| Mount Everest. Telegraph picture
Darjeeling, May 23: A decade after the Everest was conquered, strapping young Jim Whittaker and Nawang Gombu scaled the the peak in pursuit of a dream made possible by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary.
Forty years later, about 20 days ago, Whittaker, now 74 and the first American to summit the peak, and friend Gombu, 70 years old and the first person in the world to scale the peak twice (1963 and 1965) came together for another mission.
“This time, it was not for another record. Just old times’ sake and to pay silent tribute to the intrepid duo who gave new meaning to the ultimate adventure,” a nostalgic Whittaker, who left for the US today, said.
Their “mission” ended where their historic 1963 mission began. At Everest base camp (17,600 feet), which they reached after six days of trekking, on May 9. “For old people like us, the trek is as difficult as climbing the mountain was once,” was how he put it.
Whittaker’s wife Diane and sons Jos, 18, and Leif, 20, were with him. Gombu, a first cousin of Tenzing Norgay, was with his grandson Nikhil, 16, and Brenda, 15. Together, they trekked to the base camp to see the towering wall of rock and ice on whose pinnacle they had once stood.
Their short journey down memory lane began with pleasant memories. But reality overtook them along the way.
“When I came here the first time, there was only one tombstone there (base camp). This time I saw more than 200 tombstones,” Whittaker said.
“The barren windswept place and the peak have turned into a huge junk yard,” he added, sounding sad and angry. “Commercialisation should stop and mountaineers should wake up to the task of cleaning up the peak seriously.”
On average, 35 groups try to scale the peak during the “window period” (when the weather is best for climbing).
Gombu would leave for London on May 27 to attend a special function on 29th, where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be present.