At play atop the world

Why would anyone voluntarily choose to risk life, limb and bank balance to try to get to the treacherous top of a massive, snow-covered hill? Numb with cold, gasping for air, with muscle tissue quickly deteriorating – even when mountaineers do achieve their goal, they can do little more than briefly stand tall on the summit, and cajole their companions into taking a souvenir photograph. They then begin the arduous and equally dangerous journey down. Why not simply stay home?

"Because it's there," goes the famous quote by the British mountaineer George Mallory. Shortly after mouthing this memorably obtuse aphorism, in 1924 Mallory took part in the third British attempt on Mount Everest (he had also been on the first two), and promptly disappeared. Although his body was eventually found in 1999, to this day no one knows exactly what happened. An expedition that began this June is attempting to discover whether or not Mallory and his companion, Andrew Irvine, made it to the top. Since these first efforts were made on Everest from the Tibetan side of the mountain, Himalayan climbing has changed dramatically. Whereas Mallory and Irvine were still clad in woollen knickerbockers, modern mountaineering has brought with it not only the relative luxury of high-tech clothing, but also the indisputable opulence of cinema tents, heated showers and bakeries at the base camps on both the Tibetan north and Nepali south sides of the mountain.

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Himal Southasian