The original Tibetan name for Mount Everest – that chunky, pyramidal 29,035-foot Himalayan peak that cuts higher into the sky than any other point on the planet – was Chomolungma, or "goddess, mother of the world." But she's proven herself a cruel mother, with an appetite for her children. More than 180 climbers have died trying to step atop the roof of the world (a nine percent fatality rate), attempting what the alpinist Gunther O. Dyrenfurth once called "a matter of universal human endeavor, a cause from which there is no withdrawal, whatever losses it may demand." One of Everest's earliest victims may or may not have also been its first conqueror: George Leigh Mallory, an eccentric British schoolmaster who disappeared in 1924, along with his companion Andrew Irvine, on Everest during his third attempt at the summit. The discovery of Mallory's body in 1999 failed to reveal whether Mallory had died ascending or descending, and thus it remains unknown whether Mallory and Irvine (whose primitive gear consisted of wool jackets, leather jerkins, heavy-as-hell oxygen canisters, leather-soled boots with nails for ice traction, and the canvas tents seen opposite) were indeed the first to reach what some called the "Third Pole." That honor went to a robust New Zealander named Edmund Hillary and to Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa, who topped the mountain in 1953 as part of the ninth British expedition to Everest. Not a single person was injured in the attempt. Since Hillary and Norgay's conquest, more than 1,000 climbers have followed their lead up to the world's white zenith – some, like Reinhold Messner, without the aid of supplemental oxygen. "There is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it," Mallory said, trying to explain Everest's allure (though his famous quip, "because it is there," was icily accurate). "The struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward."
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