Tibetan side of Mt. Everest
Mt. Everest is 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) high. That is almost nine kilometers (5½ miles) high. Taller than 21 Empire State buildings piled on top of one another and almost as high as the cruising altitude of Boeing 747 jumbo jets, Mt. Everest is so high that it sometimes penetrates the jet stream, blowing mountain climbers off the top, and dozens of feet have to be subtracted from surveying measurements to compensate for the gravity created by the mountain.

Mt. Everest is located at about the same latitude as Tampa, Florida. The rocks making up the mountain are 60 million years old. Located on the border of Tibet (China) and Nepal, Mt. Everest is sometimes referred to as the third pole. It was first known to British surveyors---who first sighted it many miles away in Denhra Dun in India and took measurements of its heights from there---as Peak XV. In 1852 it became significant when a Bengali clerk working in an office in Delhi exclaimed "I have discovered the highest mountain in world" after tabulating measurements of Peak XV from different survey stations across northern India in 1849 and 1850.

Climbers say that other mountains are much more difficult to climb than Mt. Everest. Jan Morris, who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the first successful Everest expedition in May 1953, wrote: “It’s not the most beautiful of mountains---several of its neighbors were shapelier---but whether in fact or simply in the mind, it seems conspicuously nobler than any of them.” Among the most impressive sights at the summit is the pyramid-shapes shadow that Everest produces at sunrise and sunset. Hardly anybody has been it from the summit itself because few climbers are there at those times. Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia Mount Mount Summit Post Summit Post

Names and Naming of Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest is named after the British after Sir George Everest, a Welshman and the Surveyor General of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India and the man in charge of mapping India between 1830 and 1843. Everest most likely never saw the mountain named after him and it is believed he would likely have preferred a local name given to tthe mountain.

Everest had no direct connection with the mountain but was responsible for hiring Andrew Scott Waugh, who made the first formal observations of the mountain, and Radhanath Sikdar, who calculated its height. Mount Everest was originally known as Peak "B" and later as Peak XV. In March 1856, Waugh announced to the Royal Geographical Society that his team believed that Peak XV was the highest in the world, and suggested naming it "after my illustrious predecessor", as it was "without any local name that we can discover" and the "native appellation, if it has any, will not very likely be ascertained before we are allowed to penetrate into Nepal".

The Nepalese call Mt. Everest "Samgarmatha" ("Goddess of the Universe" or literally “Forehead of the Sky” pr "Head reaching up to the sky’" . In 1938 after much research, according to the Kathmandu Post, the Nepalese historian Baburam Acharya found that. ‘Sagar’ means "heaven" or "sky" and "matha’ means head or crest in Sanskrit Sherpas and Tibetans call Everest "Qomolangma" or Chomolungma ("Goddess Mother of the Land"). For them the mountain is sacred and the idea of climbing it, until recently, was strange. According to a Sherpa legend Mt. Everest is the home of a goddess bearing a bowl of food and a mongoose spitting jewels.

Measuring the Height of Mt. Everest

Using a global positional device (GPS) placed on the summit in 1999, scientists at the University of Colorado calculated the height of Mt. Everest to be 29,035 feet, or 8,500 meters.(with a margin of error or plus or minus seven feet). This is seven feet higher than earlier estimates. The new height was recognized by the National Geographic Society and placed on their maps.

Everest climber
The measurements were made after a Seattle-based astronomer claimed in 1987 that K2 in Pakistan might be 29,064 feet high, making it higher that Mt. Everest. The K2 measurement was made measuring the altitude of a knoll near K2 using a 75-pound Doppler receiver (a device that measures distance through analysis of slight variations in the wavelength of radio waves) on the knoll and a satellite passing overhead and then using ordinary triangulation to determine the height of K2.

The first survey of Mt. Everest in the 1850s came up with the altitude figure of 29,002 feet based on measurements taken at six sites in the India plains. A second survey made at the turn of the century determined the height of Mt. Everest was 29,141 feet. In the 1954, when Indian surveyors made 12 readings at locations much closer to the mountain, they came with the widely accepted elevation of 29,029 feet (8,848 meters).

The global positioning device taken to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1998 was placed there by mountain climbers. The devise also determined that Everest is still rising at a rate of about a third of an inch every year and moving northeast at rate of three inches a year. Recently a Chinese mountaineering revised the height of Mt. Everest as four meters lower.

Still there is some debate as to what is the world's highest mountain. Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii stands 33,480 feet above the ocean floor and 13,796 feet above sea level.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Chimborazo, a 6,267-meter (20,560 foot) -high volcano in Ecuador, is 2,150 meters (7,054 feet) further from the center of the earth than Mt. Everest. It's distance from the earth's center is a result of the fact that Chimborazo is only 160 kilometers (98 miles) from the equator (the earth is slightly flat at the poles and wide at the equator). Chimborazo was thought to be the highest mountain in the world until the 1850s. By some reckoning Hawaii’s Mauna Kea is the world's tallest mountain. From top to bottom it is over 10,000 meters (32,280 feet) --- 4,207.3 meter (13,803 feet) above sea level and around 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) below the sea. Chimborazo is 6.4 million meter (21 million feet) or 6,384 kilometers (3,967 miles) from the center of the earth.

Surveying Mt. Everest

Because the original measurements of Mt. Everest were made from the faraway plains of India, the height calculations were corrected by as much as 1,375 feet to compensate for refraction alone. Moreover, the chain of triangulation locations began 1,000 miles way in Madras. For K2, they began 1,700 miles away in Madras.

The early surveyors were prohibited from crossing into Tibet by the Chinese emperor. To get around this the British hired local tribesmen who disguised their surveyor chains as prayer beads. These tribesmen were educated men known as "pandits." The word "pundit," an expression which originally meant "learned man" was derived from the name of this group.

All measurements of Mt. Everest are based on the elevation of the snowcap on the summit not the summit itself. No one knows how deep the snow is and it may vary as much as three feet in the course of a year.

Climbing routes on Tibetan side

Tibetan Side of Mount Everest

The Tibetan side of Mt. Everest is south of town of Tingri in southern Tibet on the border of the central Himalayas, between China and Nepal. Tingri is the nearest town with hotels and shops. The Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Rongbuk is not far from the Everest Base, which you can drive to on a paved road.

The Tibetan side of Mt. Everest tlooks like a completely different mountain than the naked black peak visitors see from the Nepalese side. The Chinese government says the Tibetan approach to Qomolangma provides far better vistas of the world's highest peak than those on the Nepal side but that is debatable. In Tibet, you can drive to the base camp but in Nepal you have to hike there.

The Tibetan east face is a massive wall of ice rising out of the desolate Tibetan plateau. This side of the mountain, scaled first by an American expedition in July 1984, can be reached from the village of Kharta. The route that most Everest mountain climbers have taken on the Tibetan side is on the northeast Ridge. This was the route taken by Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb Everest solo, and George Mallory who got within 2000 feet of the summit in 1922 before he disappeared.

Rongbuk Monastery located on Mt. Everest, is the highest monastery in the world At an elevation of about 5,200 meters, it is almost the same height as the base camp of Mt. Everest. The monastery was built in 1899 by a Ningmapa lama. Once, the number of lamas reached 500, but now there are only about 50 in the monastery. A strange phenomenon is that the lamas live together with the nuns, some of them from Nepal. Mani stones, carved with sacred syllables and prayers, line the paths. Although small, the Rongbuk Monastery has great significance for the pilgrims. However, it is visited by many more tourists than pilgrims these days. It is a good place for viewing and taking photos of Mt. Everest. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China, October 27, 2005]

Qomolangma National Park was established in 1989. It covers < 27,000 square kilometers (13,000 square miles) around the mountain's Tibetan face and is home to around 80,000 people. The park and reserve It stretches northward from Mt. Everest onto the Tibetan plateau.. Admission: 180 yuan; Travel Information: : Everest draws millions of travelers and climbers. Because of the altitude, weather, wind and other difficulties, climbing requires special training and professional guides and hiking generally requires good guides or at least good maps. Best time to visit: March to May or September and October; Climbing Mt. Everest is very dangerous, only the periods between early March and late May, along with early September and late October are fit for climbing.

Tibetan Climbing Route on Mt. Everest

The Tibetan Route on Mt. Everest avoids the dangerous traversal of the Khumbu Icefall but involves more climbing skill and more time above 25,000 feet. The base camp is located at 17,000 feet. From there the ascent is relatively easy and gentle to Camp I at 18.300 feet and Camp II at 20,000 feet. To reach Camp III at 21,300 feet and Camp IV at 23,100 feet requires traversing glaciers and snowfields.

One of the most difficult parts of the climb is up the somewhat technically demanding rock face to Camp V at 25,600 feet. From here mountaineers follow a ridge crest all the way to the summit. Camp VI is located at 27,200 feat. The last section entails getting past the First Step and the Second Step, a 90-foot-high rock wall at 28,300 feet which now can be traversed using a ladder placed there by a Chinese team.

The Chinese made the first successful conquest of the summit form the north in 1960 using this route, Mallory and Messner also used it.

A Chinese team made the first ascent of Mt. Everest from the north (from Tibet) and was the third team to reach the summit after Hillary and Tenzing. Led by Shih Chan-Chun, the team reached the summit on May 25, 1960. No teams from other countries tried from this side until 1980 because Tibet was closed from 1950 to 1980.

Everest base camp on Tibetan side
Three Chinese climbers---Wang Fuzhou, Gong Bu and Qu Yinhua---reached the summit. Qu was recruited from a logging camp in Sichuan and lost a finger and toes to frostbite. He told a Beijing magazine,”We were aware that the climb was of national importance. We knew other Chinese teams had failed, and we knew that it had become an issue of China’s “face.”

The expedition was originally supposed to be a joint Soviet-Chinese expedition but troubles between the two Communist against prevented that from taking place. The Chinese team underwent training in the Pamirs in the Soviet Union and received $70,000 worth of foreign equipment. Before the climb the team were told by Zhou El Lai before the ascent: “Get to the top, or die trying.”

There biggest obstacle for the Chinese Everest team was a sheer face of ice-covered rock called the Second Step. Qu said, “We made three attempts at the 30-meter cliff. We went this way and that way, but it was no use. We were exhausted and night was falling...The English had said that not even a bird could fly across the Second Step. But then we noticed a crevice of 20-30 centimeters in width.”

Unable to get a good grip, Qu took off his four-kilogram boots and sock and climbed the crevice in -40̊C barefoot. Qu said, “I could just hear Premier Zhou words in my head. I knew that greater things than one man’s feet were at stake---it was a question of national honor.” It took more than five hours for Qu to get over the Second Step and help Wang and Gong. Just after midnight they began the final ascent,, reaching the summit at 4:25am.

At the summit the scribbled the time and date on a piece of paper and placed a statue of Mao and a Chinese flag in a canister which they buried at the summit and picked up a rock which the presented to Mao (the rock now sits in the National History Museum in Tiananmen Square). The team spent less than a minute at the summit. Because it was dark they took no photographs.

Because not photos were taken there have been allegations that the feat was faked and was not recognized by the international climbing community until 1975, when another Chinese team made it the summit using the same route, bringing along a 25-meter ladder to get over the Second Step.

Web Site and Getting There : Generally the only ways to get to the Everest area are by hired vehicle or as part of a tour. Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Treks on the Tibetan Side of Mount Everest

Mount Everest from Rongbok Gompa
Treks begin at the Rongbuk Monastery and lead to a glacier by the same name. Both Rongbuk Monastery and Xegar monastery near Kharta were reduced to piles of ruble by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. The ruins are now in the process of being restored.

The base camp below Rongbuk glacier has been described as a parking lot for a drive in movie. Expedition trucks filled with supplies can pull up right to the camp. Trekkers reach 17,200-foot-high "toe" of Rongbuk Glacier.

There were plans to put in a 67-mile paved road to Mt. Everest base camp to make it easier to take the Olympic torch there. These plans were put on hold in July 2007. Russell Brice, a New-Zealand-born climber, wants to build the world's highest hotel at the Northern Base Camp of Mt. Everest on the Tibetan side,

It is an eight day round-trip trek from Kharta to the Kangshung Glacier where the American expedition began. Along this scenic route trekkers pass through rhododendron forests, alpine meadows with views of Makalu (the fifth highest mountain in the world) and Chomo Lonz. Everest doesn't reveal itself until you arrive at the glacier. Web Site: Trekking Tibet Trekking Tibet

Treks in the Tibetan Himalayas are not as well-organized as those in Nepal and other places. There is no emergency helicopter service. Supplies are often carried on the backs of Tibetan horses or yaks.

Road Trip to Everest

The day-long road trip to Everest in Tibet on my trip there started in Shigatse (officially known as Xigazê), which is a about a six hour direct drive from Lhasa. The drama of that leg of the trip began the day before as we tried to finish our itinerary of seeing a stunning Tibetan lake and glacier and make it to the Chinese government office in Shigatse in time to get our permits to enter the Everest area.

The first part of the trip from Shigatse to Everest Base camp is a six-hour journey on the paved Friendship Highway that goes to Kathmandu in Nepal. After the town of Tingri and a major check point — in which all members of our travel party had to show our passports and permits to police and we were almost forced back because something was not right with our driver’s papers — we turned off on a bumpy, dirt-gravel road to Everest Base Camp. The 90-kilometer journey on this road was slow going, taking about three hours to get to the base camp and three hours to get back to Tingri, with a flat tire thrown in. But the trip was well worth the stomach-churning switchbacks and the car-roof-head-hitting bumps.

The original plan of our tour was to drive from Shigatze to Rongbuk Monastery, the highest monastery in the world, near Everest base camp. But it was too cold to stay there so we went back to the town of Tingli and slept in a very basic, freezing cold guesthouse. There were celebrated New Years Eve with limited enthusiasm as everyone was tired from the long day of driving and visiting Everest. One of the highlights for me on the return trip from Everest was drinking cans of beer we carried in the mini-bus after they exploded due to the high altitude.

After the turnoff on the dirt road it was a long climb to the top of a large hill which offered the first view of 8,848-meter-high (29,029-foot-high) Everest — and what a stunning view it was too. There was Everest: the king of a massif — the Mahalangur Himal — that also includes 8,516-meter-high (27,040-foot-high) Lhotse, the world’s forth highest mountain, 8,485-meter-high (27,838-foot-high) Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain, and 8,188-meter-high (26,864) Cho Oyo, the world’s sixth highest mountain. From our vantage point their glacier-covered slopes stretched across the mid-part of the horizon, glistening in the mid-day sun, looking like they had been painted with vanilla ice cream that had been repeatedly melted and refrozen..

Everest Base Camp

Then it was back into the mini-bus for the trip to Everest base camp. After piling in, my travel mates expressed the kind of superlatives you might expect after witnessing such a sight — “incredible,” “awesome,” superb,” — and then it was planning time for what to do once we reached Everest base camp. Some members of the group debated whether to moon their butts or run completely naked in the snow. Others discussed who they were going to e-mail their Smartphone pictures to. One woman wanted to be photographed wearing a T-shirt of her father’s harmonica blues band. An Australian couple in another group wanted to pose a stuffed mascot for an office photo competition.

Needless to say when we arrived at Everest base camp there was no snow — except on the mountains — as was the case throughout Tibet for much of the trip, something that was surprising to most of us non-Tibetans who expected to see snow in the Land of Snow in December and January. Most of the warm clothes I brought were more useful in the cold hotel rooms than walking around in the daytime sun.

Anyway, at Everest base camp I tried to negotiate for two hours of exploring-around time but was only able to get one hour. Most members of the group were primarily concerned with what photos they were going to take. One woman from Queensland, Australia wanted to get back in the mini-bus as quickly as possible, where it was warm (What are doing at Everest in the winter, you ninny!). Thankfully, as far as I could tell, everyone kept their clothes on and their butts hidden. As for myself, I wanted to make the most of my hour. I decided I would hike as far as I could in half an hour and then walk back. In that half hour I was able to reach a glacier and scramble on top of it — most of it was covered in dirt and rocks — and made it as far as a small lake on the glacier, where I could enjoy one of the world’s best views all to myself, undistracted. There, the triangular north face of Everest rose up in front of me, filling my field of vision, with hurricane force winds blowing snow from the summit to form wispy, stratospheric clouds...Wow.

Banner-Shaped Cloud Above Everest

Ten of the 14 mountains with an altitude over 8,000 meters are located in the Himalayan Mountains in Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region. Towering 8,848 meters above sea level, Mount Everest is the tallest in the world. However, it is not only its height, but also its magical landscapes that have ignited enormous interest among adventurers around the world.

One of the most attractive and unique phenomena is the banner-shaped cloud that floats above Everest. From a distance, the cloud looks like a flag or banner fluttering on top - hence its name qi yun ("flag cloud") in Chinese. But the cloud's shape varies a great deal: It can be as violent as surging waves or as gentle as smoke from a chimney. Such elements add glamour to Everest's spectacular landscape.

The special banner-shaped cloud is generated from the surrounding geological and climactic conditions that are unique to Everest. The banner shape usually appears in the daytime and disappears in the evening. For the experienced alpinist, the banner-shaped cloud is also a very good indicator of weather conditions. The position and height of the cloud can help predict wind power at the top of the mountain for climbers. When the cloud rises, this indicates that the winds are not very strong, and vice versa.The transformation of the cloud usually reflects a change in the air current at higher altitudes. Therefore, the banner-shaped cloud above Everest is also reputed as the "world's highest vane."

Road Between Kathmandu to Lhasa

The Friendship Highway between Kathmandu to Lhasa is mostly a fairly good, paved, two-lane road. There are few people or villages except near the towns. The road passes a small monastery near the cave of Milarepa and the monasteries of Sakya, Shigatse and Gyantse. There are also lovely lakes and mountains. Piles of stones, arrangements of yak and horse bones and white, green, blue and yellow prayer flags are placed near the road. Occasional ruined castles or herds of yaks can be seen in the distance. Parts of the road between Kathmandu and Lhasa can be washed out on the June-to-September monsoon season.

The road between Kathmandu and Lhasa used to be in poor condition and could only be traversed in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Now it can be done in a minibus — but as beofre has to be done as part of an organized tour. But that doesn't necessarily insure a trouble-free trip. The border guards in Tibet, for example, can be surly and unpredictable. One traveler wrote in the New York Times how he was turned back from a check point by a naked pistol-waving Chinese soldiers caught in bed in bed with a Tibetan girl.

The Friendship Highway (also known as the China-Nepal Highway) runs for 800 kilometers (500 miles) between Lhasa and the Chinese-Nepalese border at the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge between Zhangmu, Tibet and Kodari, Nepal. It includes the westernmost part of China National Highway 318 (Shanghai-Zhangmu) and crosses three passes over 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) before dropping to 1,750 meters (5,700 feet) at the border. A 2015 earthquakes in the region closed the highway for a while and caused many evacuations. By 2016 enough repairs had been done that four-wheel-drive vehicles were able to pass through but trading on the route has not been restored to pre-quake levels. [Source: Wikipedia]

From Lhasa, the Friendship Highway follows the Kyi Chu river for about 60 kilometers (40 miles) up to the confluence with the Yarlung Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra) at Chushul. The main route continues along the Yarlung valley up to Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city and formerly the home of the Panchen Lamas. A subsidiary branch crosses the Yarlung Tsangpo at Chushul and crosses the 4,800 meters (15,750 feet) high Gampa La, passes along turquoise Yamdrok Yutso lake before crossing the 5,045 meters (16,550 feet) high Karo La at the foot of Noijin Kangsang, and following downstream the Nyang Chu valley through Gyantse up to Shigatse.

From Shigatse, continuing west parallel to the Yarlung Tsangpo valley, the road passes Lhatse and forks just beyond at Chapu, where China National Highway 219 continues west and upriver, finally crossing the Brahmaputra/Indus divide near sacred Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, then on to Ali in Gar County.

From Chapu near Lhatse, the Friendship Highway maintains the Hwy 318 route number and turns southwest and crosses the main Brahmaputra-Ganges divide at Gyatso La (5,260 meters (17,260 feet), the highest pass on the road. Descending 1,000 meters onto alluvial plains of the Bum-Chu, also known as the Arun river in Nepal, the highway passes near Shelkar (New Tingri) then through Old Tingri, both gateways to Rongbuk Monastery and the north side of Mount Everest.

Continuing southwest, the highway climbs over Lalung La (5,050 meters (16,570 feet) and crosses shortly after the Tong La (also known as Thong La, Yakri Shung La or Yakrushong La) (5,150 meters (16,900 feet), which marks the water divide between the Bum-Chu / Arun and the (Matsang Tsangpo / Sun Kosi) rivers. The Friendship Highway then descends along the Matsang Tsangpo through Nyalam, then more steeply through a canyon to Zhangmu. The road ends at the Friendship Bridge on the China-Nepal border at a mere 1,750 meters (5,740 feet) elevation. The continuation of the road between the border town of Kodari to Kathmandu is named Arniko Rajmarg.

Scenery along the highway features important cultural monuments, the upper valley of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River, vast grasslands and meadows, and mountain vistas including five of the world's highest peaks: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma as well as partially unexplored and unclimbed peaks east of Tong La reaching 7,367 meters (24,170 feet) at Labuche Kang.


Zhangmu is a town (on the Tibet-Nepal, 800 kilometers from Lhasa) features rows of relatively new Chinese commercial and administrative buildings stretching up a steep hillside. After crossing the border into Tibet travelers climb 1,700 meters in 12 kilometers as the steep green slopes of Nepal are replaced by rolling brown and grey mountains of Tibet.

Zhangmu has a humid, subtropical climate and sits on the Tibet-Nepal border at an altitude of 2,300 meters. The climate combined with a drop in elevation from other areas of Tibet mean melting snow from the Himalayas creates waterfalls along the roads that wind through this hilly region.

The architecture in Zhangmu mainly consists of two- or three-story houses, many of which have small gardens and prayer flags which add color to the town. Zhangmu isn't only a place of beauty. It's a place of business. It is a gateway to Nepal and has commercial appeal. The local marketplace is always crowded with businessmen and tourists.

According to ASIRT: “Lies across Bhote Koshi River from Kodari, Nepal. Cities are linked by the Sino-Nepal-Friendship Bridge. Area within 18 miles of the border is a free market zone. City is a major trading post Urban planning is lacking. Residential areas are located on the steep southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. Main road is winding, narrow crowded. City's narrow streets are difficult for trucks to negotiate. Streets are lined by many roadside stores. Houses are linked by steep, narrow streets and stone steps, which are generally slippery. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2011]

“Growing rapidly. Traffic is often congested, especially in the afternoon. Parking is scarce. Drivers often park on streets. Bus transport is limited. Bus service links city and Lhasa. Transport is available once on Friday. Trip takes 14 hours. Minibuses, land cruisers and taxis provide transport to tourist destinations in the area, including Mt. Everest Base Camp.

“Road linking city with Nyalam Town and Qupo passes through high, steep mountains and deep valleys. Waterfalls frequently cascade down onto the road. Sino-Nepal Highway serves the city. Trucks transporting goods to Nepal must be unloaded in Zhangu, where goods are transferred to Nepalese trucks. Causes long delays at border crossing.”

Image Sources: 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4); 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6); 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site; 11) Luca Galuzzi; 12) Alan Arnette

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in March 2021

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