The first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 was an inspiring story of human courage, great leadership, teamwork and motivation. Importantly, it was also an example of a famous event leaving a lasting legacy for future generations. Following that successful ascent, the Mount Everest Foundation was formed, initially financed from surplus funds and royalties, ‘to encourage and support ‘exploration of the mountain regions of the earth’. 60 years later the charity is still going strong, handing out thousands of pounds to pioneering climbers and scientists each year.
For over 25 years I have lead and been part of teams to some of the most remote peaks on earth, trying routes that has never been climbed before or entering an area where maps are virtually non-existent or information extremely limited. The MEF has been unwavering in its support.
There are few people each year truly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world’s greater ranges, like Himalayas, Alaska or Patagonia. Most people are happier to climb established routes, following in the footsteps of others. On a first ascent there is less chance of success. It is risky, committing and means time away from family and work, so there is the financial cost too. Most people I meet ask, “How the hell do you afford it?”
Interestingly, the purest way to climb is in ‘alpine-style’; in small agile teams, without bottled oxygen, sherpas, fixed ropes and the like. This helps reduce the cost as the equipment used is minimal. There is also less stuff to carry out at the end, so more chance of leaving the environment as you found it. However, the costs are still significant and, without the MEF support and approval, many of our expeditions just would not have happened. My mountaineering friends across Europe are very envious.
I still remember having to attend an MEF interview at the Royal Geographical Society in London, and being daunted by older experienced climbers, including members of the Everest first ascent team, quizzing us on our objective and how we intended to approach the peak and descend. It was a good lesson on how to approach a successful expedition.
In return for their backing, the MEF asks expeditions to abide by guidelines, ensuring minimal impact on landscape and culture, and requests the team to write a report, detailing all the useful information that might help the next wave of explorers.
Earlier this summer at the Pen Y Gwryd hotel in Snowdonia, an event was held to mark the 60th anniversary of Everest and 50th anniversary of Kanchenjunga. The hotel was used by the 1953 team to practice and strengthen teamwork ties so was the perfect venue.
Inside, above the bar, tankards hang, one for each expedition member. The last surviving member, writer and journalist Jan Morris, attended the event. Many of the families wondered how long the memories of this fantastic achievement would endure. Personally, I think the MEF’s continuing support for ambitious, pioneering mountain explorers is the perfect way to keep the spirit alive. It is an organization in great shape.