The newspapers reminded us that May 29, is the anniversary of the first summiting of Mount Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of the world at 29,035 feet on this day in 1953. Their success came more than 30 years after the first recorded attempts to reach the top of this formidable mountain.
We are particularly appreciative of this event here on the Peninsula, because we have our own connection to the mountain. Jim Whittaker, an area resident, was the first American to summit on Mount Everest. He made the trip to the top on May 1, 1963. Last week, Jim’s son Leif Whittaker made his second ascent to the top of Everest. Leif was a 2003 graduate of Port Townsend high school and has evidently taken the notion of following in his father’s footsteps quite literally.
Times have changed a lot since Hillary and Norgay climbed to the top of the world. News of their successful climb did not reach the outside world until June 2, 1953, coincidentally, the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. This year bloggers were updating the world on the progress of various expeditions as they attempted to make the climb. While it was not real time, it was close enough for folks to know that the Eddie Bauer expedition team was attempting the ascent even as it happened. Fortunately, it was also able to relieve our concerns as we learned first that the team had summited and later that they had safely made it back to their base camp.
Other news carried stories of climbers not so fortunate and pictures of literally hundreds of people attempting the ascent – reportedly over 200 attempted the summit on one day. The crowds are evidently a problem in delaying the ascent that has to be critically timed. Crews now carry oxygen and some were reported to be delayed by over 2 hours getting started. Not packing sufficient oxygen in anticipation of delay can be a deadly problem. For all the dangers involved, Mount Everest certainly draws a crowd. Although now over 3000 people have made the ascent, it is also clearly still a very dangerous place and made more dangerous by the crowds of people trekking toward the top. Even with modern equipment and modern communications climbing an Everest remains a great human achievement.
Here at homer Smith insurance, your Washington insurance agent, we are delighted at Leif Whittaker’s success and wish he and his family well.