In 1953 Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tensing Norgay had been the first people to reach the summit of mount Everest. They had taken the South East Ridge route.
There are in total 18 different routes climbers can take to reach the summit of Everest, all of varying degrees of difficulty.
In 1975 the South West Face of Everest had not been successfully climbed. British climber Chris Bonnington led a British team in an attempt to summit using this route. The team included Hamish MacInnes, Dougal Haston, Doug Scott, Mick Burke, Nick Estcourt, Mike Thompson and Martin Boysen. Also joining the team were Peter Boardman, Paul (“Tut”) Braithwaite, Ronnie Richards, Dave Clarke, Allen Fyffe and Mike Rhodes.There were also two doctors, a BBC television crew and drivers. From Nepal the team were joined by 33 climbing sherpas 26 sherpas to act as porters and others for general duties.
The equipment needed for the expedition left Britain on 9th April 1975. The climbers left on 29th July and reached Everest Base Camp on 23rd August. By 17th September the climbers had established Camp 5 at around 25,000 feet.
On 22nd September Haston and Scott set off and established Camp 6 at 27,000 feet. They spent the next day fixing ropes in preparation for their summit ascent. On 24th September they set out and reached the summit at around 6pm. They were the first people to have reached the summit by the South West Face. However, having reached the summit in the evening they did not have time to descend to Camp 6 and had to spend a very cold and dangerous night in an ice cave. They survived and the next morning continued their descent.
The same day, 25th September, Boardman, Boysen, Burke and sherpa Pertemba began an ascent. Boysen lost a crampon and had to return to camp. The other three continued and Boardman and Pertemba reached the summit on 26th September. Burke had lagged behind and they believed that he had returned to camp. However as they made their descent they met Burke about a hundred metres from the summit. The weather was beginning to deteriorate but Burke stated that he would continue to the summit. Boardman and Pertemba said they would wait for Burke at the South summit. After waiting for 90 minutes and with visibility very poor the pair made the decision to descend to Camp 6. By the time they reached camp a storm was raging and they were confined to their tent for 36 hours.
On September 28th the storm had passed but conditions on the mountain were deemed too dangerous for any further summit attempts and the expedition was called off. Burke’s body has never been found but it is generally felt that he too reached the summit on 26th September.