Today is the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mt Everest. It’s disheartening, to say the least, that on the anniversary, clouds of malcontent and fist fights (complete with rocks to the head?) would be the topic of conversation, rather than the celebration of a historical conquest.
Sixty years ago when Norgay and Hillary stood atop the summit, they did so because people had come together from around the world. During the attempt, some expedition members sacrificed their own fame and notoriety so that other members had a chance to reach the top. Expedition leader Colonel John Hunt was supposed to lead the team to the top, but when he saw that the duo was far stronger than he was, he stepped aside and let them go ahead of him. People sacrificed their own summit attempts for the team or for another individual who could take their place. Since then, many teams have come together and pooled shelter and food so that a few of them had a chance to reach the top. That has been the majority of the history of Everest summitting since it was first conquered in 1953.
We met Melissa’s team (referenced in the article below) in Namche when we were there just over a month ago. She was considering a 5th summit attempt while guiding her clients this season. We ran into Lakpa Rhita Sherpa when we were on our way down the Everest Highway and he was on his way up, possibly to try for summit number 17. Hundreds of people are up there right now, as they are every season, and they are all attempting unbelievable feats under incredible circumstances. When you consider that every reported bit of this happened above 17,000 feet, where the people involved have been living in tents with high winds and snow and eating off a camp stove for a month, it’s no surprise that events like this one, making all the climbing news cables, would happen, but it is definitely an indicator of how far from the original point and purpose of the summit we have drifted.
The article below is summed up well in this final paragraph, but if the topic is new to you, you will enjoy the complete article.
But 50 years to the day since the first American ascent, the Everest climbing scene has become a complex mix of big-money efforts fueled by intensely goal-oriented people, where cultural and language differences easily lead to misunderstanding, all set in an extremely dangerous natural environment at an altitude that diminishes decision making and weakens the body. In light of all that, summiting might be the easy part.