Mount Everest and Wales: a brief history

Senior web producer, BBC Wales

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Today marks the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. On 29 May 1953 the New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay successfully conquered the summit of Earth's highest mountain.

The first Welsh man to conquer Everest was Caradog 'Crag' Jones, who reached the summit on 23 May 1995. At 33 he was the same age as Hillary when the peak was first reached.

Almost 12 years to the day later, on 24 May 2007 Tori James became the first Welsh woman to reach the top of Everest. At 25 she also became the youngest British woman to achieve the feat.

Mount Everest

On the BBC News site Rhodri Owen has written about journalist Jan Morris' recollections of being embedded with the pioneering 1953 expedition, and how she broke the story through a coded message sent back to London.

Morris's famous dispatch read: "Snow conditions bad stop advance base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement All well!"

"That's what it actually said but it isn't what it meant," she explains. "It meant that Ed Hillary and Tenzing had got to the top of Everest and we were all well."

Morris was a correspondent for The Times newspaper, and later became a prolific historian and travel writer. Although born in Somerset, she has lived in north Wales for many years and considers herself Welsh.

What's in a name?

Everest's links to Wales go back even further than the days of Hillary and Tenzing. The mountain itself was named after Colonel Sir George Everest, who was born in Crickhowell, Powys in 1790. Sir George was a surveyor and geographer who worked as the surveyor general of India between 1830 and 1843.

In 1802 the Great Trigonometric Survey of India was established to identify the world's highest mountains. Over many years British surveyors used giant theodolites to measure the heights, and in 1852 analysis of the raw data led to "Peak XV" being officially verified as the world's highest peak.

Although the surveyors attempted to preserve local terms wherever possible, there was no unified name for Peak XV. In November 1847, Andrew Waugh, the then surveyor general of India, proposed that the mountain be named after his predecessor, Sir George Everest.

Although Sir George opposed the suggestion, in 1865 the Royal Geographical Society officially adopted Mount Everest as the name of the world's highest point. The modern pronunciation, however, is different from Sir George's preferred "eave-rist".

Tragedy and triumph

In the decades following its discovery, plans were formed to conquer the highest peak on Earth. The 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition was organised by the Mount Everest Committee, and contained George Mallory.

Following several months of exploration at the base, on 23 September 1921 Mallory became the first westerner to set foot on the mountain.

Although Mallory's party lacked the preparation to ascend to the top, they climbed the North Col to an altitude of 7,005 metres and identified a possible route to the summit.

During the expedition Mallory discovered a gently rising glacial valley on the south (Nepalese) side of Everest, which he named the Western Cwm. Everest's climbers make their way through the Western Cwm before climbing the face of the neighbouring mountain Lhotse, before continuing their ascent up Everest's South Col route.

The Western Cwm is also known as the Valley of Silence as the topography cuts off wind from the surrounding area. The snow-covered slopes reflect and amplify solar radiation, and temperatures can reached up to 35°C, making that stage in the journey particularly arduous.

Western Cwm below Mount Everest (left) and Lhotse (right). Photo: Moving Mountains Trust

Mallory's decision to give the Western Cwm a Welsh name might seem peculiar, but he is known to have trained in Wales, with many of his early rock climbs having taken place on Y Lliwedd, a peak connected to Snowdon which features a range of steep cliffs.

A contemporary of Mallory, Andrew Irvine, also trained in Wales, and is known to have scaled the Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa in Snowdonia. The pair met their fates near the peak of Everest on 8 June 1924, in a doomed attempt to conquer the summit.

Y Lliwedd was also the location of extensive training activity for the successful 1953 British Mount Everest expedition, in which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to successfully scale the summit.

Prior to the expedition, its members used the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, at the foot of Snowdon at Nant Gwynant, as a training base, and returned there for decades afterwards to celebrate anniversaries of the climb.

In 1963 the expedition leader Sir John Hunt, Tenzing Norgay and other members of the 1953 team returned to Snowdonia, and were filmed by the BBC's Outside Broadcast Unit (Wales) for the programme Everest Plus Ten. Here are some BBC archive images from the shoot:

Sir John Hunt (centre) and Tenzing Norgay (right) in Snowdonia for Everest Plus Ten, 1953

Filming the Everest Plus Ten programme in Snowdonia, May 1953

A cameraman from the BBC's Outside Broadcast Unit (Wales) in Snowdonia, May 1953

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