Party at the top of the world
About 100 hardy trekkers and local Sherpa people in a motley combination of Goretex, dinner jackets, cocktail dresses and walking boots gathered under the shadow of Everest this week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the world's highest mountain.
The bizarre black tie dinner on Wednesday night at the Himalayan monastery village of Thyangboche (3800m) was organised by Australian trekking company World Expeditions on the same day Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first summited in 1953.
Among the mostly Australian guests were two mountaineers widely regarded as Australian climbing royalty.
Greg Mortimer was one of the first two Australians to summit Everest in 1984, while Brigitte Muir became the first Australian woman to stand at the famous summit in 1997.
"The whole region went crazy," said Mortimer of the historic ascent. "The Sherpa people in particular went mad with excitement. It was a stepping on the moon type moment."
As the rain hammered down on the marquee specially installed for the event Mortimer conjured up some of the extraordinary challenges of climbing at 8000m-plus without oxygen, an altitude at which simply putting on one's boots can take half an hour.
Describing the moment he reached the summit alongside Tim McCartney-Snape, he said: "We thought, 'Oh, shit, it's down everywhere in all directions! There's just no more 'up' any more."
When Brigitte Muir finally reached the summit in 1997 it was at the fourth attempt and completed her "collection" of the seven highest summits on seven continents.
"People always ask me what it was like to stand on the summit of Everest and I always say, "I've no idea. I sat down!"
Everest veterans like Mortimer and Muir continue the strong tradition of repaying the Sherpa people who in large part make Everest expeditions possible.
Mortimer is an ambassador for the Himalayan Foundation, founded by Hillary's son Peter and members of the 1984 Everest expedition, which works in education and health for the Nepali people down the valley from where Sir Edmund's own Himalyan Trust has done so much good work.
Muir's own project, Beyond The Smile, concentrates on women's education in the Solu region, below Everest.
Both Hillary and Tenzing remain much revered figures in the Everest region, and the celebrations continued into the night in Thyangboche with Nepali music and dancing.
One of the Trekkers, Christopher Lyons from Perth, who attended the celebrations, said it had been an extraordinarily atmospheric night.
"I was awestruck by the sharing from Greg Mortimer," he said. "Mortimer said everything goes so slowly at altitude and it takes a huge breath just to do up your laces. That's just how I felt getting up this morning!"
Nick Galvin travelled to Nepal courtesy of World Expeditions.
Sydney Morning Herald