May 29th, 1953 – the first ascent of the Everest summit.


More than 60 years and over 4000 successful ascents and around 255 deaths later, the climb by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay still remains an amazing feat by any standards, whether set now or back in 1953. The team had 350 porters, twenty Sherpa guides and ten climbers. Norgay and Hillary were perfectly suited to being the ones to succeed. One had climbed to 28210 feet the previous year with a Swiss expedition while the other came with experience from climbing New Zealand’s glacier covered ranges, his prime physical condition and a sort of “sleeves-rolled-up, get-things-done” attitude.

The 29,035 feet peak attracts more climbers than ever before and one reads of traffic jams as climbers wait, sometimes up to four and five hours for hundreds of climbers to pass ahead of them in the queue. The climb back in 1953 did not have to deal with the presence of thrill seeking adventurers but it was no less dangerous or dramatic for that. The presence of Norgay was a given; Sherpas, both as guides or ‘Ice doctors’ and porters continue to be among the large numbers of people both climbing and giving their lives to their beloved Sagarmatha. It was Hillary’s native Kiwi generosity that allowed the two men to continue to be friends until Norgay’s death at 71, two years before Hillary passed away at the age of 88 in 2008.

Unfortunately too many of today’s paying mountain climbers overlook the importance of their Sherpa members who are the ones setting up the climb in the most difficult parts of the ascent, between 18000 and 21000 feet. Sherpa deaths (listed as ‘hired’)are largely caused by avalanches during the ascent when they take on the difficult conditions and prepare the route for the paying climbers by establishing fixed ropes and camps while the non-Sherpa deaths (listed as ‘members’) occur from falls on the summit and during descent. The latter group are often able to bypass other dangers such as the Khumbu Icefall, exhaustion from carrying equipment between camps, repeated dangerous walks over crevasses and under ice shelves. The Sherpas take on these risks while the paying climbers pay for the missed opportunities at learning the mountain on the way up.

In an amazing coincidence, the sons of the two men sheltered in the same Himalayan village close to the base camp when the recent Nepal earthquakes struck.Tenzing’s son Jamling was with 10 Indian women when they felt the tremors. As they took to cover, they ran into Sir Edmund Hillary’s son Peter, who was with 11 class mates from college. They have also climbed Mt. Everest together in 2003, to mark 50 years of the first ascent.

RTR1IO5O-e1369851902488                                            Tenzing (L) and Hillary after their descent

Images and info: Internet

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