Reaching New Heights: Everest, The AHF, and GeoEx
At 11:00 am on May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first human beings to step foot on the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. In the current age of high-tech, commercialized mountain climbing, it is almost impossible to imagine the earth-shaking impact Hillary’s and Norgay’s achievement had in 1953. Here was a mountain — unreachable, tantalizing, fearsome, deadly — that had defeated 15 previous Mount Everest expeditions.
Hillary’s and Norgay’s feat captivated the imagination of the world. When their British Everest Expedition returned to the United Kingdom, Hillary was knighted, Norgay was given the George Medal, one of Britain’s highest civilian awards, and the duo was medaled, titled, toasted, and feted around the globe.
Tellingly, Hillary and Norgay did not simply cash in on this fame and retire in comfort. They continued their explorations and expeditions, and they began to work fervently to improve the living conditions of the people in the region that had led to their acclaim. Hillary created the Himalayan Trust to build schools and medical facilities, and Norgay devoted his energies to teaching Sherpas essential mountaineering skills.
As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of their extraordinary achievement and legacy, we are also celebrating an extraordinary institution that grew out of that achievement, the American Himalayan Foundation, which has played a fundamentally life-changing role in the Himalaya for more than four decades.
Empowering Communities And Preserving Culture
The AHF was founded in 1981 by a small group of climbers who were drawn to Nepal for the mountains but returned again and again for the people. Inspired by Hillary’s Himalayan Trust and Norgay’s mountaineering classes, the AHF’s founders wanted to address the pressing problems of this magnificent but impoverished area: the need for better healthcare and education, programs to protect young girls from falling victim to trafficking, and projects to preserve and nurture traditional ways of life.
Like the AHF, Geographic Expeditions also has a special attachment to this region. Our roots here go back to 1981 as well. That’s when the seed for GeoEx was planted on the Tibetan side of Mount Everest by a group of trekkers huddled in a frigid tent at 16,500 feet. Thrilled to be there—at the time, fewer than 300 Westerners had been permitted in Tibet, and this group of 15 was the first American contingent ever allowed into the Tibetan backcountry—they cajoled trek organizer Jo Sanders, who had magically managed to get that backcountry permit, into starting an adventure travel company that would specialize in expeditions to recently forbidden parts of Tibet and China.
From these roots on an Everest slope, GeoEx has expanded to offer explorations around the world, but we have never lost our special feeling for the Himalaya, and our ties to the region have only deepened through the decades.
The Journey of A Shared Commitment to the Himalayas
One of the most cherished of these ties is with the AHF. That relationship goes back to the early 1990s, when we were introduced to AHF President Erica Stone and Vice President Norbu Tenzing, son of the Sherpa mountaineering legend. From the beginning, we recognized that GeoEx’s efforts to bring travelers to the region and the AHF’s efforts to aid the residents of the region shared a trailblazing passion, a love for the Himalaya, and a fundamental dedication to four core principles:
- Partnering with local peoples to help local communities through financial, strategic, and technical support.
- Using our intimate local knowledge to determine which actions and projects can have the maximum effect.
- Respecting the priorities, concerns, and knowledge of our local partners, and utilizing community participation.
- Taking the long view, in recognition that sustainable change takes time, effort, and trust.
In 2013, we began to work with the AHF to support Dr. Aruna Uprety’s landmark Stop Girl Trafficking program, which has become one of the AHF’s signature projects. Unlike many other anti-trafficking programs, SGT focuses on preventing girls from being sold into brothels, forced into child marriages, or trapped into involuntary servitude, by providing them with the means to stay in school. From a humble start with 54 girls, the program has grown to support 12,000 girls studying in 500 schools across Nepal, on the path to a future full of hope instead of fear.
This is just one of the many deep-rooted and community-threaded programs the AHF has created to bring life-changing safety, shelter, education, health, and opportunity to Sherpas, Nepalis, and Tibetans throughout the Himalayan region.
A Conversation With Norbu Tenzing
Norbu Tenzing, the AHF’s Vice President, and the son of legendary mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, reflects on his father’s achievement and legacy, the AHF’s history and programs, and its special partnership with GeoEx.
Empowering The AHF Through A GeoEx Adventure
Last year we expanded our partnership with the AHF by creating a special Giving Back journey called Hidden Nepal that offers GeoEx travelers the opportunity to directly experience and support the AHF’s efforts. The journey begins by traveling to the remote Solu Khumbu region, homeland of the Sherpa people, where we are immersed in cultural heritage and mountaineering history at the Happy House, Sir Edmund Hillary’s favored retreat, in the foothills of Mount Everest. Then we travel by helicopter to the dramatic high desert of isolated Mustang, where ancient Tibetan traditions are experiencing a rich resurgence. Woven throughout the journey are special behind-the-scenes visits to AHF projects that bestow a rich and intimate understanding of Tibetan, Sherpa, and Nepali communities and traditions. Our next Hidden Nepal journeys are scheduled for October 2023, April 2024, and October 2024.
On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay stood on top of the world. Seventy years later, we are thrilled to join our AHF partners in celebrating that world-changing feat and in recognizing that in some important ways, that was only the beginning of Hillary’s and Norgay’s journey: Now we look to the horizon and honor their life-changing legacy by caring for the peoples and the peaks of this magnificent region beloved by us all.
To learn more about the AHF’s history and programs, visit https://www.himalayan-foundation.org. To learn more about Hidden Nepal, our special Giving Back journey in partnership with the AHF, visit https://www.geoex.com/trips/nepal-hidden.