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  American Himalayan Foundations 50th Anniversary Celebration of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa's Ascent of Everest

Back row from the right of who I know of:

Maurice Herzog, first to climb an 8000 meter peak, Annapurna

David Breashears, of EVEREST IMAX fame

Sir Edmund Hillary

  in front of Hillary is-

Junko Tabei, First woman a-top Everest

Jim Whitaker, first American a-top Everest

Front row on left is myself (Paul H Morrow)

click on the picture

REVIEW – American Himalayan Foundations 50th Anniversary Celebration of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa's Ascent of Everest, 10 June 2003, The Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, USA

Greetings! I just wanted to share with you what happened at a dinner I was invited to in San Francisco this week to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the successful ascent of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on May 29th, 1953.

((I was privileged to first meet Sir Edmund Hillary back in 1993 when I was in Nepal for my first attempt on Everest, and found time all alone with him in the Khumbu region of Nepal while he was visiting the Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar.  He is one tall guy with a very deep voice.))

For these past formal occasions in San Francisco I have usually not lived in the USA, but in places like Moscow/Russia, Madras/India, Bucharest/Romania, along with Alice Springs/Australia, and thus have not been able to attend.  Fortunately this time I was even visiting nearby in Los Angeles and could easily hop up to San Fran by plane for the night.

I should have known things were going to be formal by the grand hotel the reception and dinner was in, but the TV camera’s in front of the hotel gave the location away.  (They local TV stations filmed people entering the hotel, along with the reception and dinner.)  So it was good I had on my best suit!

The reception itself was by invitation, which meant along with my fellow Everest summiteers the room was reserved for the very high “rollers” (donators) to the excellent cause of the Sherpa people and their schools and hospitals in Nepal.  (Nepal being one of the poorest nations in the world.)  The drinks were free (a good sign!), and we all received Kata scarves (ceremonial Buddhist scarves) around our necks upon entering, along with a royal orchid garland, which were only for Everest summiteers.  (I learned about the garlands when some people I was drinking with asked me about them, and I then asked the nearby cute Tibetan dressed women why she had put the garland around my neck and not others.)  My fellow summiteers and I signed the special May issue of the “National Geographic” (special Everest edition) for some people, along with things like ice axes that people had brought into the reception.  We also had special name-tags on so that those around us could see who we were and what year we had been a-top Everest.  I was able to meet a few climbing friends that I had not seen for years, along with answering the questions from those around me about climbing.  (I have also summitted the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, and people always ask me about them.)

Then it was time for the 1100 person formal dinner (over 300 plus on the waiting list), with people generally paying $1000 per plate for the privilege of having an Everest summiteer at their table.  (It seemed that at most tables a corporation had bought the table for ten, or at least that is what I heard as I mingled.  Yes, yours truly even mingled a bit during dinner, which is highly unusual!!)  It was an excellent dinner of salmon, and while dining an auction for the American Himalayan Foundation took place.  Items like a drawing from Hillary ($12,000), an oxygen bottle signed by a number of climbers ($1,500), a signed picture of Everest ($12,500), along with a special signed ice axe of Everest summiteers ($28,500), were all auctioned off in good order.

We were fortunate to have Maurice Herzog (French, first a-top Annapurna in 1950, where he lost his fingers) for the first speech of the evening, and he gave a very interesting talk about climbing in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  He also had a good sense of humor.  Next up was Junko Tabei (Japanese, and first women a-top Everest, 1975), and she gave a very nice talk about mountaineering from a woman’s perspective, along with her hope to get the women together for a celebration in 2005 for the 30th anniversary of her climb. (I met her in 1996 on Cho Oyu, and she corrected me after dinner when I mentioned it being in 1995!)  Then there was Kurt Diemberger (Austrian, famous climber and photographer), and he chatted for a while about the overuse of the mountains, and the need for climbers to attempt small mountains first while working up to the 8000 meter (26,000 foot) mountains.  Following him David Breashears (Everest veteran and filmer of the Everest IMAX movie) spoke briefly about the meaning of the Sherpa people and culture.  (I had met Dave while he was filming in Tibet, while on my way to Shishapangma, and worked on the DC power supply of the lens for him.)  Then Jon Krakauer (who wrote “Into Thin Air” about the 1996 Everest tragedies), introduced Jim Whitaker, Tom Hornbein, along with Nawang Gombu, who were part of the first successful American ascent on Everest back in 1963.  (The place was just full of climbing celebrities, to include 67 Everest summiteers.)

Lastly, Sir Edmund Hillary spoke for about thirty minutes about his young and lonely life in New Zealand, and his basic upbringing there.  Most would probably think he would talk all about climbing, but his main topic was his younger life, along with all the things the Sherpa’s have done for him, and what he has done with the school construction in Nepal, along with small hospitals, to help in paying them back for their friendship and kindness to him. (His first wife and one daughter were killed years & years ago by a small plane crash in Nepal, and his son almost died in Nepal while on Ama Dablam.)

I could go on and on, but it was a lovely dinner and well worth my actually getting out and about for a dinner!! 

Cheers, Paul 

--- Paul H Morrow (Everest, May 13, 1994, along with the Seven Summits, completed in June 1997)

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