The Mountain Heritage Trust and the 50th anniversary of Everest in 2003

Early in April 2003 a telephone call from fellow trustee John Porter confirmed that the MHT had been granted £225,000 by the North West Development Agency towards the cost of building the Mount Everest 50th anniversary exhibition, to be held at the National Mountaineering Exhibition at the Rheged centre in Penrith.

Titled ‘Everest, the top of the world’ this exhibition had also attracted a further grant of £25,000 from Cumbria County Council.  The deadline was challenging, as the preliminary opening was scheduled for 24th May.  Sir Chris Bonington, the immediate past chairman of MHT, agreed to do the honours, with the formal opening set to take place on 10th June by H.R.H. the Duke of York.

Both deadlines were achieved by a team of trustees including Sir Chris Bonington, John Porter, Tut Braithwaite, Roger Chorley, Audrey Salkeld, George Band, along with staff of the BMC and our landlords Westmorland Services.  A large scaled model of Everest was acquired.  I was commissioned to assist David Boyd in the design.  At the opening in June, after Prince Andrew’s formal opening, George Lowe told Hillary’s famous “we knocked the bastard off” story. Mike Westmacott then described the heroic efforts to keep the icefall open and George Band described the inspired leadership of John Hunt.  The public response was most encouraging, with over 50,000 visitors to the exhibition that year.  This was to be the first anniversary exhibition organised by the MHT.  In later years the Trust organised many more, including those to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ascent of Kangchenjunga, and the centenary of the Fell and Rock Club.

The Everest 50th celebrations had begun appropriately at The Alpine Club where 150 members and guests assembled for an informal reception.  Peter Mallalieu created an exhibition of Everest art including works by Howard Somervell.  The president, Alan Blackshaw introduced us to two relatives of Tenzing Norgay who were made honorary members of The A.C., and to Henry Bradford Washburn, renowned American mountaineer, then 93.  The American climber Nick Clinch rounded the evening off with the theme ‘the brotherhood of mountains’.

The Royal Geographical Society had invited MHT to the Everest anniversary celebration to be held at the Odeon, Leicester Square in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.  On the stage an Everest Base Camp had been created with original tents and falling snow, all accompanied by a Hammond organ playing ‘The Sound of Music’ which raised many a smile.  Sir David Attenborough began the presentation, with Sir Chris Bonington then telling the 1920s and 1930s story of Everest, followed by Stephen Venables who covered 1953 to 1975, and Doug Scott the ‘hard years’, including his own personal story.  Doug eventually became an active trustee and later patron of MHT.

Jan Morris introduced the 1953 Everest party which included Mike Westmacott, Charles Wylie, George Lowe, George Band, Michael Ward and Tom Stobart, who all told their own stories and then, via a video link to Kathmandu, Ed Hillary was introduced.  Jan told of the coded messages and high speed runners that preserved the secret of the conquest and brought news to Coronation London.  Thereafter, we were all whisked away to Spencer House, an elegant 18th century mansion, leased and maintained by the Rothschild family and used by Her Majesty the Queen for personal receptions.  It was a warm summer evening and the champagne was flowing freely as we forgathered on the terrace to be welcomed by the Royal couple.  Her Majesty in a pretty summer dress with the sweetest of smiles moved along the party, pausing for a brief conversation with us before moving on.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard work and commitment given to MHT by a generation of trustees, who throughout these exciting projects were notable for sound and thorough planning and will, I am sure, continue to provide this.  Here’s to the next 20 years.

John Innerdale  

Patron, Mountain Heritage Trust

May 2023

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