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Free Everest!
03:14 a.m. EDT May 29, 2003
Today is a day of great celebration in Kathmandu. Nepal and Everest summiteers have assembled to celebrate our world’s tallest mountain. There is a grand banquette, there are speeches and parties all night long in the countless bars of Thamel. It has been a good year for the celebration. This year was the year of the Sherpas. A Sherpani became the youngest Everest summiteer at the tender age of 15. Two Sherpas broke the Everest equivalent of the Bannister mile. And Apa Sherpa improved a personal record to climb Everest 13 times this spring. Apa said, "I feel the greatest moments on Everest are when you are meeting challenges in difficult areas. Those are great moments".

Everest itself put the spotlight where it belongs. Because, to counter many of the latest media headlines, here are some important history facts.

The history of Hillary’s Everest climb:

In 1945 Hillary climbed Mount Cook (3764 meters). 1949 he had a year in the European Alps and climbed there. 1951, George Lowe invited him to join a New Zealand expedition headed for the Himalayas, climbing at altitudes of around 6,000 meters.

In 1953 a British Everest expedition would do an attempt to make it to the summit. The British sponsors for the expedition first wanted team leader Eric Shipton. However, Shipton wanted a small team. The sponsors instead wanted to send over doctors, lots of new equipment, plenty of nutritious food, strong climbers, believing that more was better: If the climbers could eat good food, sleep in good tents, and have good oxygen systems, then they would stay strong enough to reach the top. In order to get all the support up the mountain, the team had to hire over 100 local porters. The sponsors sacked Shipton and hired John Hunt as he agreed with their theories and he in turn invited Hillary.

The expedition set out with 14 climbers, and 350 porters. The team carried the best in high-altitude boots, windproof clothing, lightweight but sturdy tents, special radios and walkie-talkies, Primus stoves, aluminum-alloy ladders for crevasses, ropes, and the latest oxygen tanks.

The history of Tenzing Sherpa:

1933 - Trekking porter in Darjeeling
1936 - Went with Huge Ruttledge's expedition to Everest and reached the North Col, 8000m.
1938 - Accompanied H.W. Tilman's expedition to Everest and reached Camp VI (8332m)
1939 - Went with a party to Tirchimir in the Hindu-Kush range and reached 7012m.
1946 - Carried out explorations in the Kangchenjunga region.
1951 - Went with a French expedition to Nanda Devi and reached the east summit (7621m)
1952 - Accompanied two Swiss expeditions to Everest, reaching the heights of 8600m and 8097 m respectively without oxygen, with Raymond Lambert.
1953 - Went with British Everest Expedition led by Col John Hunt and climbed the summit along with Edmund Hillary on 29 May.

It is fair to assume, that without Tenzing, Hillary would not have made Everest. It is also to be noticed, that Hillary, Junko Tabei of Japan, the first woman to scale the peak and Messner today asks Nepal to close the mountain. They take the opportunity of their invitation to Nepal to ask for only one or two expeditions to be allowed a permit each year. If that happens, thousands of Sherpas like Tenzing will lose their income. As for human mountaineering, it would be a tragedy equivalent to closing down Mont Blanc in the European Alps, or Mount McKinley in North America. Although smaller than Everest, those mountains see far more climbers each year.

Let the party continue through the night. But let us not forget that we don't celebrate Sir Edmund Hillary, Messner and the other western veterans only today. Everest has pointed the spotlight. We celebrate Tenzing, Sherpas, Tibetans and the highest mountaineering dream of mankind. Let us keep Everest tidy, but let us all keep climbing it for another fifty years to come!

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