There are some dates in history that have become landmarks in the passage of time of our world. One such date is Friday, May 29, 1953. This was when man stepped for the first time atop the highest point on earth, Mount Everest (8,848 m), a.k.a. Sagarmatha, in Nepal. Actually, it was not one man, but two, Tenzing Sherpa, 39, and Edmund Hillary, 33, who have the credit, jointly, for being the first to conquer Everest. It was a long time in coming, since Everest had been identified as the highest peak on earth way back in 1852.
In the six decades since (1953-2013), a total of 5099 ascents have been recorded, with 3144 climbers from 83 countries succeeding in achieving this singular feat, while 227 climbers perished during the expeditions. Successful climbers have included a fair number of women, along with a few physically challenged climbers, octogenarians, and teenagers. With the passage of time, climbing equipment and techniques have improved considerably, routes have been well defined, and conditions better understood and analyzed, with the result that critics have been forced to say that climbing Everest is no more the great challenge it once used to be.
So it is understandable that the Nepal government has issued a directive that anyone wishing to climb Everest will have to prove their experience in climbing high altitude mountains before attempting a summit of the highest peak in the world. The last couple of years have not been good years for climbing Everest, with a record number of deaths, and the devastating earthquake this year on April 25. A Japanese climber, aiming to be the first to summit this year after the earthquake, failed to do so, and had to abandon the ascent.
Looking back again to history, there were some serious attempts made by the British to summit Everest since 1852. The eighth attempt, in 1953, was made by a Royal Geographical Society Alpine Club team led by John Hunt. The expedition included 13 climbers and 35 Sherpa guides, and 350 porters to carry 18 tons of food and climbing equipment. On May 26, 1953, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans almost reached the peak, but had to turn back just 300 feet short of the summit due to the failure of one of their oxygen masks. Three days later, Tenzing and Hillary achieved the feat, becoming the first two to conquer Everest.
On May 23, 1956, Swiss climbers Ernst Schmied and Juerge Marmet posted their names in history as the third and fourth summiteers to climb Everest, and on May 25, 1960, three Chinese mountaineers, Wang Fu Chou, Konbu, and Chu Ying Hua, reached the summit from its more difficult northern side for the first time. Nawang Gombu of India, the 10th summitteer to conquer Everest, was the first man to do it twice, in 1963 and 1965. In 1973, Sambhu Tamang, 18, became the youngest climber to summit Everest, and in 1978, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first to do so without the use of bottled oxygen.
On May 16, 1975, Junko Tabei of Japan became the first woman to reach the summit, and in April 22, 1993, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa became the first Nepali woman to reach top of the world, but tragically, she died on the way down. In 2000, Pemba Doma Sherpa became the first Nepali woman to climb Everest via its north face, and she went on to climb it a record six times, the last one in 2007. Unfortunately, she lost her life when she fell from a height of 8,000 m while climbing Lhotse later. The first woman to climb Everest from both sides is Maya Sherpa, while Ming Kipa Sherpa became the world’s youngest woman to conquer Everest, on May 24, 2003, at the age of fifteen. Her 31-year-old sister, Lhakpa Chiri, who had already summitted in 2001, accompanied her. On May 30, 2005, Moni Mulepati, 24, became the first non-Sherpa Nepali woman to climb Everest. InMay 2008, the ‘First Inclusive Women Sagarmatha Expedition 2008 Spring’ (Sushmita Maskey, Maya Gurung, Usha Bisht, Chunu Shrestha, Shailee Basnet, Pemadiki Sherpa, Nawang Phutti Sherpa, Nimdoma Sherpa, and Asha Kumari Singh Chaudhary).succeeded in reaching the summit. And, Churrim Sherpa became the first woman to summit Everest twice within a single season (May 12 and 19, 2012).
Well, it’s been a long time since that day man first stepped on the highest point on earth, and the pioneers, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary, have already passed away (on May 9, 1986, at 72, and in 2008 at 88, respectively), but Everest still holds a formidable challenge to men and women everywhere, notwithstanding modern developments in climbing.