It can be hard to think of Everest as unknown anymore. While it’s certainly a challenge to climb the world’s tallest mountain, someone–with enough time and money–has a good chance of making it to the summit. A potential mountaineer can fly into Kathmandu, travel to a well-stocked base camp, be escorted up a well-trodden route by expert sherpas. There’s even Wifi at the peak.
The relative ease of climbing Everest is born from almost a century of attempted expeditions up the mountain, to determine how high one could go, and what routes to take. Even the successful expedition of Norgay and Hillary was built on the efforts of those who came before.
And the first expeditions, in 1921 and 1922, are the subject of Mick Conefrey’s Everest 1922: The Epic Story of the First Attempt on the World's Highest Mountain (Pegasus Books, 2022). Mick tells the story of these very first attempts to climb the mountain–including the difficulties of funding, recruitment, and travel, as well as the climb itself.
In this interview, Mick and I talk about the two expeditions to Everest–including its most famous participant, George Mallory–the scientific and mountaineering controversies around it, and what makes climbing Everest different today.
Mick Conefrey is an award-winning writer and documentary film maker. He created the landmark BBC series The Race for Everest to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the first ascent. His previous books include The Adventurer's Handbook: Life Lessons from History's Great Explorers (Smithsonian: 2006); Everest 1953: The Epic Story of the First Ascent (Mountaineers Books: 2014), the winner of a Leggimontagna Award; and Ghosts of K2: The Race for the Summit of the World's Most Deadly Mountain (Oneworld Publications: 2015), which won a U.S. National Outdoor Book Award.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at@nickrigordon.