Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Everest - The 60th Anniversary

Photo from Man of Everest The Biography of Tenzing by James Ramsay Ullman

Today is the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest by Tenzing and Hillary. 

The sheer joy and innocence of this photograph, possibly taken around Thyanboche monastery after the 1953 climb makes a refreshing change from the "human jams", controversy and conflicts between climbers and sherpas and the general state of high pressure and tension on the mountain sixty years after! 

Looking at this photo, one is reminded of Mallory's comment "What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life." 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everest Sixty Years After - Part I

Everest as seen from near the 5th lake of Gokyo 
On 28th May 1953 two men set up Camp Nine at 27,900 feet on the south East Ridge of Everest. Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa from Thami near Namche Bazar had attempted Everest six times and failed. Edmund Hillary, a bee keeper from New Zealand, was on the mountain for the second time, having accompanied Eric Shipton on the Everest Reconnaissance in 1951. The British had attempted Everest eight times since 1921. And in the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it was imperative that they succeed. The morning dawned clear and still as Tenzing pointed out the tiny dot of Thyanboche Monastery, 16,000 feet below, where the Rimpoche had prayed for the safe return of the team. The climbers started out at 6.30 am and at 11.30 am on 29th May 1953 history was made as the two men stood on the summit of Everest.

Tenzing & Hillary after their successful 1953 climb
The first ascent of Everest was followed by three decades of successful high altitude mountaineering in the Himalayas. The major peaks fell one by one and climbers turned their attention on new routes and unclimbed walls. On Everest itself, in 1963, an American team led by Willi Unsoeld and Tom Horbein summitted the peak by the west ridge. In an astounding feat, they completed the first traverse of the mountain through the night by descending the south East Ridge down to the South Col.  In 1975 a British team led by Chris Bonington laid siege to the south west face of Everest and completed the first ascent of this huge wall. In 1978 Messner and Habeler accomplished the first ascent without oxygen and again in 1980 Messner set a new benchmark by making a solo ascent of the mountain completely unsupported from the north side. In 1983 an American team climbed the avalanche ravaged the Kangshung face, one of the last great challenges of Everest. And by the early nineties, the stage was set for the first guided climbs on the mountain.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Everest West Ridge: The First Traverse of Everest Fifty Years Ago

The West Ridge of Everest with the climbers below - Photo Courtesy  Everest, The West Ridge by Tom Horbein

On 21st May 1963 at six o’clock in the evening two climbers reached 27,205 feet (8300 metres) to set up Camp 5W on the west ridge of Everest. Tom Horbein a US anasthetologist then 32 years old and Willi Unsoeld , a mountain guide then 36 years of age were poised for the final push to the summit of Everest by a new route.

It had not been easy for these two men. The 1963 American Everest Expedition led by Norman Dyrenfurth had squarely set its sights on a first American ascent by the South Col route. On May 1st 1963, Jim Whittaker accompanied by Sherpa Nawang Gombu, Tenzing’s nephew, made the first American ascent to become the fifth and six men to stand of the summit after the British in 1953 and Swiss in 1954.

But Horbein and Unsoeld had other ideas. Working doggedly with the meager resources including limited oxygen the duo set up camps on the virgin west ridge route.

On the day of their summit climb, Barry Bishop, a National Geographic photographer, and Lute Jerstad were also attempting the summit by the South Col route. Bishop and Jerstad reached the summit around 4 pm but did not find any evidence of the west ridge team who were still two hours below the top.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Three Passes of Everest Trek

The top of the Rhenjo La pass - one of the three passes crossed on this trek 

For the complete photo essay  please do visit


There are a number of flights every morning from Kathmandu to the mountain airstrip of Lukla, the start of the trek. Tara Airways ( is the airline of choice and runs the maximum number of flights. The fare is presently USD 280 for foreigners and NPRs 16,280 return for SAARC citizens.  In bad weather, Lukla flights get disrupted and the only option then is to take a seat on a helicopter ( back to Kathmandu (USD 450-500 one way).

The best season for the trek is April to Mid May and again from Mid October to early December. Though the passes are crossed later in the season as well, there is always the possibility of heavy snowfall closing down the route. If there is heavy snow during the trek, the passes are best avoided and the route can be done by following the valleys instead. We trekked in late April and were rewarded with a riot of mountain flowers including the rhododendron in the valleys capped by the soaring peaks. Bottled mineral water is available but very expensive, so please carry iodine/chlorine water purification tablets. You need to carry enough water with you at least one litre at a time and this can be refilled at the lodges. Trekking poles are a must as there are three passes to cross with slippery trails and scree.  The tea houses (lodges) will provide beds and quilts but a warm three season plus sleeping bag is essential. The trek crosses 5400 metres so do not underestimate the effects of the altitude or the walk. This is a difficult trek and you need to be fit and properly acclimatized to succeed.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mark Horrell: When Trekking becomes Mountaineering

Footsteps on the Mountain blog

M ark Horrell, climber, writer and photographer has written an excellent post on his blog about trekking and mountaineering and the fine line between the two. Do visit Mark's blog for more articles and photos on the mountains.

Photo by Sujoy Das

Monday, May 6, 2013

MIntokling Guest House: Gangtok

One of the better guest houses in Gangtok and located in a quiet part of the town below the gates of the Palace, Mintokling is run by the brother and sister duo of Pema and Tenzing. The guest house which was started in 1986 has twelve rooms overlooking a lovely garden rich in hydrangeas, rhododendrons and other exotic flowers. The personalised service given by the family ensures a high standard of hospitality and comfort.  Rooms are clean with plenty of hot water and fine views over the valley. To contact the guest house please do visit

The Mintokling Guest House with a view over the valley 

Rhododendron in bloom


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