Long before the moon landing, mankind made its greatest terrestrial leap on May 29, 1953, the day Sir Edmund Hillary and his Nepalese guide, Tenzing Norgay, stepped to the peak of Mount Everest. Two years later, Sports Illustrated brought readers along on that journey with an epic of its own: a massive excerpt, sprawling over four issues and 28,000 words, of Tiger of the Snows, the autobiography Norgay cowrote with James Ramsey Ullman. That vivid and literary account is as close as all but the most adventurous of us will get to mountaineering, much less reaching the top of the world. "At that great moment for which I had waited all my life my mountain did not seem to me a lifeless thing of rock and ice, but warm and friendly and living," Norgay wrote. "I like to think that our victory was not only for ourselves—not only for our own nations—but for all men everywhere."
Everest has been topped (if not tamed—witness the death last weekend of acclaimed Swiss climber Ueli Steck in a training accident there) many times since, but it still exerts an outsized hold on our imaginations. And Sports Illustrated continues to bring Norgay's hill to life for new audiences, on the newest of platforms. Last spring, during the first climbing season on Everest after two years of cancellations due to bad weather and safety concerns, an expedition that included climbers carrying backstories inspiring even by the mountain's lofty standards set out from base camp. Brent Bishop, 50, is the son of Barry Bishop, a member of the first American team to summit Everest, in 1963. Lisa Thompson, 44, is a former director at a medical-device company who decided to take on Everest after beating breast cancer. Jeff Glasbrenner, 44, who lost his right leg below the knee in a childhood farming mishap, was a 25-time Ironman seeking to become the first American amputee to reach the peak.
It was no ordinary expedition, and it was captured in an extraordinary way. The group summited on May 18, 2016 and the climbers recorded their seven-week climb in 360-degree video. The result is the documentary series Capturing Everest, a coproduction of SI and Endemol Shine Beyond USA and the first bottom-to-top climb of the world's highest mountain depicted in virtual reality. Watch it here or through the LIFE VR app, available for iOS and Android.
You've seen photos and video from the peak. Maybe you've even read Norgay's book. But you've never felt Everest like this. The ominous crackling of an icefall. The steepness of a snowy crevasse that must be crossed. The loneliness of a cramped base-camp tent. The whistling of the wind at the top of the world. The breathtaking—literally—beauty of life at altitude.
But Capturing Everest is more than a carnival for the senses. It's a testament to the vision of Mia Tramz, managing editor of LIFE VR and all of Time Inc.'s virtual reality projects. It's yet another example of how SI is delivering the access and storytelling for which we've always been known in cutting-edge ways. And it's the jumping-off point for a new idea of what a magazine can be. Once you've downloaded the LIFE VR app, activate its AR camera and scan the cover image of Glasbrenner in action on Everest. The animation and video you'll see on your phone are the gateway into our first augmented-reality issue. Look for the red AR box (above) on this and other select pages, including in the Glasbrenner feature. Scan and watch those pages come to life with multimedia content—a film session with the newest Bears QB, a gamer's imagining of a basketball stage dad's comeuppance—that enhances our core reading experience.
Thinking back to the eve of his triumph, Norgay wrote, "It is many miles and many years that have brought me here." The same goes for this issue in particular and SI in general. Our goal is to make you feel the most inspiring stories in sports through words, pictures, sound, video—and now, in forms of reality that would amaze even a visionary like Norgay. This issue is one more step. Come with us as we keep climbing.