Chapter two shifts away from Krakauer and covers the history of Everest and famous expeditions. It begins in the year 1852, in Dehra Dun, India—the time and place the myth of Everest was born. It was in this year that India's surveyor general first calculated the height of Everest and realized that it was the tallest mountain in the world. Nine years after the height of Everest was first determined (and, based only on trigonometry, in 1852 it was calculated to within twenty-six meters of its actual height), Sir Andrew Waugh, India's surveyor general, named the peak Mount Everest, after the previous surveyor general, Sir George Everest.

Krakauer points out that almost immediately upon realizing that Everest was the tallest peak in them world, people wanted to climb it. Everest was called the "Third Pole," and became "the most coveted object in the realm of terrestrial exploration (15). T hat desire came and continues to come at great cost—twenty-four men died in the fifteen missions and 101 years that elapsed between the discovery of its height and the successful summit of Everest.

The next section details the summit attempts. The first eight are British. Krakauer describes the mountain's position in both Nepal and Tibet, and how summit attempts were dictated largely by which country's border was open and which side of the mountain climbers could access.

Famous climber George Leigh Mallory prompted the first three summit attempts. When asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, he said: "Because it is there." Mallory and his climbing partner were seen near the summit of the mountain, but never returne d to their tent. No one knows for sure if they were the first people to reach the summit of Everest.

Nepal, whose borders were previously closed, opened in 1949, granting access to the south side of the mountain. It was this side that was successful climbed and summated. Sir Edmund Hillary, after whom the Hillary Step was named, reached the top on Ma y 29, 1953. Hillary was subsequently knighted, and his image appeared on postage stamps and magazines; he was a world famous hero.

Krakauer then integrates the history of Everest into his own upbringing. He wasn't yet born when Hillary achieved his feat, but Krakauer talks of another famous climb by two men—Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld. These men reached the summit at dawn, a nd had to spend the night there. Although they suffered frostbite, they survived. Krakauer was nine when these two men reached the top of the world, and he explains that while friends of his idolized baseball players and other sports stars, he idolized th ese men. When Krakauer was only nine, he began dreaming of climbing Everest.