High winds extinguish plans to mark 50th anniversary of Everest ascent on the summit

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The Independent Online

High winds prevented climbers reaching the summit of Everest yesterday on the 50th anniversary of its first ascent, disappointing two American teams who had been poised to head for the top. In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay emerged from their tents at 6.30am to a bright, clear day but yesterday the weather made progress impossible for those on the 29,035ft (8,850m) peak.

Sir Edmund, 83, attended celebrations in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, but was typically critical of the huge popularity of the mountain, while reminiscing about the man he climbed it with.

"If I were 33 again, young, fit and a bit of a dynamo as I think I was in those days, I simply wouldn't want to join the queue that is scrambling to get up the mountainside," he said.

Tenzing Norgay died 17 years ago, but Sir Edmund constantly reminisced about him during the festivities. They had 15 minutes on the summit on 29 May 1953. When they climbed down, neither had any desire to return.

Sir Edmund said: "Tenzing used to say, 'We have done it. We have done it first. Why should we bother doing it again?"

Junko Tabei, 63, the Japanese climber who was the first woman to reach the summit, said: "When we climbed, everything had to be done by our own team. Nowadays, they just follow other people's trails - it's like a toll way."

Tenzing Norgay's son, Jamling Norgay, criticised commercialised mountaineering, where inexperienced climbers pay Sherpas to get them to the top of the world.

"Anyone with $65,000 (£40,000) can climb Everest," he said, referring to the typical cost of an expedition.

He also expressed displeasure at the craze to break records on the mountain, such as being the youngest or oldest climber. "It's no longer a passion. It's just a sport," he said.

Sir Edmund's son Peter, who has also scaled Everest, celebrated at 13,000 feetat the Tengboche Buddhist monas-tery, where teams from almost every expedition are blessed before they try for the summit. "My father would love to be up here," Peter Hillary said.

"Just before we left on this trip, he was lamenting that now he can't come up to altitudes. He just misses being up on these wonderful areas, and let's face it on 29 May we have this most gorgeous day, all these friends all around - what a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest."

The British Museum said that it had discovered tape recordings in its Bristol archives with personal testimonies of four Everest pioneers. It said they included an interview with Lord Hunt, leader of the successful 1953 expedition. His rigorous organisation is recognised as important to its achievement.

James Morris, later Jan Morris, at base camp filed the first report of the ultimate success in time for 2 June 1953, coronation day. The Times headline his report: "All this and Everest too".

In London yesterday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a show in Leicester Square, called "Endeavour on Everest", and met some of the 1953 Everest heroes. Among those greeting the Queen was George Lowe, 79, a New Zealander who was on the 1953 team. It was Mr Lowe who first greeted the two climbers on their descent from the summit and was told by a gleeful Sir Edmund: "Well, we knocked the bastard off."

Mr Lowe, who lives near Matlock, Derbyshire, said: "The term was used affectionately. Ed wasn't being disrespectful of the mountain." Also speaking at the London event were Sir Chris Bonington, Doug Scott and Stephen Venables, all of whom have reached the summit of Everest.

Sir Chris said: "This will be a day of drama, nostalgia, pride and joy. We are going to take the audience back to 1953 and transport them through the Everest experience, replicating the tension, atmosphere and excitement of that expedition." On Sunday, a celebration of historic photographic images of Everest, from the earliest known expeditions up to 1953, will be held at the Atlas Gallery in London.

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