Wednesday, May 28, 2008

55 years ago . . .

. . . on May 29th, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing conquered Mount Everest for the first time.

The New Zealander Edmund Hillary, and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, have become the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border.

They reached the top of the world at 1130 local time after a gruelling climb up the southern face.

The two men hugged each other with relief and joy but only stayed on the summit for 15 minutes because they were low on oxygen.

Mr Hillary took several photographs of the scenery and of Sherpa Tenzing waving flags representing Britain, Nepal, the United Nations and India.

Sherpa Tenzing buried some sweets and biscuits in the snow as a Buddhist offering to the gods.

They looked for signs of George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine who had disappeared in 1924 in a similar attempt to conquer Everest, but found nothing.

Then they began the slow and tortuous descent to rejoin their team leader Colonel John Hunt further down the mountain at Camp VI.

When he saw the two men looking so exhausted Col Hunt assumed they had failed to reach the summit and started planning another attempt.

But then the two climbers pointed to the mountain and signalled they had reached the top, and there were celebrations all round.

A remarkable achievement, particularly considering the primitive technology of the time. By the 50th anniversary of their climb, over 1,300 had followed them to the summit. At least 200 have died in the attempt (in 1990, the mortality rate among climbers is said to have been a staggering 37%!). In recent years, as new technology has simplified the task, death rates have dropped.

Sherpa Tenzing died in 1986, and Sir Edmund Hillary early this year. May both rest in peace.



rwc said...

A fitting memorial.
Just a note to comment that I think the changes in technology (vast in some cases) has had less effect on high altitude mountaineering than you might think. It most often comes down to meticulous planning, timing the weather right, and not getting sick along the way.

The purists among us subscribe to "Alpine Style" which means no oxygen, fixed ropes or other "unfair means" (equivalent to "fair chase" in hunting circles).

And K2 still keeps about 1 in 6 who try to climb her...

Thud said...

Sir Edmund of natures true gentlemen.