In 1953, the aim of the Mount Everest Expedition was singularly focused: to place a climber on the summit of the world’s highest mountain. On the 29th of May that year they were successful as Hillary and Tenzing set foot on the virgin summit snows.
Little could the Everest Team have imagined that the notoriety of that remarkable achievement would create a lasting legacy for years to come, one that endures to this day and provides pioneering climbers with the opportunities to climb their own personal Everests.
The funds raised by the 1953 expedition, and in particular by John Hunt’s ‘The Ascent of Everest’ formed the endowment of the Mount Everest Foundation (MEF). Since 1955, the MEF have supported exploratory mountaineering and scientific expeditions to the world’s mountain regions. Every year, expeditions with MEF backing return having achieved first ascents of new peaks, gathered fresh geographic knowledge or carried out novel research.
In the years immediately after the ascent of Everest, MEF funding was instrumental in supporting the first ascent of Kangchenjunga; the world’s third highest mountain. In the decades that followed, the foundation supported more ground-breaking ascents, including the first Winter ascent of Cho Oyu, the first ascents of smaller, more technical peaks like Changabang and the 1975 British Expedition which returned to Everest and succeeded in forging a new route to the summit via the mountain’s South-West face.
In 2022, the MEF supported 27 exploratory expeditions, many of which achieved notable new routes in remote mountain regions.
In May 2022 two MEF-supported climbers, Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller, made the first ascent of a previously untouched 6,563m Nepali peak; Jugal Spire. The pair made their ascent via an unlikely ‘Phantom Line’, at the very edge of what is possible for modern mountaineers, just as Everest was for the team in 1953.
The pair had discovered the peak during lockdown when, their movements limited by the pandemic, they had amused themselves by flying the Himalaya on Google Earth. Despite the peak being relatively close to civilization, there was little information about it online or in mountaineering records. They would have to go and see for themselves if it was climbable.
What they discovered was one of the most striking routes in modern mountaineering history. A thin line of ice and snow travelling diagonally up the mountain’s North face, all the way from valley to summit. At certain angles it disappeared entirely while at others it looked almost possible save for one section where the ice seemed to run out. Undeterred, Paul and Tim set off, determined to find a way through.
After five days of climbing, the pair successfully reached the summit, having by-passed the blank section by climbing a hidden squeeze chimney for which they were forced to remove their backpacks, dangling them behind them on ropes for later retrieval.
Ramsden and Miller’s was not the only story of success in 2022. In June, Mike ‘Twid’ Turner and Mark Thomas announced that they had succeeded in climbing a tough new route on East Face of Kichatna Spire (2,342m). The peak is located in a remote region of Alaska and has seen vanishingly few ascents. The pair’s new route features over 1,200m of climbing and took them 12 days of back-breaking climbing to accomplish.
Meanwhile in Greenland, an expedition of a very different kind added numerous new routes to the granite walls of the country’s western fjords. Propelling themselves by kayak, a team of six climbers comprising Bronwyn Hodgins, Jacob Cook, Jaron Pham, Zack Goldberg-Poch, Kelsey Watts and Angela Vanwiemeersch travelled over 400Km climbing routes of over 900m straight out of their kayaks.
When Everest was climbed in 1953, these 2022 expeditions would not have been thought possible. They would have seemed too technically challenging, too remote or conducted in too radical a style. All of these were once also true of expeditions to the world’s highest mountain and it is a fitting legacy for the 1953 Everest Expedition that its success continues to contribute to the progression of mountaineering today. It is an acorn from which the branches and roots of many hundreds of successful expeditions have spread.
Adam Butterworth, Mount Everest Foundation