Outdoor Literature (PE 4440)


Lecture Notes






John Krauker's Into Thin Air - And the History of Climbing Everest

Your Assignment:  Read Into Thin Air


Along with our discussion of Into Thin Air, we looked at the history of climbing Everest, beginning with the one person who will forever be associated with Everest: George Mallory.


Lost Generation.  George Mallory is from the Lost Generation.  Mallory is British, but we'll look at this generation from an American perspective:



Lost GenerationBasics

Born between 1883 – 1900

Reactive Type



1880's & 90's Boom Era of Sports
1890's Strikes, Reformers, Evangelism


Rising Adults
1898 Spanish American War
1902 Wright Brothers – First Flight
1914-18 World War I
1918 Great Influenza Epidemic


Adults & Midlife
1920 Women's Suffrage - Prohibition
1929 Stock Market Crash & Depression
1933 Roosevelt's New Deal



1941 Pearl Harbor – World War II
1945 European War Ends
1950's Cold War
1950-53 Korean War




George Mallory & His Wife RuthGeorge Mallory
1886 – 1924
Lost Generation

The following shows Mallory's 1924 route superimposed on a Google Earth image . . .

Mallory 1924 Route on Everest



Eric Shipton & Bill Tilman


The next attempts at Everest, as well as other climbing explorations of the Himalaya, were dominated by two British mountaineers:  Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman.  They weren't successful in reaching Everest's summit, but they did climb many other peaks in the Himalaya.  They were known for low-key, small expeditions which Bill Tilman famously said could be "planned on back of an envelope."


Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman



Tenzing Norgay & Edmund Hillary


In 1953, Everest was first successfully climbed by two members of a British expedition: Tenzing Norgay (from Nepal) & Edmund Hillary (from New Zealand).


Tenzing NorgayEdmund Hillary



Jim Whittaker, Willi Unsoeld & Tom Hornbein (US)


After Norgay and Hillary's 1953 achievement, a Swiss team made a successful ascent of the mountain.  The first American to climb Everest was Jim Whittaker, a member of the 1963 American Expedition.


On that same expedition, Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein's made the first ascent of Everest's west ridge.  They descended from the summit via the South Col route, making the first major traverse of a Himalayan peak.



Junko Tabei (Japan)


Junko Tabei is the first woman to reach the summit of Everest (1975).



Reinhold MessnerReinhold Messner and Peter Habeler


In 1978, Reinhold Messner (Italy) and Peter Habeler (Austria) were the first to climb Everest without oxygen. 


Messner is most famous for his legendary 1980 solo ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen, climbing from the north side of the mountain.






The following illustration shows the north side routes on Everest, including Messner's solo ascent in 1980:


Everest North Side Climbing Routes


A special thanks to the photographer Luca Galuzzi, and to Kassander der Minoer for researching the routes.  







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