Ever since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to summit Mount Everest in 1953, adventurers the world over have tried to follow in their footsteps.
It seems like a record number of climbers are attempting to do so this year. That’s led to traffic jams at the summit, with hundreds of people waiting in line to reach Everest’s top.
So far, at least 11 people have died during this spring’s climbing season. Last year, five climbers died, while six died in both 2017 and 2016.
People are still drawn to try to climb the mountain. However, Everest’s mystique, while a huge lure for climbers, is based on a number of myths.
MYTH: It’s the tallest mountain in the world
Yes, we’ve all been taught that Mount Everest, standing at an elevation of 29,035 feet, is the highest above sea level. But actually the world’s tallest mountain is half a world away, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That’s where you’ll find Mauna Kea, on the island of Hawaii. Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, rises 13,796 feet above sea level, but if you measure it from ocean floor to its summit, its total height is nearly 33,500 feet.
And Everest isn’t even the highest point above Earth’s center. That honor belongs to Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. Chimborazo’s summit is 20,564 feet above sea level, but because the planet is a little thicker at the equator (thanks to centrifugal force caused by Earth’s constant rotation) Chimborazo’s peak is more than 6,800 feet farther from the center of the Earth than Everest’s summit.
MYTH: Only a select few get to climb
Climbing Everest is no walk in the park. Icy temperatures, fierce winds and limited oxygen make it a dangerous climb. More than 200 people have died on the mountain since 1922, when the first climbers’ deaths on Everest were recorded. The success rate of Mount Everest climbers is only 29%.
Despite all that, hundreds of people get permission to climb Everest every year. Would-be climbers must obtain a permit, which cost about $11,000. For this year’s spring climbing season, Nepal’s tourism board has issued 381 permits so far.
There were about 11,000 attempts to reach the summit between 1922 and 2006, the website Adventurestats.com reports. And the age range of climbers is wider that you’d expect. The oldest person to successfully reach Everest’s peak was 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura of Japan in 2013. The youngest? A 13-year-old American teen named Jordan Romero. He conquered Everest, accompanied by his father and stepmother, in 2010.
MYTH: You’re required to endure years of preparation
Not true. The Nepalese government doesn’t require a certain number of training hours that climbers must complete before attempting to summit Everest.
Several of the trekking agencies in Nepal that help facilitate adventurers’ climb to the top will charge thousands of dollars for training to prepare climbers. The kinds of training offered by the different trekking agencies varies.
And even before going to Nepal, people who want to climb Everest are encouraged to commit to a heightened exercise schedule several months before their climb to try to achieve optimum fitness.
One of the first steps for anyone considering an Everest trek should be consulting with a physician to evaluate physical health. It’s also a way to discover any pre-existing conditions that might be amplified by high altitude, Jon Kedrowski, a geographer and climber who summited Mount Everest in 2012, told CNN in 2016.
If Kedrowski is leading a peak expedition, he screens his clients and designs training programs to help them prepare for the journey. When altitude is a consideration, cardio is the emphasis, rather than strength, he said.
MYTH: It’s a way to be one with nature
That may have been the case once. But the enormous increase in visitors in recent decades has had a severe impact on the mountain’s sensitive environment, the Everest Summiteers Association says. A clean-up effort last month collected more than 6,613 pounds garbage in just the first two weeks: empty cans, bottles, plastic and discarded climbing gear.
CNN’s Ashley Strickland and Rob Picheta contributed to this report.