This year we marked Sir Ed’s birth centenary with a reception on his Sagarmatha Summit Day, 29 May, on a humid evening in the warm yellow glow of the British Ambassador’s historic Kathmandu residence. The terrace was covered by a white sail to protect against the threatening monsoon rain, sparkling glasses clinked, and uniformed waiters circulated with promising plates of dainty eats.
Amongst the guests dressed in their best who thronged the graceful rooms was Helen Clark, the new patron of the Himalayan Trust who, as New Zealand’s prime minister, had presided over Sir Ed’s State Funeral in 2008. Climbers recently returned from mountain summits jostled with expedition leaders, Everest guides, and a crowd of Nepalis, Sherpas, Kiwis and assorted others with an affinity to Sir Ed’s work and memory.
British Ambassador Richard Morris sported a scrappy beard and adrenalin-fuelled vigour having raced the Everest Marathon that morning, choppering back just in time to host the celebration.
I made a beeline for Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja, the stocky ex-Gurkha Special Forces soldier just back from climbing six 8,000m peaks within 31 days, including Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in 48 hours, as part of his extreme mountaineering feat to summit all 14 Himalayan 8,000m peaks within a single seven-month season. Last week, he climbed another, Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.
Nims had taken that summit queue photo that so shocked the world and prompted such moralising criticism, not as any sort of ethical judgement but, he grinned: “Just to prove why I could not break my own speed record for bagging Everest and Lhotse. I got slowed down by all those people and ended up directing traffic on the Hillary Step.”
One hundred years on, Sir Ed might not have liked the orderly line queuing along Everest’s narrow summit ridge on their way to his virgin spot on top of the world, but he surely would have admired the athletic ability and dedicated ambition of the amazing Nims and his Project Possible. I know I do.
Lisa Choegyal is the New Zealand Honorary Consul General in Nepal, and has been writing this fortnightly column ‘So Far So Good’ in Nepali Times since 2016.