Because it's there - the conquest of Everest

You might not think of Mount Everest as a "busy" spot, but during this the 50th anniversary of Norgay and Hillary's May 29 ascent, there are hundreds of climbers hoping to add their names to the list of Everest Alumni.

This year's candidates include a 'couples expedition,' teams from both the North and South of Ireland (a land not known for its mountainous terrain), double-amputee Ungdi Tshering Sherpa, who will attempt to summit without the use of hands, and a team of Americans looking for the ultimate skiing experience. It's going to be bumper to bumper on the Khumbu Icefall this Spring, and the following websites will help you to follow it all from the comfort and relative safety of your swivel chair.

But before checking the current traffic reports, it's good to have a bit of context, and National Geographic's Everest 50 site can turn any surfer into a well-informed, albeit vicarious mountaineer. The online component of a multi-media commemoration, Everest 50 offers selected samples from the TV and print presentations, as well as a multitude of online-only features. Website exclusives include a 360-degree QuickTime panorama from the top of the world, a 3-D model of the region, and classroom lesson plans.

Related coverage from archived Geographic publications is also available, so visitors can read a 1963 account by the first US team to conquer Everest, or follow a 1999 expedition to calculate the mountain's true height. And while there are no souvenir stands on the summit - yet - website visitors with an itch to buy can avail themselves of a copy of the "National Geographic Mountaineering Edition" of Monopoly.

Having covered history and orientation, surfers can track current developments at EverestNews.com. With a home page featuring some of the higher profile Everest expeditions, EverestNews keeps tabs on no less than 48 teams in the 2003 lineup. All can be accessed through a pull-down menu at the top of the page. Other features include a year-by-year chart of successful summits, interactive route maps, and brief biographies of The Sherpas of Everest.

Of course, the main reason to visit EverestNews is for Everest news, and while the Today's News section does charge for some content, the vast majority of updates are free and cover everything from weather reports and climbing strategies to disagreements between teams and the impact of SARS on the world's highest mountain. Many first-person dispatches are delivered via satellite connections, and as such are impressively up to date (and frequently enhanced by examples of on-the-spot photography). As to the frequency of reports, there were more than twenty entries for May 10th when I checked the site at mid-afternoon, and as no team had successfully reached the peak as of May 12, things are likely to increase as days go by.

The only striking omission at the EverestNews site is the lack of links to the teams' own home pages, but if you're interested in going straight to the source, MountEverest.net has entries for 56 teams - complete with links to official sites and dispatch archives. (These official sources occasionally provide such extras as Lorenzo Gariano's regular audio reports by satellite phone, as he travels to the adjacent peak of Lhotse.) Though the volume of daily reports is less than at EverestNews, the Features content at MountEverest.net is free, and when you've had enough of the mountains, links to sister sites can also keep you up to date with ongoing expeditions on the world's oceans and at the North and South Poles.

"Because it's there," Mallory's famous reason for climbing Everest, always seemed to me to be a perfectly good reason for going around a mountain rather than over one. But, as the above sites demonstrate, some people insist on doing things the hard way. Safe home to them all.

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