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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The highest mountain in the world has held a fascination for the British, perhaps because so tantalizingly close to India. It was named, in 1863, after George Everest (1790–1866); as surveyor general of India he had completed an exceptionally detailed and accurate survey of the subcontinent.
The obsession with reaching the peak (8848m/29,028ft above sea level) began in earnest during the 1920s. Between the wars there were five attempts on the summit, all by British groups. The first was in 1922. But it was the second, in 1924, which captured the public imagination: on June 8 two members of the party, George Mallory and A.C. Irvine, set off on the final stage to the summit; they were last seen, progressing strongly, just before the mist closed over them.

Many at the time believed they must have reached the top before they died but this is now thought improbable, with greater knowledge of the mountain. Their bodies were at last discovered, in the late 1990s, but still provided no clue clue as to whether they had died on the way up or down.

Mallory had also been a member of the 1922 expedition, and on a lecture tour in the USA in 1923 he had coined a famous phrase; to the frequent question 'Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?', he answered simply 'Because it is there'.

The first two attempts after the war, both in 1952, were by a Swiss group. Then, in 1953, the Royal Geographical Society sent out an expedition led by John Hunt (b. 1910). The final ascent was left to the New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary (b. 1919) and the Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay (c.1914–86); Tenzing had also accompanied the Swiss expedition of the previous year. On May 29 Hillary and Tenzing reached the south summit at about 9 a.m.; they were standing on the peak shortly before noon. By June 2 the entire expedition was back at the base camp, and on that same morning the news was on the front page of Britain's newspapers; it happened, by a glorious coincidence, to be the day of the coronation of *Elizabeth II.

Since 1953 more than 200 other expeditions have reached the top of Everest, causing one of the world's most unlikely environmental problems. The Nepal Mountaineering Association has calculated that some 50 tons of rubbish now litter the summit.

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