Two Everest records are set in a day as 50th anniversary of ascent draws near

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The Independent Online

"Why seek to scale Mount Everest, Queen of the Air, Why strive to crown that cruel crest And deathward dare?" So inquired George Mallory shortly before his ill-fated attempt on the world's tallest mountain in 1924.

His conclusion, "because it's there", has been the standard answer ever since. But this weekend, as hundreds of climbers celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first ascent by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the response may be updated to read: "To set a new record."

Two records tumbled yesterday. Lakpa Gyelu, 35, conquered the 29,035ft peak in 10 hours and 56 minutes. In doing so, he broke a record set last week by fellow Sherpa guide Pemba Dorjee, who summited in 12 hours and 45 minutes.

Hours later the second record was set when the first black African reached the top. Sibusiso Vilane, 32, a South African game ranger, wept tears of joy after he made it to the summit, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported, quoting a journalist who had spoken to Mr Vilane by telephone.

The latest records followed the youngest and the oldest, who made the ascent last week. A 15-year-old Sherpa girl, Ming Kipa Herpa, and 70-year-old Yuichiro Miura from Japan reached the peak on separate climbs.

It was reported last week that there were almost traffic jams on the mountain as many climbers tried to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Sir Edmund, now 83, has been able to attend the festivities but Tenzing Norgay died in 1996. Also attending celebrations this week is the first woman to set foot on the summit, Junko Tabei, who reached it in 1975.

Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay climbed the mountain on 29 May 1953. More than 1,200 people from 63 countries have since reached the top of the world's highest peak. The largest number of climbers, 258, came from Nepal, followed by 160 from the United States.

Sherpas were mostly yak herders and traders who lived high in the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders to tourism in 1950.

Their stamina and knowledge of the mountains has made them expert guides and porters for foreign mountaineers tackling Everest.