May 29, 2003 – 50th Anniversary Celebration of First Ascent of Everest
Tangboche Monastery

May 29th, 2003 was a day to celebrate. By 8:00 am the Rinpoche and other lamas had gathered outside. Sherpas preparing to danceSherpa’s from the villages of the Khumbu had gathered in traditional clothing. The party began and each moment was colorful, succinct and well timed. The Rinpoche read from a prepared statement. Dances and songs were performed by members of each of the Sherpa Villages of Khumbu. Then the monks danced in their costumes and masks. At the hour of 11:30 approached Peter Hillary began to address the crowd and at precisely 11:30 AM he was able to announce, “50 years ago, at this exact moment my father and Tenzing Norgay were stepping together onto the summit of Everest.”

I hope these pictures will show some of the pageantry, gaiety, respect for Chomolonga and acceptance and understanding of different cultures that defined this day.

Rinpoche awaits start of celebrationAs Peter said, a beekeeper from New Zealand and a yak herder from Eastern Tibet by way of Thame in the Khumbu became the first men to stand on Everest and this could perhaps not be more appropriate for the world to acknowledge at this time, after the year 2000, when Everest is very much an icon and symbol of accomplishment for the entire world.

As we celebrated at Tangboche on the 29th, the Khumbu Valley was full of climbers from every part of the world who were descending after their attempts to climb Everest.

Beginning at 3:00 PM, in a giant tent erected for the occasion we gather to listen to Peter make satellite phone calls to his father in Kathmandu, to Sydney Australia and to London.

Sherpas in attendanceWhile we waited for the right times to attempt to get sat phone connections and have the conversations amplified on the loud speakers in the tents, stories were told and the rich legacy of the Himalayan Trust and the half century of giving back to the Sherpa People that Sir Edmund Hillary has been dedicated to and continues to this day was acknowledged. The 250 plus participants inside our massive tent and contributed generously to the Himalayan Trust in order to be there. Lloyd and Peter were among this group, and were part of only a small handful of Americans in the room filled with Australians, New Zealanders, Brits and Europeans.

Lloyd and Peter had great seatsMy favorite of the phone calls made were when Peter spoke to George Lowe, veteran of the 53 British Climb and Godfather to Peter. The connection was clear and when Peter told George about the wooden beam from 1953 which he had found in the Icefall a few days before, pocked still with crampon holes from when it was used to cross some long closed crevasse in the Icefall, Lowe remarked about the first time the Icefall had been entered, by the British in 1951 on Shipton Reconnaissance Expedition.

After the phone calls and a wonderful dinner, a few of us gave brief talks. Lincoln Hall, from the first Australian Everest Climb in 1984 spoke. Then Sorrel Wilby, the Australian adventurer, author and television personality told some of her wild, entertaining and humorous tales. I spoke briefly about the GPS Survey expeditions and the recent commercial era on Everest. Then the final, and by all accounts, best speech of the evening was given by Ang Temba's proud dayAng Temba, who spoke in simple, but clear and effective English about the need for his people to continue to improve their lives with development and education. He told us convincingly that the romantic, appealing Sherpa life we all love as foreigners is still just one step away from unhealthy and desperate poverty. There was no more fitting commentator to end the evening’s talks at this gathering of people dedicated to honoring Hillary and his work to bring improvements to the lives of Sherpas.

Then the Sherpa dancing party began. I went to bed as I usually do at this point, but Pete and Lloyd stayed around to enjoy the late evening festivities. Even the media, which was well represented at Tangboche this day, were not allowed into the tent without contributing to the Trust. Monks dancing at Everest celebrationAlthough, as the evening wore on, Peter and Lloyd were amused to briefly befriend a fellow who had been gained entry to events by wearing a forged Press Pass and carrying a phony plastic “satellite phone”. In this sacred spot beneath the greatest mountains of the Himalaya, trekkers, sherpas, climbers, and no doubt a few wanderers and rogues partied down, and the invitation and with the blessing of a reincarnate lama who has meditated here since in 1930’s. This was a rare day none of us will forget. We will see nothing like it again.

Be sure to check Wally's next dispatch for more great BAI exclusive photos of this historic celebration.

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