The sport of mountaineering and attitudes toward the world’s highest mountain have changed dramatically since the first Americans reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1963. In this insightful video by National Geographic, interviews with Everest icons—as well as a new generation of climbers—shed light on how perspectives have evolved.
“Most of the people that are guided up Everest now clip in with a jumar and go to the top,” said Dave Dingman, a member of the 1963 Everest expedition. “I don’t think they’re mountaineers. It’s the ultimate expression of an endurance sport now, and that is different than the mountaineering culture was at our time.” In those early years, Everest represented the ultimate adventure and a true test of abilities, rather than something to tick off one's bucket list.
Famous faces in the film include Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit the world’s highest peak; Tom Hornbein, who made the first ascent of Everest’s West Ridge with Willi Unsoeld; and Norbu Tenzing Norgay, vice president of the American Himalayan Foundation and son of the famous Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. These experts talk about what Everest meant to them in their early days of exploration, Sherpa culture and the enduring potential for true adventure on the mountain—something the vast majority of people never pursue.
Meanwhile, younger climbers share their belief that Everest can now stand for something equally as powerful as the superhuman quest it represented before.
“It is no longer exploration,” said Cory Richards, a national geographic photographer and climber, “The symbol it has the potential to be now is how to be a good steward and a good human being.”
But for this to be possible, we must be careful how we move forward, said Everest climber and guide Melissa Arnot.
“It’s a great opportunity to pause and look at how we’re interacting with this special and sacred place,” she said, “and [to] ask ourselves in our most honest moment—with a lack of ego and lack of achievement—is this the place that we want it to be in another 50 years?”