Because it’s there

  • Sixty years since its first ascent, Everest remains a powerful national symbol for Nepal and a global symbol for climate change

MAY 29 -

The 1953 British Mount Everest Expedition was a landmark event in the history of UK-Nepal relations. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Sagarmatha. As we all know, the first men on the summit were Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay from Nepal.

The expedition demonstrated to the world what could be achieved when countries and people work together. That success is as relevant today as it has ever been—after all, only through cooperation can we address any of the key global challenges, be it building prosperity or addressing climate change. Today,

I want to take the opportunity to celebrate the success 60 years ago but also look to the future and set out why Everest remains relevant today.

For me, the ascent of Everest sums up many of the things that continue to make Britain great. The team used gear made specially for the trip, much of it sourced from the UK. Unlike today, there was nothing available off-the-shelf that could cope with the demands of scaling the world’s highest peak and braving the piercing Himalayan winds. The expedition’s success or failure depended on over 150 (mainly British) government departments, research bodies, designers and manufacturers. It was innovation in advanced materials, clothing, wireless and other technologies that gave the 1953 expedition a winning advantage. Then, as now, British companies and design were at the cutting edge of innovation.

But it was not just ‘know-how’ but also ‘can-do’ that made the ascent possible.  People, skill, experience and teamwork lay behind the first ascent, just as they lie behind every successful ascent today. Climbing Everest is an incredible physical and mental challenge. And the men and women who have shown that they have the skill, endurance and tenacity to keep on doing it again and again, guiding others and often saving lives, are the Sherpas. No article on Sagarmatha would be complete without saluting their incredible contribution to mountaineering—indeed, they symbolise many of the things that continue to make Nepal great.

In fact, Everest is a symbol itself, and a powerful one. People are drawn to it and inspired by it. We need to harness these emotions for the greater good, of both Nepal and the planet. With Everest, Nepal has a flagship product and a ready-made global brand. And by learning the lessons of how to sustainably manage high altitude mountaineering, Nepal can build a successful and profitable mountain tourism industry. Ensuring that local communities benefit from this, and encouraging more visitors from abroad, is a challenge and one we want to help you with, and in fact, are helping with. Nepal should now open its doors further to investment in its tourism sector, facilitate code-sharing and other ways to boost the number of airlines promoting flights to Nepal, and more widely encourage outside expertise to come in and complement and build on the local talent and investment being made.

Everest is also a global symbol for climate change. The Himalayas are a fragile environment, and its people are some of the most vulnerable to climate change.  As we move towards a new global deal, Everest can and should continue to play a role in reminding us what the consequences of uncontrolled climate change might be. The lead negotiator who prepares the ground for a political summit is often known as a ‘Sherpa’, so in a way, Everest itself can and should be a Sherpa to these climate negotiations. That would indeed be a fitting way to use the profile and fame of the world’s tallest mountain to deliver a lasting legacy for the planet. And I am sure it is a goal that those who first reached its summit 60 years ago would have agreed with.

Sparkes is the UK’s ambassador to Nepal

Posted on: 2013-05-29 08:38