Mountaineering legends celebrate 60th year of Everest conquest

A mob of mountaineers gathered in London on Wednesday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first official 'conquest' of the earth's tallest terrestrial peak, generally called Mount Everest.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated the anniversary with a reception at the Royal Geographical Society in London, where Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the sons of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, were among the speakers.

Sixty years ago, on 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund, a New Zealand beekeeper, and Nepali Sherpa Tenzing reached the peak of Everest from the Southern Face on the Nepal side of the mountain.

They were the first climbers known to have made it to the summit of the 8,848 metre (29,029 ft) summit.

Tenzing (who later added Norgay to his name) and Hillary refused for a long time to say which of them was the first person to set foot on the peak. But Norgay clarified in an article written a few years ago that he was a metre or so behind Sir Edmund Hillary.

Ahead of the official reception, a galaxy of mountaineering stars gathered at a book-release event. Among the noteworthys were at least three living legends - Sir Chris Bonington, Stephen Venables and Doug Scott.

Kenton Cool, who earlier this month became the first person to scale the three peaks of Everest's Western col in one climb, was signing a newly-released book on his expedition at Stanfords bookshop in central London.

The newly published book, The Conquest Of Everest - Original Photographs From The Legendary First Ascent, features a previously unpublished collection of photographs from the climb, put together by the late George Lowe, a member of Hillary's team, with help from family friend and historian Huw Lewis-Jones.

Earlier climbing legends are no more on this planet. Among them are George Mallory and Andrew (Sandy) Irwin, whom the mountain killed in 1924. The jury is still out on whether they died on their way down (which would make them the first men atop Everest) or if they died on their way up.

Mallory, when asked by an inquisitive person why he kept trying to climb the world's highest mountain, famously replied, ''Because it is there.''

Undoubtedly there were toasts drunk to them as well as other late great mountaineers, many of them fallen while trying to reach for the stars.

Mount Everest is named for Sir George Everest, the pioneering map-maker of India. He never got anywhere near mapping the upper Himalaya, but worked at the cost of his health to produce maps of the plains and the notoriously malarial Terai region that remained the norm till the arrival of satellite photography.

It is a little-known fact that Sir George pronounced his name 'Eve-rest', as in Adam and Eve.
 
In any case, the mountaineering community today prefers to use the Tibetan name 'Chomolungma', Goddess Mother of the Earth.