THEN AND NOW: Photos show how climbing Mount Everest has morphed into a big, dangerous business in 6 decades

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the South-East ridge about to leave to the South Col to establish Camp IX below the South Summit on Everest.

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Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the South-East ridge about to leave to the South Col to establish Camp IX below the South Summit on Everest.
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Alfred Gregory/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

  • The first human beings to summit Mount Everest set the record on a 1953 expedition.
  • Since then, the mountain has become big business as it hosts adventure-seekers from all over the world.
  • As the mountain draws more visitors, its many dangers and steep costs have come into focus, but tourism officials have continued to encourage climbers to make the trek.
  • Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.

Record-high reported deaths of climbers on Mount Everest show that despite more than six decades of missions up the mountain, man is still no match for the natural dangers awaiting adventurers high above sea level.

After a 1953 expedition proved it was possible to conquer the notorious mountain, thousands of thrill-seekers have faced the mission’s deadly natural threats and exorbitant costs.

These 19 photos show just how much expeditions up the mountain have changed over time.


Mount Everest straddles the border between Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayan mountain chain.

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Screenshot via Google Maps

Though it’s notorious for its difficult conditions, including avalanches, icefalls, and dangerously low air pressure at some points, climbers have been flocking to the summit for decades.


In 1953, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, 38, and Edmund Hillary, a 33-year-old beekeeper, became the first human beings to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

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Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay
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Bettmann/Getty Images

Source: National Geographic


Their mission was part of a British expedition that began with 350 porters and 20 Sherpas to support 10 hand-picked climbers, designed to ensure a successful summit.

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A line of Sherpas carrying up supplies on the Mount Everest Expedition 1953.
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George Lowe/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Source: National Geographic


Norgay and Hillary set the record with early versions of mountain climbing gear that resemble what climbers use on the mountain today, like axes used to smash and scale ice.

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Tenzing Norgay wears crampons to climb down an icy patch on the Lhotse Face, in Nepal, on the Mount Everest Expedition in March 1953.
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George Lowe/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Heavy crampons were tied to climbers’ shoes with string to help them scale sharp, ice-covered stretches. Climbers today use lightweight, more secure, stainless-steel versions.

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Sherpas putting on crampons in the icefall, Nepal, March 1953. Mount Everest Expedition 1953.
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Alfred Gregory/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Source: National Geographic


Hillary and Norgay wore wool underwear, wool shirts, vests, wool sweaters, down pants, and jackets under a layer of windbreakers, similar to synthetic layers under down suits that are popular today.

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Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay about to leave to the South Col to establish Camp IX below the South Summit on Everest.
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Alfred Gregory/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Years after Hillary and Norgay first conquered the summit, Everest has become big business for anyone willing to purchase a permit and get set with expensive gear.

This photo shows climbers at base camp in 1998.


The mountain surged into hot-spot status after guides offering commercial missions became popular in the 1990s.

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David Keaton/Getty Images

From the 1950s to the 1980s, 284 people had reached the top, according to data compiled by Eberhard Jurgalski on 8000ers.com. In the 1990s alone, 882 had summitted Everest, and that number has continued to surge.

In the early aughts, 3,411 reached the summit. From 2010 to 2017, over 3,700 people made it to the top of Everest.


By the end of 2018, a recorded 5,294 people had made a total of 9,159 successful summit climbs. That means nearly nine in 10 successful climbs have happened in the last two decades.

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A sign points towards the Everest base camp some 140km northeast of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.
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PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

Sources: Everest historian Alan Arnette, The Himalayan Database, 8000ers.com


Professional guides are the backbone that has made the adventure accessible. Sherpas set up ropes and ladders, and base camps with tents, stoves, bottled oxygen, and food.

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Everest Base Camp.
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Alun Richardson/Getty Images

Source: National Geographic


In addition to the danger, climbers these days pay for an expensive adventure, beginning with hiring a Sherpa for around $5,000 and securing oxygen for at least $500.

Source: Nepal Sanctuary Treks


Gear including boots, gloves, down suit, sleeping bags, electric socks, pee funnel can run climbers up to $7,000.

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Climber resting, alone on the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world on the border of Tibet & Nepal.
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Harry Kikstra/Getty Images

Source: Nepal Sanctuary Treks


In 2019, Nepal’s tourism board issued a record 318 permits, which cost $11,000 each. In addition to this mandatory cost, climbers can opt for cushier experiences, depending on their budget and skill level.

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In this photograph taken on April 24, 2018, climbers cross the Khumbu icefall of Mount Everest (height 8848 metres), as seen from the Everest base camp, some 140 km northeast of Kathmandu.
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PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

Most climbers hire commercial expedition operators, which usually charge between $60,000 and $65,000, but some reportedly pay up to $100,000 or more, depending on how much support and help with resources are desired from Sherpas.

Business Insider’s Katie Warren reported that one company charges $130,000 per person for a “VVIP” Mount Everest package that includes a welcome dinner, a stay in a five-star Kathmandu hotel, a private bakery and bar at base camp, private heated kitchen, shower, and toilet tents at base camp, a personal photographer, meals, and unlimited tea and coffee, plus a private helicopter service. This doesn’t include necessary international flights to and from Nepal or climbing gear.

It can be cheaper to hire a local expedition in Nepal, but that will still cost you around $35,000.


With the droves of climbers has come a flood of trash that litters the trails. A crew backed by the Nepal government removed several tons of garbage from the mountain earlier this spring.

Weary climbers leave behind tents, cans, bottles, plastic, climbing gear, and anything else they don’t need as they make the trek, INSIDER’s Sarah Gray reported.


Climbers walk past dead bodies on the trails because they are dangerous and expensive to remove. Retrieving one body can cost up to $70,000, and recovery climbers risk their lives in the process.

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Climbers make their way to the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal on May 22, 2019.
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Reuters/Phurba Tenjing Sherpa

Source: Business Insider


In recent years, climbing Mount Everest has become the ultimate status symbol of wealthy thrill-seekers. One consultant told CNBC he paid $120,000 for a luxury trip up the peek in 2018.

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In this photo taken on May 16, 2018, mountaineers ascend on their way to the summit of Mount Everest, as they climb on the south face from Nepal.
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GESMAN TAMANG/AFP/Getty Images

Sources: CNBC, Instagram


Better equipment and knowledge doesn’t guarantee a successful trip up the mountain, as climbers still face the threat of storms, harsh temperatures, and frostbite.

While over 8,300 people have successfully climbed Everest in the last 66 years, at least 306 people have died on the mountain.


Despite 11 deaths already this year and massive overcrowding causing what one climber said was “chaos” and “carnage,” tourism officials have no intention of cutting down on permits, and hope more visitors continue to embark on the mountain.

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Climbers walk past the Hillary Step while pushing for the summit of Mount Everest in 2009.
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STR/AFP/Getty Images

The climbing industry as a whole brings in $300 million to Nepal every year, according to TIME Magazine.