On May 29, 1953, the British Mount Everest expedition was the ninth mountaineering expedition to attempt the first ascent of the world’s highest peak. It was the first confirmed to have succeeded when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top.
The expedition was led by Colonel John Hunt and was organised and financed by the Joint Himalayan Committee.
News of the expedition’s success reached London in time to be released on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on June 2.
A series of advanced camps were created and the team slowly reached higher and higher.
The first of two climbing pairs previously selected by Hunt, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, set out for the summit on May 26 using closed-circuit oxygen and successfully achieved the first ascent of the 8,750-metre South Summit, coming within 100 metres of the final summit.
They were forced to turn back after becoming exhausted, defeated by oxygen equipment problems and lack of time.
On May 27, the expedition made its second and final assault on the summit with the second climbing pair, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay from Nepal.
Norgay had previously ascended to a record high point on Everest as a member of the Swiss expedition of 1952.
They reached the summit at 11:30 a.m. by climbing the South Col route. Before descending, they stopped at the summit long enough to take photographs and to bury some sweets and a small cross in the snow.
On returning from the summit, Hillary’s first words to George Lowe were “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.”
Talking to The Himalayan Times, the only living member of the historic 1953 Everest expedition has appealed to climbers to respect the ethics of mountain climbing.
Talking to this daily at a monastery in Namche Bazaar on the eve of the 65th anniversary of the first successful ascent of the world’s highest peak, Kanchha Sherpa, 86, reminded mountaineers that Everest was only for climbing, not a site for merry-making.
“These days, the ‘cappuccino’ tourists go to Everest and throw a party fully disregarding climbing ethics that the legendary mountaineers had set in the early days,” Sherpa, who guided the legendary climbers — Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary — to the south summit on Everest in 1953, said.
The expedition was comprised 35 people including 15 members, took 22 days to reach the base camp and the summit was made in 45 days.
“We reached Namche in 16 days while it took six more days to reach base camp from here,” Sherpa said, adding that they found a route in the icefall section only after seven days.
They placed wooden ladders to fix the icefall route, he said. “We felled 20 trees in Namche to make temporary ladders.”
Sherpa continued climbing as high altitude worker till 1971 and says Tenzing and Hillary’s contribution lifted the living standard of Namche villagers.
“I had been above Camp IV on many occasions, including with the 1963 American expedition, being a high altitude worker,” the father of six said.
“But, I didn’t get visa for the Everest summit,” he laughed. Since 1953, nearly 5,000 have made it to the summit of Everest.
“The credit for their success goes to Tenzing and Hillary, but the newer generation of climbers should respect climbing norms and values,” he said.