The world's mountaineering elite and Nepalese royalty yesterday celebrated the 50th anniversary of Everest's conquest -- feting Sir Edmund Hillary and remembering his late Sherpa partner, Tenzing Norgay -- the first men to reach the summit.
Tenzing died 17 years ago, but Hillary constantly reminisced about him through a string of festivities.
They had just 15 minutes on the summit on May 29, 1953. When they climbed down, neither had any desire to return.
"Tenzing used to say: `We have done it. We have done it first. Why should we bother doing it again?'" Hillary, now 83, said.
Since 1953, some 1,300 people have climbed the world's highest peak, either from Nepal or Tibet.
Despite modern conveniences, such as an Internet cafe at base camp and well-equipped guides, it remains a dangerous place. Two people were killed Wednesday when a private helicopter crashed on its slopes.
Yesterday, Teodor Tulpan, who led Romania's first expedition to the summit, said his team was confronted with past horrors when it climbed from the Tibetan face.
"I was feeling very bad because we were seeing the dead bodies of people," he said referring to the frozen corpses of some of the 175 mountaineers who have died on Everest.
Despite these tragedies, Hillary is among those who say the climb he pioneered has lost it challenge nowadays.
He and Jamling Norgay -- the son of Tenzing -- object to commercialized mountaineering, where inexperienced climbers pay Sherpas to get them to the top of the world.
"Anyone with US$65,000 can climb Everest," Jamling said on Nepal TV on Wednesday night, referring to the typical cost of an expedition.
He's also against the craze to break records on the mountain, such as being the youngest or oldest climber. "It's no longer a passion. It's just a sport," lamented Norgay.
Hillary said he and Tenzing carved steps into sheer ice walls where no human had been before. But today's climbers clamber over crevasses and ridges with the way well prepared by Sherpas.
"We didn't have 60 aluminum ladders [and] thousands of meters of fixed rope," he said. "We had to do it ourselves.''
For years, Sherpas have been called the unsung heroes of Himalayan climbing, but recently the mountain people have been breaking Everest records and becoming famous on their own. They got full credit during the festivities.
Appa, 42, who scaled Everest this season for the 13th time, and Lakpa Gyelu, 35, who raced from the 5,300m base camp to the summit in a record 10 hours and 56 minutes came down the mountain just in time for yesterday's events. Swathed in layers of ceremonial silk scarves, they were congratulated by their fellow mountaineers and got more press attention than anyone except Hillary and the Nepal royal family.
"If the Sherpas were not there, Mount Everest may well not have been climbed in 1953," said Captain M.S. Kohli, leader of the 1965 Indian expedition.
Hillary said he had declined a chance to celebrate the golden anniversary in London with Queen Elizabeth II because he wanted to be in Nepal, and have his celebratory dinner with his Sherpa friends.
Elizabeth's 1953 coronation was capped by the Everest feat, carried out by a British expedition which Hillary, a New Zealander, had joined.
Nepal's Crown Prince Paras handed out memorial medals and opened a symposium on mountaineering and the Himalayan environment attended by some 200 Everest summiteers from India, Italy, Germany, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Nepal, Japan and the US.