Commentary: 70 years after the first ascent of Everest, the impact of mass mountaineering must be confronted
HAIKOU, Hainan: Mountains – their height, their mass, their climates and ecosystems – have fascinated humans for thousands of years. But there is one that holds extra special meaning for many – Mount Everest, or Chomolungma as the Nepalese Sherpa people call it.
A sacred mountain for some, for others the world’s highest peak represents a challenge and a lifelong dream. Seventy years ago, on May 29, 1953, that challenge and dream became reality for two members of a British expedition: New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the 8,848.86m summit.
Their achievement was a testament to endurance and determination. It was also the crowning glory of the British expedition’s nationalistic motivations on the eve of the young Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.
From our vantage in the present, it also represents a high point, not just in climbing terms, but in what we now think of as the modern era of mountaineering. Since then, mountaineering has become massively popular and commercial – with serious implications for the cultures and environments that sustain it.
SCALING THE HEIGHTS
The early mountaineering era began in 1786 when Jaques Balmat and Michel Paccard reached the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the European Alps at 4,808m. From 1854 to 1899 (known as the classic mountaineering period), advances in climbing technology saw ascending peaks by challenging routes become possible and popular.
During the modern era from 1900 to 1963, mountaineers pushed further into the Andes Cordillera in South America, explored polar mountains and began high-altitude climbing in Central Asia.