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Everest takes revenge on anniversary climb with wind fury

Kathmandu, May 29: Howling winds make it infernally difficult to cling to the foothold on the rock face, let alone climb up. The camp tents are battered by the winds that threaten to blow them off the poles. All that the climbers can do is huddle in the camps or cling to bivouacs and wait for the weather to clear.

That’s how it is for several hundred climbers, reports from the base camp say, who wanted to make it to the top of Mount Everest this morning to commemorate the 50th anniversary day of the first ascent. But the reports aren’t hopeful; it is likely that most of the anniversary climbers may have to put off their final assault on the summit till tomorrow.

If there is disappointment up on the mountain or at the base camp, there are debates and anxieties in Kathmandu where some 500 Everest summiteers from all over the world are celebrating the historic first ascent.

The sounds of discord are ringing louder than the ceremonial music at scintillating receptions and gala dinners that King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras hosted for the Everest heroes. How not to climb the mountain is the great Everest controversy at the time of the anniversary bash.

Leading the charge of the purists is none other than Sir Edmund Hillary. He had a kind of family celebration when he spoke over the satellite phone to his Everester son, Peter, who is at Tengboche monastery at the base of what many consider the most beautiful of the Himalayan peaks, Ama Dablam.

But Hillary is far from a happy man this morning. “I’m not too happy about the future of Everest since people can climb the mountain by paying $50,000. I always thought great moments in scaling Everest were facing challenges, climbing to Lhotse icefall and South Col and struggling against wind and weather,” he says.

Joining him in damning the scramble for the Everest, Reinhold Messner goes one step further. He wants a ceiling on annual expeditions and suggests that the Nepal government insist on more routes to be tried for the summit campaign to avoid overcrowding on the two traditional routes. Another unhappy hero is Chris Bonnington who hasn’t come but who has let his anxieties be known to the summiteers here.

The Indian Everester, M.S. Kohli, wants the annual expeditions from Nepal to be limited to six.

Nepal’s tourism minister, Kuber Prasad Sharma, says the government is considering several proposals to lighten the burden on the Everest. One proposal is to permit an expedition only after the members have tried some other peak in Nepal.

Rubbish, says the other big man of the mountaineering fraternity, Alan Hinkes, who has climbed 12 of the 14 8,000-metre peaks around the world. “Mont Blanc is climbed by thousands of mountaineers every year. It’s unfair to stop others once you’ve made it.”

Known as a rebel in the Western climbing community, he doesn’t spare even the big names. “As for complaints about litter piles on the mountain, 1953 was among the dirtiest of expeditions.”

So, like the high winds on Death Zone, passions too are flying high over the future of the world’s highest peak.

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