Friday, May 29, 2020

Everest | 67th Anniversary of the First Ascent May 29th 1953

Hillary and Tenzing about to leave the South Col to establish Camp IX on the south east ridge - May 28th 1953 - Photo By Alf Gregory / Copyright Royal Geographical Society
Today is sixty seven  years since the first ascent of Everest. And due to the cornavirus global pandemic there will be no ascents of the mountain from the Nepal side in 2020. As I write this post news has just come in that a Chinese team have climbed Everest from the Tibet side. 

On 29th May 1953 at 11.30 am, a Sherpa and a New Zealander became the first men to stand on top of the highest peak on this planet.  However the intervening years has seen a sea change as far as Everest is concerned. The mountain   has now become a playground for guided expeditions, with clients paying between thirty thousand  to  eighty thousand dollars or more to stand on the highest point on earth. The South Col route climbed in 1953 is now disdainfully referred to as the “yak trail”. The dangerous icefall below the Western Cwm is maintained by a team of sherpas right through the season led by a senior “Icefall Doctor.” 

In order to make it possible for the clients to summit Everest, the entire mountain has fixed rope from bottom to top and the first to summit each year is a Sherpa team. 

Kami Rita Sherpa created a new record in 2019 by summiting Everest 24  times - week he has summitted Everest twice in the 2019 season -  the most by any climber breaking his own record of 22 summits. I wonder if anyone will break Kami's record - maybe Kami himself  in 2021. 

 However, this post recounts through photographs,  the 1953 climb, the historic ascent of the first two men to summit Everest and the team of climbers and sherpas who supported them through this endeavour.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Annapurna South Face | 50 Years of the First Ascent May 27th 1970

Don Whillans and Mick Burke at a snowed under Base Camp

The route of the 1970 British Annapurna South Face expedition 
On 27th May 1970 just before the monsoon was going to break Don Whillans and Dougal Haston reached the summit of Annapurna I by the difficult south face route. This climb by a  British expedition led by Sir Chris Bonington   was a landmark one  in the sense that it was the start of big wall climbing in the Himalaya especially on 8000 metre peaks by the difficult routes. For the British, it was possibly the most important climb after the successful ascent of Everest in 1953.

Sadly, on the descent  from the mountain an ice avalanche without any warning  below Camp II killed Ian Clough, one of the climbers.

Interestingly, the year 1970  saw a number of  big wall climbs  in the Himalaya and Karakoram- The Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat was attempted by the Germans, The Japanese on the south west face of Everest, the French on the  west ridge and buttress of Makalu and the British on the south face of Annapurna.

This post shows some historic photographs from the 1970 climb very kindly shared with me by Sir Chris Bonington. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Everest | The West Ridge May 22nd 1963

Tom Horbein
 “But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind.”

Willi Unsoeld
Today is the 57th anniversary of one of the most epic and iconic climbs on Mount Everest - the first ascent of the West Ridge and the first traverse of the mountain. 

As the British newspaper The Guardian mentions "The American pair, Unsoeld and Hornbein, achieved a major climb by what was undoubtedly a very difficult route which no previous party had explored at all. In 1953, the British party stood on the shoulders of the Swiss party of 1952, and the Swiss to some extent on Shipton's reconnaissance of the Khumbu Icefall in 1951. The Americans were on virgin ground for more than 9,000 feet. Second, these two made the first traverse of a great Himalayan peak, ascending on one side and descending another. Third, two American parties reached the summit on one day by different routes. 

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 anesthesiologist 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. 


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