It happened today - May 29, 2015
On May 29, in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay topped out on Everest and man had climbed as high as he could go without a ladder. They may not have been the first; it is possible that George Leigh “Because it is there” Mallory and Andrew Irvine reached the summit before dying on their fatal 1924 expedition. But Hillary and Tenzing are definitely the first to get there and back down again alive. And it was worth doing.
If you’ve ever been on an airplane you’ve sort of been there. Except for the bit where you have oxygen and powerful jet engines and cabin service. That’s how high Everest is. It’s also as close to the summit as I’ll ever get, or ever want to. Climbing Everest is something I admire from a distance.
In fact I have a bit of a thing about all the people now climbing Everest out of vanity, in expeditions that have more in common with intercontinental flight than Hillary and Norgay’s pre-velcro feat, let alone Mallory and Irvine’s classic British amateur hobnail boots and stout sticks. I argued years ago in a column that if you can’t lead an expedition up Everest you have no business being on one. And I think with all the other wild, challenging peaks, there’s no need to clutter up this particular peak just because it is the highest. I myself have no business there and never did and wouldn’t go.
Still, I confess that every time I see a mountain, and I have seen some Himalayan peaks from the hills of Nepal some years back, I do feel a wild urge toward adventure. I know there’s nothing on top of a mountain you’d want, and if you don’t get back down fast you never will. Still, I wish, even yearn, for a different and better world in which we could soar safely in such regions without artificial assistance that amounts to cheating.
So I applaud those who really do manage to do it, to satisfy that craving of the spirit and strive to fulfil that impulse I feel but can never satisfy. It really is a good idea for someone to climb them because they are there.