The toughest test of endurance
Almost half a century
after they conquered Mount Everest, Hillary and Tenzing are all set to
repeat history. Hillary’s son Peter and the late Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s
grandson Tashi meet on top of the world for a historic 50th birthday
party. So do hundreds of other mountaineers from all over the world.
What is it about the Everest that has lured adventurers for over half a
century, wonders Sanjeeb Mukherjee.
FOR a soprano it is the opera; for an actor it is the Oscar, for an athlete it is the Olympic glory and for a mountaineer, the pinnacle of success is obviously Mount Everest.
Ever since 1953, the year in which Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and a New Zealand bee-keeper, Edmund Hillary, scaled Everest, 574 people have reached the top and 118 have died trying.
At 8850 metres [29,035 feet] Mount Everest is the highest elevation in the world. Called Chomo-Lungma [Mother Goddess] it was first scaled on May 28, 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood atop the summit.
Now almost 50 years after it was conquered, Hillary and Norgay are climbing the peak again. But there’s a slight difference. The climbers are Sir Edmund Hillary’s son Peter and Tenzing Norgay’s grandson Tenzing Tashi Norgay.
Peter is climbing from
the southern face of the mountain from Nepal — the route his father
took in 1953. Tashi Norgay has already scaled the Everest alongwith a
Swiss expedition from a different route. Now he is waiting to meet Peter
at the world’s highest peak for "a big fiftieth birthday
For centuries climbing Everest has been the biggest test of endurance. Before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered the peak it was considered the greatest challenge to mankind.
A year earlier in 1952 Tenzing Norgay and a Swiss national Raymond Lambert climbed to within 200 metres [660 feet] of the summit without the aid of oxygen. But they failed to reach the top — a feat that the Sherpa would achieve a year later.
The North Pole had been reached in 1909, the South Pole in 1911. But, Everest, then termed the Third Pole, had defied all attempts until May 29, 1953 when Hillary and Tenzing traversed what the New Zealander described as a "symmetrical, beautiful snowcone summit".
Before the two, many had perished on the snowy ranges. In 1924 George Mallory and Sandy Irvine who some believed were the first Everesters are said to have been killed by a deadly avalanche. No one really knows whether they actually stood atop the peak or not. The body of George Mallory was found in 1999.
What is that lures people to the Everest? Why is the pull so strong that every year thousands try to climb the peak, each time trying a different, more difficult route and some dying in the attempt?
No one knows for sure. Explains two-time Everest Santosh Yadav, "The Himalayas have something in them which tugs at my heart. The peace, the sense of divinity, the majestic beauty all make these mountains the most enchanting experience for any human being. You feel you are nearer to God. It is you and the vastness of the ranges. The feeling is impossible to describe."
Yadav first had a glimpse of the ranges when she participated in a mountaineering course. On the very first sight she fell in love with the ranges and after that there was no looking back. She first climbed the Mount Everest in the year 1992.
"It was such an incredible feeling. I felt a wave of pride rush through my veins. For a few seconds I could not believe what I had done, but then some of my colleagues from the base camp called me on my walkie-talkie to congratulate me on my achievement. After hoisting the National Flag I knelt down and offered prayers to Sagarmata, the Mountain Goddess", says Santosh Yadav.
Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia who scaled the peak in 1965 says the first thought which struck him when he stood atop the Everest was that he had reached the pinnacle of his life and from then onwards, all roads would lead downwards. A year later in the 1965 Indo-Pak war he was struck by an enemy bullet and has been on a wheelchair ever since.
"The Everest is so vast, so beautiful that it makes you philosophical as you stand awestruck at the sheer magnitude of nature," says Ahluwalia.
However, the first remarks of Edmund Hillary, so much in love with the mountains and especially Everest, were curiously uncharitable and undignified and created a controversy at that time. Returning from the summit to the rest of the expedition team below, Hillary greeted his compatriot George Lowe with the gleeful remark: "Well George, we’ve knocked the bastard off?"
However, he would later explain that what he meant was that for him Mount Everest was the final frontier for human endurance, so when he became the one of the two persons ever to conquer the peak, his joy knew no bounds. He uttered the first thing that came to his mind. "I was like an excited bowler who gets the wicket of a prized batsman."
For Tenzing Norgay, the Himalayas were something magical — a vastness of nature that dwarfed everything. He wanted to climb the Everest to experience the majesty of the peak.
Though Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary might have climbed Himalayas for different reasons, but both would agree that these mountains have something mystical and majestic in them which pulls people towards them year after year.
For some it is a childhood passion, for others it provides the biggest natural challenge to human being, while for some others it is a spiritual journey. Tenzing and Hillary may have been the first but were certainly not the last.
In the past half a century the number of expeditions has been increasing every year as Mount Everest continues to attract thousands of people. For many it will forever remain a tantalising mystery waiting to be unravelled.
Or as Sir Edmund says, "In the two months that I spent up in the mountains I cannot remember seeing a single person apart from my companion. Everest is a marvellous experience — dozens of untouched peaks all around waiting to be reached, scores of glaciers to explore. It is the sheer sense of isolation and remoteness."