At a rough estimate, some 400 people were in the Main Hall at Oxford Town Hall last night to hear four world-renowned mountaineers recount their personal ‘firsts’ on Everest. The event was the Oxford venue of a series of fund-raisers called “First on Everest” for the charity Community Action Nepal run by Doug Scott which aims to improve the lives and life chances of the Nepalese.
The evening began with a short introduction by Julie Summers from Oxford. Her great-uncle Sandy Irvine who was at Merton College died on the mountain while trying to reach the summit with George Mallory in 1924. First of the main speakers was Tom Hornbein who made the first traverse of Everest with Willi Unsoeld in 1963, reaching the summit by a first ascent of the West Ridge and descending via the South Col.
Next up were Tut Braithwaite and Doug Scott who gave an account of their first ascent of the South-west face as part of Chris Bonington’s 1975 expedition, one of the classic examples of successful ‘siege mountaineering’ expeditions. The final speaker was Peter Habeler who together with Reinhold Messner made the first ascent without oxygen in 1978.
In between speakers Doug Scott gave a short talk about the work of Community Action Nepal which was followed by an auction of mounted photographs signed by various revered names of Himalayan mountaineering, including Edmund Hillary – not to mention the evening’s speakers. Two of them sold for over £2000, others went for hundreds.
The audience was mixed. I suspect there were quite a few well-known mountaineers there along with others with much lesser credentials but who would all have appreciated from their own experience the challenges the speakers had faced and overcome. Others were there to support Doug’s charity and to buy some of the photos and Nepalese goods on sale. And there was probably another group who had just come to enjoy the evening and the splendid photographs illustrating the talks. I don’t think any would have been disappointed.