National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition Reaches Summit

National Geographic News
May 25, 2002
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The National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition commemorates the first ascent of the world's highest mountain, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in May 1953. It also honors the first Americans to stand on the top of the world, including Barry Bishop, in 1963.

The sons of Everest pioneers Hillary, Norgay, and Bishop—Peter Hillary, Jamling Norgay, and Brent Bishop—are helping make a documentary that will air on the National Geographic Channel in the United States and internationally in 2003.

The National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition is made possible in part by the generous support of American International Group, Inc.

The National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition reached the summit shortly after 10 Saturday morning (Nepal time). "We made it," Peter Hillary, son of Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary, said in a satellite phone call to his wife, Yvonne Oomen.

"All I want to do is go home now," Hillary said in a separate call to his father.

Oomen said the climbers who had made it to the top of the mountain with her husband were expedition leader Pete Athans, Brent Bishop, Nima Tashi Sherpa (the Sherpa climbing leader), Dawa Nuru Sherpa (on his first Everest climb), Da Sonan Sherpa, A Rita Sherpa, and Kami Sherpa.

The climbers spent about 40 minutes on the summit. There were no winds but the clouds were coming up.

Oomen said she and Sir Edmund had waited anxiously for the calls from the summit. "Peter phoned about an hour before the last part of the climb and said his feet were very cold. I didn't know whether he would be worried about frostbite, turn around, and go back down before reaching the summit," Oomen said. "But by the time he got to the top of the mountain, his feet had warmed up."

Sir Edmund said Peter "sounded very good. He struggled a bit up the Hillary Step (a difficult stretch of the climb named after Sir Edmund). When he told me he wanted to go home, I said I thought it was a very good idea."

The expedition set out to climb Everest a month ago. It faced illness, crowds, and high winds that delayed its climb.

The team had originally planned to ascend in two groups, one following Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's original route along the South Col, and the other climbing the West Ridge in Barry Bishop's footsteps.

During the brief window in May when weather conditions are favorable for climbing, around 80 other climbers wanted to make the ascent.The National Geographic team decided to delay its ascent, as climbing on a crowded mountain can be dangerous. On Monday, the team reached as high as the South Col before turning back because of high winds.

Saturday was the team's last chance to make the climb, as winds were expected to pick up over the weekend and make climbing impossible. It was decided to consolidate the team into one climbing group on the less windy South Col route.

The entire film crew sent to document the climb for the National Geographic Channel was forced to abandon the ascent. Sound recordist Dave Ruddick lost a tooth and returned to base camp with an infected jaw and sinus. Cameraman Michael Graber and assistant Jimmy Surrette are still weak from an earlier climbing attempt and a gastrointestinal infection.

Athans and Kami Sherpa took charge of the filming, with Liesl Clark (head of the National Geographic film unit on the mountain) helping them from Camp III.

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