This week, Tidbits is scaling the heights, bringing facts about high altitude.

•   Millions of humans live at high altitudes around the world. It’s estimated that 14.4 million people live at greater than 11,500 feet, about 0.19% of the world’s population. About 6.4 million live at altitudes greater than 13,125 feet, 0.084% of the total population. Another 2 million, 0.027% of the population, live above 14,750, with another third of a million at home above 16,400 feet.

•  Those brave souls who want to conquer the world’s highest zipline will have to travel to France’s Val Thorens ski resort in the French Alps. This wild ride, known as “La Tyrolienne,” starts at an altitude of 10,597 feet and drops more than 4,265 feet in one minute, 45 seconds. The zipline stretches for nearly a mile and riders reach a speed of 62 mph.

• The world’s highest drivable road is the Uturuncu Road in Bolivia. This unpaved road climbs to a height of 18,800 feet, winding along a dormant volcano. A 4x4 vehicle is necessary to navigate the drive. The road doesn’t go all the way to the 19,711-ft. summit of the double-cratered Uturuncu. Those desiring to reach to top must hike the remaining 900 feet.                             

•   For about $26 you can zoom up to the highest observation deck in the world, located in Shanghai, China. The Shanghai Tower is the world’s second-tallest building, and the deck is located on the 121st floor of the 128-story building. The elevator trip takes just 55 seconds, traveling at 46 mph.

• Colonel Joseph Kittinger of the U.S. Air Force set a record in 1960 for the longest parachute free fall, a record that is still in place. As part of Project Excelsior, Kittinger made a series of extreme altitude parachute jumps while testing a parachute system for pilots ejecting from high altitudes. He climbed to 102,800 feet into the stratosphere in a helium balloon, and jumped. He was in free fall for 4 minutes, 36 seconds, reaching a speed of 614 mph during the fall, setting a record for the fastest speed by a person through the atmosphere.

•   Situated on French-Italian border, Mont Blanc is the tallest peak in the Alps and western Europe. Its 15,774-ft. summit was first conquered in 1786. It takes its name from the French for “White Mountain.” The town of Chamonix, France, located at the base of Mont Blanc, was the site of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, with medals awarded in 16 events to athletes from 16 nations.  Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie competed here at age 11. There is a 7-mile-long tunnel linking France and Italy directly underneath the mountain.

•   Over the last 60 years, about 50 tons of trash have been left behind by climbers on Mount Everest, including water bottles, oxygen tanks, equipment, and human waste.

•   The world’s second-tallest peak is considered Earth’s hardest mountain to climb. The summit of K2, on the border of Pakistan and China, is 28,251 feet. It’s also the deadliest to climb, with a death rate of around 18%, about one person for every four who reaches the top. The route includes a narrow, steep 150-foot crack that is just the width of a climber’s shoulders. The summit was first reached in 1954, and only about 400 climbers have done so since.

•  Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro is considered a much easier climb than other mountains, and requires no special equipment such as ropes, harnesses, crampons, or ice axes. It’s a “hiking” peak rather than a mountaineering peak, even though it’s the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Standing 19,341 above sea level, it’s the highest point in Africa. A free-standing mountain is usually the result of volcanic activity, and Kilimanjaro is made up of ash, lava, and rock. This dormant volcano was first conquered by climbers in 1889. About 30,000 people scale Kilimanjaro every year, with a failure rate of 50%, mostly due to altitude sickness. Swiss climber Karl Egloff ascended and descended Kilimanjaro in just 6 hours, 42 minutes in 2014, setting the record. In 2019, American Anne Lorimor became the oldest person to complete the task, at age 89. The youngest to climb the mountain was a 6-year-old American, in 2018.

• The average Mount Everest climber needs about 7 bottles of oxygen, enough to last for 35 hours, in order to increase chances of surviving the climb. 

• Mountaineers are constantly exposed to the dangers of high altitude sickness. As the climber ascends, the higher he or she goes, the thinner the atmosphere gets, meaning that the climber breathes in the same amount of air, but gets less oxygen than at lower altitudes. When the body has trouble adjusting to the difference, altitude sickness can result. While headache, lightheadedness, and nausea are the mild symptoms, severe sickness can cause the lungs to fill with fluid or cause the brain to swell, with death as a possible outcome. A slower ascent is necessary for its prevention. Once a climber reaches 8,200 feet, the recommendation for further rise is no more than 985 to 1,640 feet per day. Climbers are also at risk for retinal hemorrhages, which can damage eyesight and even lead to blindness. 

•  Mountaineers refer to altitudes above 26,000 feet as the “death zone.” It’s that point where the amount of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for an extended time. Because the body depletes its store of oxygen faster than it can be replenished, the body’s functions begin to deteriorate, consciousness is lost, eventually leading to death. • Although climbers consider an area “high altitude” if it’s at least 8,000 feet, in the world of baking, high altitudes are those of 3,500 feet or more above sea level. This distance affects how foods bake and cook, and because air pressure is lower, foods take longer to bake. Liquids evaporate faster, requiring a change in flour, sugar, and liquids to prevent dry or gummy batter. Dough rises faster at higher altitudes because gases expand more, calling for a decrease in leavening agents and a shorter rising time.


•  At 29,035 feet, Mount Everest is the highest point on Earth. Located between Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayan Mountains, the mountain’s Tibetan name is Qomolangma, which means “Mother Goddess of the World.” The Nepalis refer to Everest as Sagarmatha or Deodungha, which translates “Holy Mountain.” The Sherpa people regard Everest as sacred, and in ancient times, believed that gods and demons resided within its peaks.

•  Although Everest is the highest point on Earth, technically speaking, it’s not the tallest. Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, is about 33,500 feet tall, measuring from the bottom of the ocean floor, but only 13,796 feet of that is above sea level. This dormant volcano last erupted an estimated 4,000 years ago.

•  Everest is named after a man who never saw it. George Everest was the first British Surveyor General from 1830 to 1843. He hired Andrew Waugh, who made the first formal observations of the mountain, and named it after Everest in 1856. Everest’s surname was pronounced “Eve-rest,” not “Ever-rest.”

•  The first recorded attempt to conquer the peak was in 1921 by a British expedition. It’s not known whether they reached the peak, because the climbers did not return. On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay became the first documented people to reach the summit. From then until 2016, the summit was successfully reached more than 7,600 times. The success rate has doubled in the last 30 years.

• More than 300 people have died during Everest expeditions from causes that include falls, blizzards, lack of oxygen, altitude sickness, and fatigue, a death rate of about 1%. At least one person has died every year since 1969, except for 1977, dubbed Everest’s safest year.

•   A Nepali Sherpa guide named Kami Rita Sherpa holds the record for the most successful climbs, completing his 28th ascent in 2023. Other milestones include the first woman to reach the top, (a Japanese teacher in 1975), the first blind person to climb Everest (Erik Weihenmayer, an American motivational speaker in 2001), the first couple to marry on the top (a couple from Nepal whose ceremony took about 10 minutes), and the youngest, a 13-year-old American who reached the summit in 2010. In 1999, Babu Chiri Sherpa remained on the summit for 21 hours, setting a record for the longest anyone has remained on the summit. On May 23, 2019, a record was set for the most climbers reaching the top in one day, when 358 attained the summit.

• The name of Yuichiro Miura has enormous significance in connection with Everest. In 2003, this Japanese climber, at 70, became the oldest person to reach the summit. In 1970, he had been the first person to ski on the mountain. He skied 6,600 feet in just over two minutes, stopping just 250 feet from the edge of a large, deep crevasse. A documentary film, “The Man Who Skied Down Everest,” was produced and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. If that wasn’t enough, in 2013, Muira broke his own record of the oldest person, completing the trek at age 80.

•  It’s pretty spendy to climb Everest. The licensing permit fe to the government of Nepal is $11,000. Add to that equipment, transport, oxygen, supplies, and Sherpa guide services, a service that averages $5,000 per guide per trek.  Depending on the number of guides, the cost for a climber varies between $35,000 and $100,000. During 2021, 408 permits were issued.



Although his name might not be familiar, the accomplishments of Tenzing Norgay are well known. This week, Tidbits offers the story of this Sherpa mountaineer who was one of the first two documented people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

•   Norgay was born in northeastern Nepal, the son of a Tibetan yak herder. Although he started life with the name of Namgyal Wangdi, the founder of a nearby monastery advised his parents to change the name to Tenzing Norgay which translates as “wealthy, fortunate follower of religion” He ran away from home twice as a teenager, and was once sent to a Buddhist monastery to become a monk. Norgay abandoned the monastery to settle in the Sherpa community, a Tibetan ethnic group native to the Himalayas’ most mountainous regions.

•   In 1935, at age 20, Norgay participated in his first Everest expedition. He took part in several more unsuccessful ascents throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, including as a guide in an illegal attempt by a Canadian mountaineer in 1947, one that ended when a powerful storm hit the group at 22,000 feet, forcing the group of three to turn around.

•  In 1949, Nepal opened its borders to tourists and mountaineers and the conquest of Mt. Everest became the goal of numerous expeditions. Norgay was part of a 1952 Swiss expedition that reached 28,210 feet, just 825 feet shy of the summit of 29,035 feet ), but was forced to turn back due to lack of supplies.

•  By the time a large British expedition was organized in 1953, Norgay had been on six Everest treks.  Headed by British Army Colonel John Hunt, the crew had a total of more than 400 people, which included 362 porters and 20 Sherpa guides, including Norgay, and 10,000 lbs. of baggage.

• Veteran climber Edmund Hillary of New Zealand was a member of Hunt’s crew. A beekeeper during the off-season, Hillary had been saved by Norgay from a fall into a crevasse on a previous expedition. As a result, Norgay was Hillary’s climbing partner of choice for the 1953 party.

•   The group spent the night of May 28, 1953 at 27,900 feet. On the following morning, when Hillary and Norgay were just below the summit, Hillary threw down a rope to Norgay, and at about 11:30 A.M., the pair arrived at the world’s highest point, the first documented humans to do so.

• The two men spent just 15 minutes at the summit. Norgay said a prayer, made an offering, and planted four flags, one for Britain, Nepal, India, and the United Nations.  Because Norgay had never used a camera, Hillary took a photo of him holding his ice-axe. There was no photo of Hillary.

•  When questions arose as to who was the first to step foot on the top, Colonel Hunt declared, “They reached it together, as a team.” Later that year, Hillary and Hunt were knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II. Because Norgay was not a British citizen, he only received the honorary British Empire Medal.

•  Tenzing Norgay spoke several languages, but could neither read nor write. Following his Everest achievement, he became the first Director of Field Training of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. In 1975, he had the honor of serving as the guide for the first American tourist party allowed into the country. Shortly afterward, he founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures, specializing in Himalayan trekking adventures. •  In 1996, Norgay’s son Jamling followed in his father’s footsteps by reaching the summit of Everest. In 2003, Jamling teamed up with Edmund Hillary’s son Peter to climb Everest on the 50th anniversary of their fathers’ achievement.

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