The 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest (8,848 m) was celebrated recently on a pretty modest scale, it must be said. One reason for this could be the relatively low interest on feats to do with climbing the world’s highest peak, seeing as to how thousands have achieved the feat over the years, with hundreds climbing it this year itself. Among the climbers have been the lame and the blind and the young and the old. And, while it was something to crow about when Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Everest on May 19, 1975, thousands more women have followed suit.
Things have reached a point where more and more people are pleading that Everest’s dignity be kept intact and that there should be some control on how many climbers should be allowed to climb it during the season. Derogatory comments have been flying around about the ‘traffic jams’ on the trail to the highest peak in the world. Plenty of records have been made while climbing Everest. Some have climbed it two score and more times, some have climbed it twice in a matter of a week, and some have raced to the summit in super fast times. However, most records hardly survive a year or two before they are broken. This year, the recent record of Everest being summitted by the oldest man was broken by a Japanese man who was a few years older than the previous record holder. On top of all this, a new record was made this year—an ugly row between a group of Sherpas and three European climbers—the first of its kind, and described by some as ‘a fight on the highest place on earth’. The altercation actually occurred at one of the camps on the way to Everest.
All this is of course a far cry from May 29, 1953, when Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary struggled their way to the top for the first time, sans the modern equipments and experienced guides available nowadays. Their climb was a grueling test of human endeavor, that much is for sure. Similarly, Junko Tabei’s ascent too was a trying one. At the same time, she has been reported as saying, “Then, the Himalayas were pure and clean, and climbing was truly an adventure that tested your resolve, skills, and endurance.” Indeed, those were the days when climbing the world’s highest peak was truly an adventure, maybe not romantic in the true sense of the word, but an epic adventure nevertheless. It is not that Everest is a cakewalk in spite of the growing number of summiteers; 227 climbers have lost their lives while attempting the feat.
As far as the first few to summit Everest, two Swiss climbers, Ernst Schmied and Juerge Marmet, earned third and fourth place in the list of first conquerors of Everest, a feat they achieved on May 23, 1956. Next came three Chinese climbers, Wang Fu-chou, Gonpa (Konbu), and Chu Yin-hua, who summitted Everest on May 25, 1960, from its northern side (a first, since till then all climbers had climbed from the South Col). The first American (and the 8th to climb Everest) was Jim Whittaker on May 1, 1963. The ninth person to do so was Nawang Gombu, who also reached the summit on May 1, 1963 (he became the first to scale Everest twice after summiting again in 1965). The next two to summit Everest were the Japanese climbers Naomi Uemura and Teruo Matsuura (May 11, 1970). There is debate over who summited first—Uemura or Matsuura. However, one has to leave this aside as just one more of the many debatable subjects related to happenings atop Everest (something like, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”). As far as the first woman to conquer Everest is concerned, this honor fell on Junko Tabei of Japan, who reached the summit on May 16, 1975. Pasang Lhamu Sherpa became the first Nepali woman to summit Everest in May 1993, but tragically, she lost her life while descending.
Till now, 80-plus countries have put their climbers atop the world’s highest peak, and 5000-plus climbers have overcome the challenges of reaching the apex of its lofty height. Today, an ever-increasing number of people from all over the world seem to have made climbing Everest one of their “must-to-be-done things before dying,” with the result that the base camp now has a distinctively carnival-like air during the climbing season. This has naturally made climbing the world’s highest peak more of an ‘enjoyable’ adventure rather than the ‘epic’ adventure of yore, although, considering that many lives have been lost while achieving this feat, one must say that the prefix, ‘extremely challenging,’ must be added while describing the Everest adventure.