Everyone has dreamed of scaling the tallest mountain in the world, right? You see those documentaries of mountain climbers or pictures of the snowy slopes and wonder what it would be like to be standing on top of the peak, looking down on the world stretching below. It’s a pretty picture, whether or not climbing Mount Everest is actually on your bucket list. But how did Mount Everest actually come to be? What is the world like in such a mountainous place, and who are the people who live there?

Where Is Mount Everest?

Mount Everest lives in the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world, but in real life, it looms large over Tibet and Nepal in Asia. Standing at 8,848 meters high (29,029 feet), it is the tallest mountain in the world, which is especially impressive considering the average height of its surrounding Himalayan mountain neighbors. Mount Everest is part of the Himilayian mountain range which stretches across Asia and has 14 different peaks over 8,000 meters high, making it the place to go if you’re looking to do some serious mountain climbing or observation.

How Was Mount Everest Created?

Millions of years ago, our planet looked a lot different. Instead of a bunch of continents hanging out alone, the world featured one giant hunk of land known as Pangea. Over the course of millions of years, land broke up and separated, creating the continents we know today. This mass movement was caused by the shifting of tectonic plates which lie underneath the surface of continents and oceans. Today, there are seven known tectonic plates (still moving at a rate of about one to 20 centimeters per year because of heat from the center of the earth). It was the quick shifting of a couple of specific plates that caused the creation of Mount Everest.

Mountains seem so solid, but they are an ever-changing part of our planet just like everything else. Mount Everest was created when the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate slammed up against each other. Given nowhere else to go, the edges of the Eurasian Plate rose up from the ground and created mountain ranges, one of which features Mount Everest today. Although scientists haven’t always known exactly what tectonic movements create mountains, some now think that the Indo-Australian plate kind of acted like a bulldozer when it ran into the Eurasian Plate, pushing up the plate to form mountains the same way a Tonka truck would push dirt into a pile.

What Is The Climate On Mount Everest?

Mount Everest is hostile to life at nearly every level, but the lower slopes are home to some vegetation and populations of hardy plants and animals. Some birch, juniper, blue pines, and even bamboo grow on low slopes of the mountain; there are even small populations of snow leopards, wild yak, bears, and foxes at lower altitudes. Nothing, not even the hardiest alpine tree, grows above 18,690 feet (5,750 meters)

Glaciers cover the entirety of Mount Everest, from the peak to the base. The summit is clearly the most extreme, weather-wise: even the warmest summer temperatures only get to around -2 degrees Fahrenheit (-19 degrees Celcius), and in the winter, temperatures have been known to get as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celcius). And if the temperature wasn’t bad enough, the peak of Everest is extremely prone to storms, often without warning. Winds atop the peak can frequently reach as high as 100 miles per hour and don’t forget the constant risk of snow.

Who Lives Near Mount Everest?

There are some people who never have to wonder “where is Mount Everest” because the mountain is in their backyards. People have respected, feared, and admired Mount Everest since the beginning of human history: locals call the mountain Chomolungma, which means “Goddess of the Valley.” While no one can live on Mount Everest (at least not for more than a handful of weeks), Tibetan-speaking people live all around the base.

Some of the best-known inhabitants of the Mount Everest region are Sherpas, a group of about 150,000 people. While their name today has become synonymous with “mountain guide,” these people didn’t always make their livings by taking visitors up, down, and around their mountain. For much of their history, Sherpas have been seminomadic herders and traders who revered the mountain and avoided traipsing around it out of respect (and sometimes out of fear of the Yeti). However, as extreme mountain climbing and exploration has gotten more and more popular, the Sherpa people have found work in guiding tours and assisting with trips up the mountain.

While Sherpa guides haven’t always been given the credit they deserve, they often outperform their non-native climbing companions. Because Sherpas live at an altitude of over 14,000 feet (and often take their livestock to graze at elevations of up to 16,000 feet), they are much more accustomed to the thin air than other closer-to-sea-level climbers. These people can often carry large loads over long distances at incredible altitudes, making them invaluable parts of nearly all Everest expeditions.

Mount Everest has been an explorer’s dream for centuries, drawing in thousands of people each year to marvel and climb. And the admiration doesn’t fade even with the knowledge of how the mountain came to be. From the tectonic plates that created the mountains to the highest peaks in the world, we have an exceptional planet.