Hillary and the genesis of Mountain Wilderness

sir-edmund-hillaryOn May 29, 1953, the day of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II a simple New Zealand beekeeper became immortal when he reached, accompanied by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay the summit of Sagarmatha,in Nepalese (Chomolungma,Tibetan or, Mount Everest) (8848 m) … An ascent of which he said. “We didn’t know if it was humanly possible to reach the top of Mt. Everest. And even using oxygen as we were, if we did get to the top, we weren’t at all sure whether we wouldn’t drop dead or something of that nature”.

The John Hunt expedition totaled over 400 people, including 362 porters, twenty Sherpas and 8 tons of baggage, and like many such expeditions, was a team effort. Since that time about 4.000 have summited Mount Everest following Hillary steps, dead in 2008 at age 88, and Tensing Norgay, dead in 1986 at 71. 700 mountaineers are expected to top the Everest this year

This achievement marked the beginning of the love story of Ed Hillary with the Himalayan regions and their inhabitants, he strove through many foundations, to improve living conditions (especially in the field of education).

Honorary President of the Mountain Wilderness International association since its inception, he was a defender of a mountain ethics opposed to all consumerist excesses. He was one of the first to emphasize the need to respect the mountain during the conquest of virgin peaks. Its action for the protection of the Himalayan forests, especially in Nepal, has had a significant impact.

Questioned in 2006 about the attitude of climbers passing David Sharp, (an English mountaineer who was left dying nearby the Green Boot cave by 40 climbers heading for the Everest summit who made no attempt to rescue him) he said: “I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die”.

The problems created by Himalayan expeditions are not new to Mountain Wilderness, in particular the pollution at base camps and normal routes to iconic summits, in fact this was one of the catalysts for the creation of our movement, the other being the “regress” of the European mountains due to the pressure coming from ski resorts, international transportation of goods or mass tourism.

It is the acute awareness of these issues that led the greatest mountaineers of the time to meet in 1987 under the auspices of the Italian Academic Alpine Club to create Mountain Wilderness.

Among them were the biggest names in Himalayan mountaineering Reinhold Messner, Kurt Diemberger (recently awarded “Piolet d’Or”), Sir Chris Bonington, Lord John Hunt (who lead the 1953 expedition to Mt. Everest), Wanda Rutkiewicz, Jerzy Kukuczka or Jordi Pons. These people have been or still are “international Representatives” of the association. They were joined by others such as Olivier Paulin, Jeronimo Lopez, Fausto De Stefani, Jean-Christophe Lafaille or Harish Kapadia.  (The list of current MWI guarantors is available here)

Sir Edmund Hillary was their President till he passed away.

One of the first important actions of this team was the organization in 1990 of the “Free K2 expedition”, which resulted in the cleaning of the world’s second highest peak (8611m), up to an altitude of 7000m, and its base camp, of waste and fixed ropes. This was the first cleaning expedition in the Himalayas. It has been since repeated some times by Mountain Wilderness organized expeditions (cleaning the normal route of Annapurna by MW Catalonia) or sponsored (in 1993, cleaning the Broad Peak base camp) or more recently the French, Falchen Kangri and Daulaghiri (Dhaula-guéri ) expeditions.

Following the success of the K2 cleaning action, thanks to the trust built-up between Mountain Wilderness and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports in Islamabad, MW has been asked by Pakistan to participate in the revision process of the rules governing expeditions with the aim of taking into account the environmental dimension. In addition Mountain Wilderness organized, first in India (and then in Pakistan) in response to the Indian Mountaineering Association – several environmental mountaineering courses for the liaison officers. The goal was to wake them up to an “ecological awareness” for supervising expeditions.

Between 2001 and 2006, mountain Wilderness delivered several environment-friendly mountaineering training course in Pakistan and Afghanistan working with local communities.

In 2003 Mountain Wilderness organized the OXUS for Peace International expedition with the intention to re-open the Afghan Hindu Kush ranges (which used to be a popular destination in the past) to adventure tourism of all kinds as an evidence of a peaceful return to a normal life of the region. Consequently offering to the extremely poor population of the valleys a source of income and social and economic improvement possibilities. Fausto Di Stefani and several co-climbers reached the top of Mount Noshaq (7492 m), the highest peak of Afghanistan, which had remained unclimbed for 25 years.

The involvement of Mountain Wilderness in the Himalayas is far from over: The Asian desk of Mountain Wilderness International led by Carlo Alberto Pinelli is currently planning for the 2013 summer another “Training the Trainers” session in Northern Pakistan.

Bernard Marclay 05/30/2013