Mt. Everest via Southeast Ridge

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Mt. Everest viewed from the International Space Station

Text copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved.  Photo of Mt. Everest courtesy of NASA.   Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Everest via Southeast Ridge

  • Location: Border of Nepal and Tibetan China.  From Kathmandu, connect with a flight to Lukla, and hike to the Everest base camp.
  • Agency: Nepal Ministry and Administration
  • Elevation gain: 11,300 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 months
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Altitude, navigation, trail condition, overall fatality rate of 9%)
  • Best season: March – May
  • Recommended gear: Oxygen, sharp crampons and a lot of sherpas
  • More information:  here
  • Rating: 7

Mt. Everest (elevation 29,035 feet) is the tallest mountain in the world.   The Southeast Ridge is the route taken by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay in 1953, and is probably the most popular way to make it to the top.  The challenges of Everest include high altitude, unpredictable weather, steep snow climbing and more.  That said, Everest is generally considered to be not as difficult as other summits such as K2, Annapurna, Sandstone Peak and Nanga Parbat.

After spending a few weeks at base camp (elevation 17,700 feet), make your way up the Western Cwm (pronounced “coom” – by the way, the online game “Lexulous” accepts this word, just in case you were wondering).  You arrive at Base Camp 2 (elevation 21,300).  From there, use ropes to climb to Camp 3 (24,500 feet).  Your next stop, Camp 4, is only 500 meters away, but to get there, you must negotiate the treacherous Geneva Spur and Yellow Band.

It may be of some comfort to know that you are now in area called the Death Zone, so named for the short window of time in which climbers have enough oxygen (due to the altitude) to make their summit bid.  Plan on 10-12 hours (leaving at midnight) to be able to make it to the summit and back before dark.

The landmarks on this final push are the Balcony (elevation 27,600); the South Summit (28,700) and the Cornice Traverse, a difficult stretch that may remind Mt. Baldy veterans of the Devil’s Backbone.  They differ, however, in that the Cornice is narrower, steeper, perpetually snow-covered and has  drop-offs that are close to 10,000 feet on each side.

Following this is the last obstacle before the summit, the infamous Hillary Step.  Like Half-Dome, the Step features climbing ropes that may require waiting in line if there is a lot of summit traffic.  After ascending the Step, a short climb brings you to the highest point on the face of the Earth.

Unfortunately you will not have much time to savor your victory, as you will need to descend back to Camp 4 by nightfall.   But if you do make it back, you will join an elite group of fewer than 2,000 who have had their way with the tallest mountain in the world.  Remember to tip your sherpas.



  1. Every kids dream to climb the highest peak. Now that I actually get out there and hike, I say no way! Maybe one day I’ll climb Whitney 🙂

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