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Happy Everest Day! Commemorating the People Behind the Mountain

Posted: May 31, 2013 08:52 pm EDT

(By Olivia Feldman, Kathmandu, Nepal) It has been a busy week in Kathmandu as Nepali government officials, expats, climbers, and mountaineering enthusiasts celebrated the 60th anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of Everest, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 American expedition ascents (via the South Col and West Ridge), and some of the incredible personalities that surround the world’s highest peak.


In a private reception in her honor, Elizabeth Hawley proclaimed that her tape-recorded voice sounded strange in the interview segments of her biographical documentary Keeper of the Mountains.  Sherpas, climbers, and others gathered to pay homage to the woman sitting in the corner who patiently recited expedition facts and feats for this contributor.  The day, May 22nd, marked the 50th anniversary of the Americans’ West Ridge-South Col traverse in 1963, the first expedition she covered and the one that launched her career as a journalist and ultimately as the foremost authority on the history of mountaineering in the Nepalese Himalaya.  Alluding to Reinhold Messner, Miss Hawley tells me that she loves to “see the climbers who return,” and that it’s almost like watching them “grow up.”


May 26th at the Indigo Gallery, Broughton Coburn described the day Willi Unsoeld addressed his 6th grade class and presented a jar containing his frostbitten toes.  It didn’t inspire Coburn to want to climb Everest, but instead to follow the people behind the incredible feats, those “men who were at large in the world” and who proved that “goals can be accomplished through teamwork and collaboration.”


The Nepali Government honored these same people in the Diamond Jubilee Celebration consisting of events scattered throughout Solokhumbu, Lumbini, and Kathmandu from May 23rd-29th.  The culmination of these events was a reception at the Royal Palace on May 29th commemorating Norgay and Hillary’s first ascent. Reinhold Messner, Wolfgang Nairz, Ang Rita Sherpa, Edurne Pasaban Lizarribar, and many other Nepali and foreign climbers attended.  Record-holding summiteers and Miss Hawley (among others) were awarded medals, but this season’s summiteers were asked to “collect awards at (their) leisure… because we have so many 2013 summiteers that it would take too much time (to name them all).” 


The ceremony was often distracted and disorganized.  Most of the speakers were Nepali officials who took the opportunity to praise government figures and political party leaders in Nepali.  The Minister of Tourism used his speech to lengthily deride the “unauthorized broadcasting” that took place on Everest’s summit in which a British climber phoned in a summit interview with the BBC.  Messner followed with some advice in light of this season’s problems on the mountain: “we should not split… there is a place for everybody (on Everest) if each is going on their own routes.”


Today, when more than 3400 people have summited Everest, “it is easy to underestimate just how great a challenge the climb was in 1953 (Chris Bonnington for Nepal Parbat).  The challenge is what inspires hundreds of seasoned and aspiring mountaineers to return to the Himalaya, and ultimately Everest, every year.  In the words of Reinhold Messner, we must be “careful that the real stories (the expeditions of the 20s and 30s, the first ascent, and the later ‘conquerings’) are not forgotten, because these are part of the history of this mountain and the myth of the Himalaya.”


Previous story - Everest Diamond Jubilee Special: Agostino Da Polenza Editorial


#Mountaineering #Everest #TenzingNorgay #EdmundHillary




Reinhold Messner looking at photos of the 1953 expedition at the Diamond Jubilee Ceremony in Kathmandu.
courtesy Olivia Feldman, SOURCE
Messner accepting award at the Diamond Jubilee Ceremony
courtesy Olivia Feldman, SOURCE
"All Everest summiteers please stand in the center"
courtesy Olivia Feldman, SOURCE
Everest captured on Everest Base Camp trek in January 2013.
courtesy Olivia Feldman, SOURCE
Olivia Feldman and Miss Hawley
courtesy Olivia Feldman, SOURCE