, medicines and other necessities. Now a days, even cameras and scientific instruments form part to the equipment.
European mountaineers have not been able to climb the Himalayas without the help of Sherpa’s. The Sherpa’s are local mountain people who are themselves expert climbers and help the expeditions by carrying their baggage. The word ‘Sherpa’s’ suggests ‘sheer’ which means a tiger. The more experienced Sherpa’s are called tigers.
Many attempts have been made to conquer the mighty peaks of the Himalayas. In 1924, an expedition came almost within reach of the summit of Mount Everest. Standing more than 29,000 feet above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world. The 1924 expedition had to abandon the assault as they could go no further on account of terrible snowstorms and blizzards. Malory and Irvine, the two men who had reached the highest point, lost their lives.
Various other attempts were made to conquer Everest but without success. In the meantime, the climbers turned their attention to other peaks like Nanda Devi and Kanchenjunga.
1953 was the most glorious year in the history of mountaineering. That year John Hunt led his team for another determined assault, and two of the climbers in the team, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Ten zing Norgay, set foot on the peak. The highest mountain peak in the world has been conquered, but mountaineering goes on, in its true sense of sport and adventure.