Everest 70 at the Royal Geographical Society
- Thursday 6th July 2023
Report by Noel Dawson
On the 13th of June 2023, the 70th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest in 1953 was celebrated at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The event was jointly organised by the Himalayan Trust UK and the Mount Everest Foundation. The Mount Everest Foundation was founded in 1955 to help to fund exploratory, scientific and mountaineering expeditions working particularly with parties travelling to less-known regions of the world. The Himalayan Trust UK was started in 1989. The ambition of the trust is to improve health and education provision in the mountainous regions of North East Nepal. The trust is working towards long-term sustainability and independence for the people who live in this area. Both organisations were founded as a result of the success of the British expedition to Everest in 1953.
The day was organised into two events. The afternoon session was well-supported and included a number of school parties. The speakers had been very carefully selected to talk to, and inspire, the adventurers and mountaineers of tomorrow. Leo Houlding wove his usual motivational magic leaving the audience bursting to get out and explore. Doctor Melanie Windridge, who climbed Everest in 2018, spoke of the scientists who had studied climbing at high altitude, and how their work on acclimatisation, hydration, equipment and the use of supplementary oxygen proved vital to the success of the expedition in 1953. Adriana Brownlee described her incredible journey from schoolgirl to mountaineer. Adriana is just 22 years old. She has already climbed ten of the fourteen 8000-metre peaks.
Ray Mears totally captivated the audience by sharing his extensive knowledge of so many peoples of the world; different in some ways and yet alike in others. Ray’s message again was very clear. Get out, explore, learn and understand. There were also contributions from Peter Hillary, the son of Edmund Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Tenzing Norgay, who would both speak again during the evening event. There was certainly a buzz as the audience left the theatre. It was easy to imagine that a few would return at some stage in years to come to tell their own stories of exploration.
The evening lecture was sold out. Everest still calls and the lineup of speakers was truly impressive. Jamling Tenzing Norgay spoke poignantly about his father; a gentleman who travelled alone to Darjeeling as a young man to join three British expeditions to the North side of Everest during the 1930s. Tenzing Norgay stood on the roof of the world with Edmund Hillary on the 29th of May 1953. It was a moment which Jamling explained changed his father's life in numerous ways. Jamling remembered his father as a humble man who was able to use his fame to tell the story of the Sherpa people and to encourage young men from India to enjoy the mountains as he did.
Peter Hillary described the summit of Everest as '... a curious place.' He talked of the power of ascending into the unknown and reminded the audience of Sir John Hunt's astonishing attention to detail and how that certainly proved so important during the first ascent in 1953. Peter reflected that even today climbing on Everest is still based on the principles of the British ascent.
Stephen Venables took up the Everest story from 1953. He described the Swiss ascent in 1956, the truly outstanding West Ridge ascent by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld as part of the American expedition during 1963, the British climb of the South West Face in 1975 and the ascent of Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler without bottled oxygen in 1978. Stephen remembered his own ascent of Everest by the Kangshung Face in 1988 with Robert Anderson, Paul Teare and Ed Webster. Stephen became the first British mountaineer to summit Everest without bottled oxygen. He reflected on what he described as '... the most stupendous mountain scenery I have ever seen.' When he reached the South Col he thought of Wilfrid Noyce and Sherpa Annullu who had been the first to reach the Col in 1953 and he remembered Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon who had turned back so close to the summit to return safely from Everest.
Kenton Cool has just completed his 17th ascent of Everest. He came to the stage to bring the Everest story up to 2023. Kenton said he felt that the mountain was perhaps '... not quite what we would hope it to be.' 1985 saw the first climber guided to the summit of Everest and over the years Everest has become more and more commercial. During 2023 four hundred and eighty-seven permits were issued to ascend Everest and seven climbers died and two went missing. Kenton showed the now well-known photograph taken in 2019 showing a massive queue ascending the area on Everest where the Hillary Step used to be. But Kenton does see a positive way forward for Everest. He considers that a productive balance can be found to the benefit of all. Everest remains many things to many people.
The final speaker of the evening has recently made the world news for his astonishing achievements. Hari Budha Magar joined the British Army when he was 19. In 2010 Hari was severely injured serving in the army and lost both legs above the knee. Hari inevitably endured terrible times before he was able to see positive ways forward and wondered what life now offered him. He found a love for adventure and mountaineering. Hari had legs designed to allow him to climb and then he worked to eventually overcome the ban in Nepal which had stopped double amputee and visually impaired climbers from ascending Everest. Earlier this year Hari became the first double amputee above the knee to reach the summit of Everest. It seems that endeavour has no boundaries that cannot be overcome. Hari, in some ways, wants to change the world to make it a better place for all.
Sadly, there are no members of the 1953 Everest team still alive today but through the love of families and friends at the event, the outstanding work of the Himalayan Trust UK and Mountain Everest Foundation and the respect and admiration of the audience at the RGS, their memory endures and still sets the standard of how mountains should be climbed and how mountains and the people of the mountains should be treated. The 1953 team were humble men on the greatest adventure. Everest changed them all. They carried Everest with them for the rest of their lives, and they went on to dedicate years, supported by their family and friends, to promoting the beauty of Nepal and helping to implement important innovations to improve the lives of the people they had come to respect and admire.
This was a memorable day at the Royal Geographical Society. It is perhaps becoming harder to imagine back to a time when it was unknown whether Everest could be climbed. So many have now ascended to the roof of the world but it was the men of 1953 who worked tirelessly and endured, calling upon the knowledge and experience of those who had climbed before them, to finally reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world. It was an incredible achievement. A truly remarkable new chapter had been written in the history of world mountaineering.
To find out more about, and to support the work of, the Himalayan Trust UK and the Mount Everest Foundation visit their websites at: