On the 50th anniversary of the successful summit of Mount Everest by the late Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, a week’s worth of celebrations culminated in a ceremony honoring Hillary with Nepali citizenship. Newspapers around the world, including Hillary’s local New Zealand Herald, laud the Kiwi octogenarian’s largesse to the people of Nepal. The Kathmandu Post agrees, saying Sir Edmund has spent “millions of dollars and thousands of hours building schools, hospitals and clinics for the local Sherpa people.” However, the paper continues, all this benevolent attention has altered the country, and the old mountaineer himself “wonders if he had done the right things looking at the unforeseen consequences of bringing in more tourists and mountaineers to the remote region.”
Climbing the formidable peak is an entirely different undertaking than it was when a beekeeper and his Sherpa companion finally bested it. “In the 1950s, it was very hard to get to the summit. These days everybody climbs. I thought the mountain may have become lower than it was before,” remarked one local guide. “There’s even a booze tent at base camp,” Hillary marveled. And, while easier in some ways, the trek remains tremendously perilous. As recently as yesterday, people died trying to reach the base camp by helicopter, and an expedition of four climbers scaling Mount Cook-Aoraki to commemorate the anniversary were overdue in arriving, probably because of worsening weather.
The Guardian reprints its original 1953 story of the ascent. It mentions that Hillary and Tenzing saw no trace of the bodies of 1924 climbers Mallory and Irvine, who disappeared on the mountain. Mount Everest, a staggering 8,848 meters in elevation, has killed 172 mountaineers. This week climbers planted saplings in a memorial park close to Kathmandu to honor these dead. There are 40 bodies still on the mountain.
Many climbers now believe that Everest should be closed temporarily because it’s gotten too crowded, reports The Age of Melbourne. Junko Tabei, the first woman to make the climb, says the mountain “needs a rest now.” Sir Edmund agrees. “I have suggested to the Nepal government that they should stop giving permission and give the mountain a rest for a few years,” he said.
But tourism and employment of the Sherpa guides Hillary has done so much to encourage make closure a highly unlikely prospect. “There are thousands of people in the region who solely depend on the trekkers and mountaineers for their income. If they don’t come, these people and their families will starve,” said guide Ang Phurba.