What does Mount Everest look like from space?

If you follow the Everest Today (@EverestToday) account on Twitter, which posts topical daily messages about Himalayan mountaineering, you may be used to seeing the occasional photo of mountains taken from the International Space Station. This is because the account is run by Chhabi Pokhrel, a Nepali who, alongside his interest in mountaineering, also happens to be something of a space enthusiast.

As you might expect, all things, including mountains, look very different from above. I know this because people who follow me down staircases are sometimes fooled into believing I don’t have any hair.

It turns out that mountains look so different from the International Space Station that I sometimes have to take Chhabi’s word they’re what he says they are (I have no reason to doubt him).

Some mountains are unmistakeable, though. Last month, Chhabi posted a photo of Everest that was so distinctive that I can’t resist the urge to annotate it and share it with you.

The photo was taken by Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, who is currently in the middle of a stint on the International Space Station, and shares regular photos and updates in both Russian and English on his blog.

The picture is taken from the north-east, Tibetan, side of the mountain, looking over the Kharta Valley at the Kangshung Face. The northern half of the photo is Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, which looks surprisingly low and flat (I can assure you that it isn’t).

You can click on the photo to see a bigger version.

The Everest massif from the International Space Station (Photo: Oleg Artemyev)
The Everest massif from the International Space Station (Photo: Oleg Artemyev)

Not visible in this photo are the Khumbu Icefall and Western Cwm, which both lie hidden in the deep gap between Everest and Nuptse. The standard South-East Ridge route up Everest from the Nepal side starts at Base Camp (Nepal) and passes through this gap to the top end of the valley. It then traverses to the left up the west face of Lhotse (on the right side of Lhotse as viewed in this photo) to the South Col. The final section up the South-East Ridge can be seen clearly between the South Col and Everest’s summit.

The standard North Ridge route up Everest from the Tibet side starts at Base Camp (Tibet) which can’t be seen on this photo, as it lies some way off to the right side. We can see most of the route to the summit, however, which leads up the East Rongbuk Glacier to Advanced Base Camp. From there, it leads up the steep ice of the North Col Wall to the North Col, where it turns left up the North Ridge to join the North-East Ridge (the obvious line coming down between the Kangshung Face and the North Col) to the summit.

The bottom right portion of the photo displays some famous exploratory history. During the 1921 reconnaissance expedition, George Mallory failed to notice the entrance to the East Rongbuk Glacier, and continued along the main Rongbuk Glacier behind Changtse to reach the base of the North Col from the opposite side. He considered this side too dangerous for porters to climb, but instead of backtracking to find the entrance to the East Rongbuk Glacier he left to do a huge loop and approach Everest from the east side into the Kharta Valley (the large area bottom left in this photo).

He eventually found a route to the North Col over the Lhakpa La (which lies at the top of the white expanse between the labels ‘Advanced Base Camp (Tibet)’ and ‘East Rongbuk Glacier’ in the photo. By then, Mallory’s teammate Oliver Wheeler had done a more thorough survey of the north side of Everest and mapped the much easier route up the East Rongbuk.

One final historical point. Tiny Island Peak is dwarfed by the south face of Lhotse, which towers nearly 2,500m above it. It was named by members of the 1953 British Everest expedition because of its distinctive shape. It’s easy to see why from this photo. Its original local name Imja Tse is now becoming more commonly used.

Oleg shared his blog post with the photo on 13 September 2018. He shared photos of three more 8,000m peaks (Shishapangma, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri) in the same post. None of these peaks are quite so distinctive – perhaps because they are not as familiar – and it would be an interesting challenge to annotate these as well.

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3 thoughts on “What does Mount Everest look like from space?

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  • July 22, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Interesting to compare with Leo Dickinson’s brilliant aerials shot from his hot air balloon during his fist ‘Balloon Overflight’ of Everest.

  • July 22, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    Ooh, I’ve not seen those. Googling now… Do you have a URL you can share?

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