Emotions high 60 years on

23:38, May 27 2013
everest
TOP OF THE WORLD: Everest's summit remains a mecca for climbing enthusiasts.

This month marks 60 years since Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first men to set foot on the summit of Everest.

The anniversary of their achievement is being celebrated by a flurry of new expeditions, books, newspaper articles and trekking tours.

And while ascending to the roof of the world remains a dangerous proposition, with modern equipment and techniques "summiting" on Everest is now relatively common.

Nearly 3700 people have since stood on the same spot as Sherpa Tenzing and Hillary - the youngest a 13-year-old from California and the oldest a 76-year-old Japanese mountaineer.

The fast, well-equipped ascents of the modern era are a far cry from the days of the first summiteers, encumbered as they were by heavy woollen clothing and relatively primitive gear.

In a foreword to a book marking the 50th anniversary, Hillary recalled the modest pleasure he took on reaching the summit.

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"Even after 50 years I can still remember my feelings of satisfaction," he wrote. "I had no thought of the impact this ascent might have on the world in general, or indeed the changes it might produce in my own life. We had succeeded where so many other great climbers had failed - that was enough in itself."

The impact of the successful ascent was, of course, to be enormous, capturing the popular imagination. Inevitably, it had a huge effect on the Himalaya region in general, placing it on the map for generations of adventure travellers since.

Sue Badyari is chief executive of World Expeditions, one of the big trekking operators in the area. She is a Nepal veteran who has forgotten how many times she has visited the region.

"It's hard to settle for one trip there," she says. "You really do feel your scale in the world when you are in the mountains. You're dwarfed by the very scale of the Himalaya."

Badyari, who describes herself as a "trekking tragic", was in Nepal in 2003 for the 50th-anniversary celebrations.

"It was a circus," she says. "There were obviously a lot of climbers going up Everest that time of year. It was a wonderful event and very exciting."

World Expeditions will this year play a key part in organising celebrations for the 60th anniversary. Five trekking parties will converge at Thyangboche at 4000 metres for a dinner to celebrate Hillary and Norgay's achievement.

As well as legendary Australian climbers Greg Mortimer (one of the first two Australians to summit Everest without oxygen) and Brigitte Muir (the first Australian woman to climb Everest), many of the local Sherpa community will attend the Thyangboche celebration.

"They [the Sherpas] are the legends of mountaineering," Badyari says. "They are really amazing people who take huge risks every time they go up on Everest but do it year in, year out."

However, the event is bound to be tinged with sadness following the death of Kiwi climber George Lowe in March this year. Lowe was the last surviving member of the 1953 team and was among the group camped 300 metres below the summit when Hillary and Norgay returned from their successful attempt.

Nick Galvin is travelling to Nepal with World Expeditions for the anniversary.

Sydney Morning Herald