KATHMANDU: Nepal marked 60 years since the first ascent of Everest on Wednesday, celebrating the summiteers whose success has bred an industry that many climbers now fear is ruining the world’s highest peak.
Four days of ceremonies which have been dubbed the “Everest Diamond Jubilee” conclude on Wednesday with a gala at the former royal palace in the capital Kathmandu in honour of the first successful climbers, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
The British expedition in 1953 changed mountaineering forever and turned New Zealander Hillary and Nepalese guide Norgay into household names and heroes in many parts of the world.
“Hillary and Tenzing were rock stars of the 1950s and into the 1960s,” Hillary’s son Peter told AFP in an interview. “The biggest thing about 1953 is that they were going into the unknown.
“People didn’t know what was up there, they didn’t know whether or not you could remain conscious, they didn’t know whether they could climb that final summit knife-edged ridge and get up what is now called the Hillary Steps,” he added.
A host of famous mountaineering figures will be at the gala on Wednesday night, including Everest legend Reinhold Messner of Italy, as well as Kancha Sherpa, the last remaining member of the 1953 expedition.
Sherpa, who is 81, remembers the expedition as an arduous but ultimately joyous affair, although he regrets that the glory is not more equally shared among the team.
“Everyone knew Tenzing and Hillary climbed Everest but nobody knows how hard we worked along the way,” Sherpa told AFP in an interview.
“One thousand two hundred coolies (porters) were gathered together at Bhaktapur near Kathmandu…
“Everyone walked from there because there weren’t any roads, no motor vehicles, no planes. It took us 16 days to reach Namche” which is today the start the of the Everest route, he added.
“Then, it was very difficult because there were no ladders. It feels like a dream now. But we struggled a lot. I was frightened when I came across Khumbu Icefall. That was the first big barrier,” he said.
Sherpa said that he and fellow Sherpas cut down 20 trees and carried logs up the mountain which were then used as ladders to pass the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, just above the Everest base camp.
Hillary’s son Peter, and Norgay’s son Jamling, both now mountaineers, will join Queen Elizabeth II at a diamond jubilee event at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Wednesday.
Hillary like many others in the mountaineering community is now concerned about the commercialisation of Everest which is more popular than ever but is also increasingly overcrowded and filthy.
Temba Tsheri Sherpa, an Everest veteran who now runs an expedition company, lamented the changes he has seen over time.
“Everest has turned into a playground for people with all sorts of interests,” he told AFP. “All they want is to set new records and they seem to be willing to pay thousands of dollars in order to fulfil their dreams.”
This season alone 540 people reached the summit, including an octogenarian, the first female amputee, the first women from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and the first armless man.
But it was also marred by an unprecedented brawl between European climbers and Nepalese guides high on Everest, apparently sparked by a fight over climbing rights.
Soldiers from the Nepalese and Indian armies meanwhile have removed more than four tonnes of rubbish this season, although several junctions on the peak remain piled with garbage.
Tashi Tenzing, 49, Norgay’s grandson, called on the Nepalese government to foster change in future. “Our leaders should understand the value of the mountains,” he said.
“We should not sell Nepal as a cheap destination.”