The ascent to the top of Mt Everest (8,848 m) via the southwest ridge (the South Col) starts from the Everest Base Camp atop the Khumbu Glacier at an altitude of 5,316 metres. The vertical distance to the summit of Mt Everest from here on is slightly more than 3.5 Kilometres. But this distance to the highest point on earth from sea level calls for respect and, on average, the climb demands a duration that takes around two months, once one is all set to go and when the effort is successful without delays.
This amount of time required owes largely to our body’s need to adapt to and adjust in high altitudes where the air is very thin. It is essential to go through the process of acclimatization to minimize the risks and gravity high altitude sickness can present. For this reason, a successful Everest expedition follows a typical pattern.
For their Everest climbing expedition, climbers reach the Everest Base Camp towards late March. Early May is when they push for the final climb. After spending some time at the Everest Base Camp, the expedition starts their climb. This time around, however, the target is not the summit. Rather, it is the rotations, ascending then descending so that the body acclimatizes well for the final climb to the summit of Everest.
With High Camp Adventure, the first rotation takes the Everest expedition members through the Khumbu Icefall (rated as a difficult and dangerous walk) to Camp I (6,060 m). After a night at Camp I, the expedition heads to Camp II (6,490 m) but returns to Camp I for the night. The way to Camp II through Western Cwn, a glacial valley, exposes the climbers to intense sunlight making the walk surprisingly hot. This rotation completes with the descent all the way to the Everest Base Camp. Climbers then spend some days at the Base Camp before the second rotation.
The second rotation takes all once again through Khumbu Icefall to Camp I. One night at Camp one and the expedition spends two nights at Camp II. The next day, they reach Camp III (7,470 m), after a taxing climb, but return to Camp II for the night. The following day, the walk back is all the way, once again, to the Everest Base Camp. The wait for the final attempt to the top of Everest lasts a few days.
The final push to the summit of Everest is scheduled for around mid May, and takes seven days, circumstances beyond control permitting. The first stop is Camp II, one night, and the next is Camp III, one night. This is followed by the climb to Camp IV at almost 8,000 metres. This is the final stop before the climb to the top of Everest. The climb to the summit of Everest from here on is a long walk to the summit and back to Camp IV, often taking more than 10 hours up and 7 hours down to Camp IV for the night. After one more stop at Camp II, the return reaches Everest Base Camp next.
It is also possible to attempt an ascent from the northwest ridge. The base camp for this expedition is in Tibet at an altitude of 5,200 metres. An expedition from the Tibetan side, up the northwestern ridge, does avoid the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. But, this side demands more once on higher grounds. For this reason, the south side from Nepal is favoured more for climbing the Everest. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgey Sherpa also chose this route for the first recorded successful ascent.
In addition to all these days required for climbing Mount Everest from its Base Camp, the journey to and from the Base Camp also asks for around 2 weeks, making the entire trip possible in around 2 months.
For a push to the summit of Mt Everest, however, around 2 months may be a valid amount of time as long as many factors beyond control also choose to turn favourable. The unpredictable weather conditions at the Everest is, after all, unpredictable although scheduling the expedition in the month of May does assist by presenting the best weather conditions as per previous experiences. In one of the recent expeditions in May, for instance, weather conditions delayed the final push by 16 days. Avalanches are real possibilities and the conditions of the ice-seracs and crevasses also challenge at times. Although prepared well, the human body too may not behave as desired, requiring some rest before continuation. Any of these situations certainly adds more days.
Further, while the situation discussed thus far may be valid for those ready, for others, climbing Mt Everest is also a lot about preparations and this does demand time.
For any venture in life, desire alone is grossly inadequate. Achieving the goal calls for necessary preparations and climbing Mount Everest is no different. Towards this direction, it starts with hiking and backpacking, eventually, for long hours at a go. This can certainly start early on in life for many.Trekking in Nepal presents exposure to high altitudes (to alpine terrains above the tree lines) and requires walking long hours for days. This can be a good option.
Camping under extreme high altitude conditions certainly adds to one’s preparedness. The Dhaulagiri Base Camp Trek, for example, requires spending some nights under such conditions. The venture also requires scrambling at places. An ideal exposure indeed.
The next step is to acquire technical mountaineering skills. Techniques such as alpine ice climbing, glacial travel as well as the use of ice axe and crampons are, no doubt, essentials. One also needs to be equipped with the skills required to read about crevasses and glacial morphology as well as to identify hazards in glacial terrains and rescue procedures. Other skills vital to the task include navigation, namely, planning routes for glaciated terrain, and preparedness for accidents and emergency response. A mountaineering course will do this job.
Often, a shot at the summit of Mt Everest is not a climber’s first mountaineering attempt. Climbing peaks at lower altitudes is common practice. For the purpose, Nepal, the country of the high Himalayas, including Mt Everest, offers sufficiently. Besides the mighty eight (those above 8,000 metres, Mt Everest included), 326 other mountains are currently open for mountaineering expeditions in Nepal. Of these, more than a hundred still await their first ascent.
These mountains have been divided into two categories. ’Trekking Peaks’ fall between 5,800 metres and 6,500 metres and are designated non-technical by Nepal Mountaineering Association, the body responsible for the category. Expeditions of technical peaks above 6,500 metres, including the ascent to the top of Everest, are in the authority of the Ministry of Tourism.
It is certainly helpful to ascend one, a couple or a few of these peaks before attempting to climb Mount Everest. Climbing at least one non-technical trekking peak and one technical peak, albeit at lower altitudes, does serve the purpose.
While physical preparedness is vital, there are other important considerations that can take some time. Budget is one of them. The cost to climb Mt Everest is an affair that requires amounts. During the most favourable season, the permit to ascend Everest from Nepal side costs $ 11,000 per climber. The support team of climbing guides and porters also need to be paid. Amounts also go to insurances and possible rescue attempts. All this add up and the total often falls between $ 30,000 and $ 45,000, depending on one’s selection of local expedition operator.
Another is personal considerations. People with other responsibilities towards one’s home and office will need to make this time. Personal health is yet one more area. It’s best to attempt climbing Mt Everest when the body feels at its best.
The record for the fastest Everest climb with supplemental oxygen is 10 hours 56 minutes and 46 seconds belonging to Lakpa Gelu Sherpa of Nepal and without the support is 20 hours and 24 minutes in the name of Aman Kumar Sinha from India. The youngest to climb at the age of 13 is Jorden Romero, an American national, and the oldest at 80 is Yuichiro Miura from Japan. While these records are certainly inspirations, they should not be taken as the reference to ‘how long does it take to climb Mount Everest?’ for most people.
Standing atop the summit of Mt Everest may be a wish of many, but the feat is not for everyone. With adverse conditions at soaring high altitudes, danger looms and death is a real possibility. Those fit, daring and equipped with the essential skills and preparedness are, therefore, the ones more likely to make it to the top and back. For those set to go, to climb Mount Everest takes around 2 months’ time, with the highest Himalaya on earth and its ways permitting.
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