High Achievers

Austere and forbidding as they rise from the plains of northern India, the rugged Himalayas continue to challenge adventurous humans. This is particularly true of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, which has just been scaled for the third time.

Here now are the first pictures of the American triumph, called the 1963 National Geographic Society American Mount Everest Expedition. The conquering team was composed of 20 Americans aided by Sherpa tribesmen, who acted as carriers.

Later, deep unbridged crevasses call on the expedition to build their own bridges. They are hazardous frail links that test the nerves of all, but every obstacle, sheer cliffs, treacherous glaciers, are conquered by the Americans.

Paul Mayewski:
It’s a very strange place to work. It’s a challenging place, even at base camp, which is just under 18,000 feet, much less significantly higher. We had people spread all the way from about 3,200 meters up to 8,400 meters, 7 different science programs. It’s remarkable that we were as successful as we were.

It’s because everybody worked really hard. They had a completely different purpose for going to the top than everybody else on that mountain. They weren’t going up to take pictures of themselves. They were going up to what has now turned out to be the most significant scientific effort ever on Mount Everest.

Aaron Putnam:
It’s bigger than you could possibly imagine. Everything’s taller. You can look at it on Google Earth all you want, but you’ll never know how big things on Earth can get until you venture into the Eastern Himalaya.

Heather Clifford:
Every day was something new. Some days I was going down to the stream to do stream sampling. Other days when it snowed, I’d be sampling snow. When that wasn’t happening, I would enjoy sitting out and chatting with the wonderful people that we were with.

You meet a lot of people who are very successful in what they do, climbers and scientists. It kind of makes you want to try new things, definitely.

Mariusz Potocki:
When you think about it, it’s a bit terrifying. I’ve never been in that condition, never been higher than 7,000 meters‑plus. When I was thinking about it, that was the biggest fear, that we’d be able to make and accomplish our work at that elevation. But it wasn’t that bad.

It’s a little bit challenging to work in a huge down suit, oxygen mask, big goggles. Pretty much, you feel like visiting Mars or the moon. It’s like a spacesuit. You have a bit more narrow of a view, you can’t see that much, like in regular conditions. But it wasn’t that bad.

Laura Mattas:
It was really interesting to see the geomorphology in context of my classes, to see how active of a landscape it was, where everything is constantly being shaped by various systems and processes.

So, to see all of that in context of what I’ve learned over the past four years in my undergrad, and what I’m planning on studying and have read in papers, to see it all happening right then and there and so fast in such an active area, was eye‑opening.

Paul Mayewski:
I hope that we get one very important thing out of Mount Everest and it’s going to take some extra work to do it. It’s one thing to do the science. That was hard enough. The next thing is, what do you do with the science?

In the case of Mount Everest in Nepal, we as the scientific group that was involved in this, along with the media who are close partners for us in this entire endeavor, want to find ways in which we can take our discoveries and turn them into something that has value to the people of Nepal.

How do you do that? You do that, not by reading about what goes on in Nepal. You do that by going to Nepal, by speaking to the people, which we had the opportunity to do, and find out what are the important things in their lives.

Businesses are opening up all over the Himalayas. Whenever you are experiencing change from around you, which is climate, and also going through great change yourself as the people in the Himalayas are, the more information you have about the future, the better off you are.

That’s our goal. We want to bring to the people of Nepal value from the science that we have conducted. That’s why we did it as well as we could, because we know it’s important.