Hillary, Pandey, Sean and me…

Now this sort of rhymes like in the movie Me, Myself  and Irene, right? Well, there is something common in all the above names. The first three were mountaineers. Two, the first and the third climbed Everest. The second named taught me the rudiments of mountaineering and the fourth, i.e. me…met and talked to the second and the third. Having got all that mystery out of the way, let me tell you some more…

Hillary was the person who ignited the mountaineering fervor in me. When we were learning the story of Col Hunt and the mission to Mt Everest in school, I would picture the tall mountain and the still silhouettes of the formidable North face in my mind. I would think, the thin, gangly and short guy that I was then, how nice it would be, if I could climb that mountain…

Mr Pandey, our Hindi teacher was also an avid mountaineer. He used to take us all out trekking to nearby hills and sometimes for ‘chimney rock climbing’ on the hills neighboring Neyyar Dam near Trivandrum. Chimney rocks are clambered using mainly your back and feet, and you gradually lift yourself up the chimney that way. He ensured that the school sent a representation every year to the HMI – the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute’s annual camp at Darjeeling. It was an honor to be selected and that particular year, after rigorous trials, I managed to get selected. But sadly there were heavy avalanches in the Himalayas that year and the camp got cancelled. Soon we passed out of school and that was the end to my mountaineering aspirations.

Mount Everest is named for a 19-century British surveyor, Sir George Everest. Fifty five years ago, two men literally stood on top of the world. Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, and Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide, did the seemingly impossible by becoming the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest. At its currently accepted height of 29,035 feet, the peak is the highest spot on Earth. Many died trying to conquer Everest's steep faces, high winds, frigid temperatures, and thin air before Hillary and Norgay succeeded on May 29, 1953.

Sometimes we saw a bit of the Everest in some newsreel or documentary on TV. Later I saw a movie ‘Vertical limit’ supposedly set in the Himalayas, but shot in Utah & New Zealand. Now & then I read about Hillary, Tensing and other climbers, I also saw trivia like the internet café and the highest bakery around Everest…

Then I met Sean in 2004, he was the motivational speaker in one of our conferences. Wow! Was he good! I met him later and had a brief chat about his climb up the summit…It was surely a great occasion. Normally I do not collect autographs, but I still treasure a post card Sean gave me with his message. 

Sean Swarner is actually the first (and only) cancer survivor to summit the world's highest mountain, Mt Everest. When he was only 13, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and given three months to live. At the age of 15 he was diagnosed with Askin's Sarcoma. The prognosis was much worse as the doctors gave him only two weeks to live. Again, he survived. On May 16th, 2002 at 9:32am, he became the first cancer survivor to summit Mt. Everest. Sean then went on to reach the summits of three more of the world's seven highest peaks and has spoken internationally about his life and adventures to countless people and organizations. He generated finances for the climb with revenues from motivational speeches!!

The unassuming New Zealand beekeeper, Edmund Hillary, who conquered Mount Everest to win renown as one of the 20th century's greatest adventurers died on Jan 11th, 2008. He was humble to the point that he did not admit to being the first man atop Everest until long after the 1986 death of his climbing companion Tenzing Norgay. His philosophy of life was simple: "Adventuring can be for the ordinary person with ordinary qualities, such as I regard myself," he said. Unlike many climbers, Hillary said he had no desire to have his remains left on a mountain. He wanted his ashes scattered on Waitemata Harbour in the northern New Zealand city of Auckland, where he lived his life. The ‘Burra Sahib’ added, "To be washed gently ashore, maybe on the many pleasant beaches near the place I was born. Then the full circle of my life will be complete," he said.

We have another Hilary still around and believe it or not; she has a connection with Sir Edmund Hillary. It has been reported that Hilary Clinton got her name from the famous climber, whom her mother Dorothy Rodham had read about and admired. However Hilary’s name has only one L. The two Hilary’s met in 1995, at Kathmandu, when Hilary was the first lady. So much for what Hilary told the press, but did Dorothy really have Hillary in mind when she named Hilary? This article provides you some interesting answers, check it out.

As far as I know, only one Malayali has scaled Everest. He is Havildar Suresh Kumar of the Indo Tibetan Border Police, haling from Kayamkulam. He did it twice, in 1992 and 1996. His story is tragic; just compare his feat with the cricketer Ishant Sharma who gets a million dollars after playing 10 matches, this man is still running from pillar to post for his paltry reward of Rs 5 lakhs!!

The youngest who ever climbed its peak is Temba Tsheri a 15 year old Nepali girl while the oldest was Katsusuke Yanagisawa of Japan at 71 years of age. The fastest climber was Lakba Gelu Sherpa of Nepal who did the feat in 11 hours from base camp. Appa Sherpa reached the summit 11 times.

The Nepali Sherpa’s who accompany climbers are a quiet lot that get little recognition from all this. "Sherpas climb the mountain twice," says Ang Phurba. "They climb the slope first and fix the ropes, they break up the ice to make the trail, they find the camp and set up the tents, and then they go back and bring the climber up. There are some climbers who go up together with the Sherpas, but they are very rare. Only strong climbers do that."

The term Brotherhood of the Rope is popular in mountaineering and climbing circles; it refers to the interdependence inherent amongst members of a climbing team, their reliance upon one another for safety, security, and success.

pics - various web sites, thanks


sajith90 said...

Very good writing about Everest and Hillary. I came here thinking that hillary clinton. But Once I started reading I found this Blog is much greater than clinton. I am intersted to read blogs and comments.
Recently I read comment about george bush ( "He is the perfect example why parents should not tell their children that they can be anything when they grow up")

We have Lot of free Cards at 365greetings.com . Please Feel Free to visit us to send free greetings . Blog owners can cut and past our cards to wish their visitors

Free greetings .


A very interesting and thorough piece. So many interesting details, especially when you consider it is not such a common sport. Thanks, Maddy, for a ready reckoner on Everest trivia.

Indrani said...

Great read Maddy, very interesting linking the FOUR great personalities together. :)

Pradeep Nair said...

Talking about mountaineering and Pandey Sir, remember Henry Whitfield (our old teacher from Britain). He keeps coming to India to climb the Himalayan peaks. Once when I was in school, during one of his visits, we went to Madavoor para, few kilometers from Chandavila... Those bits about Hillary are interesting.

Happy Kitten said...

An interesting read.

I do really hope that the birth of this post rekindled your "mountaineering aspirations" and then maybe, we may have a second mallu to scale the Everest?

Somehow after reading this post I feel that you still yearn to scale those mountains....

harimohan said...

dear maddy ,
once again mountains my love ,
i read a book on filming everest summiting in imax carrying a huge camera by a reknowned mountaineeer ,
darjeeling mountaineering institute where u see articles used by these great men too is worth a visit ,
tks for the intresting facts

Maddy said...

thanks sajith & Raji
Indrani - three plus the saadha me..
pradeep - unfortunately mr Whitefield was gone by the time we got there, though i have heard so much about him..yup - i recall teh treks to madavoor para and that palace on the hill - which was it?

HK - so many yearnings - but well these days though with the gym & all, even the staircase can be daunting on some days ..just joking, but mountaineering will always remain only a dream..

hari have you seen pitts - 7 years in tibet? highly recommended