Climbing Everest – 50 years on

Unlikely as it may sound, Everest came to Eastbourne on 29 May 2003 when Sport and Exercise Science undergraduate students from the Chelsea School celebrated the first successful ascent of the mountain on that day 50 years ago. The students re-created Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic climb in the Welkin laboratories’ state-of-the-art environmental chamber.

As you entered Base Camp you heard Himalayan-style music playing, saw Nepalese prayer flags draped from the ceiling and were met by the soft smell of incense sticks burning to help create the ambience of Everest itself. Camp 1 housed modern-day mountaineering equipment, corporate style posters designed by the students, newspaper clippings, books and ‘come and try’ activities that the students had designed. As visitors entered Camp 2, students had prepared a cinema-style viewing of the Everest IMAX video in amongst more literature and memorabilia.  Finally, as you entered Camp 3 and our environmental physiology laboratory, students were climbing in a relay system the equivalent height from base camp (17,600 ft) to the summit (29,035 ft) on a stairmaster stepping machine while carrying a rucksack and experiencing freezing weather conditions of -15-20°C.

Advert for Operation Everest Exhibition (left) & Everest Base Camp in Exhibition (right)

Neil Maxwell and the Everest team enjoy a well-earned rest after reaching the summit (left) using a computer programme designed by Principal Technician Alan Allchorn that mapped their ascent (right)

The event, which raised nearly £200 for the Chelsea Kids’ Camp, was part of a Himalayan-style exhibition highlighting the significance of the first ascent, showing video footage of climbing Everest, and identifying the hazards of mountaineering and altitude illnesses.


Camp 1 of Operation Everest Exhibition

Camp 2 of Video of Everest and altitude-based resources

Camp 3 of Operation Everest Exhibition with Neil Maxwell on final 1000ft to the summit!

Students from Sussex Downs College visited the exhibition during the day. The displays and the environmental chamber climb helped the students appreciate the significance of the first Everest ascent, learn about mountaineering and experience the harsh environmental conditions for themselves. The exhibition was also open to the public for two hours at around the time the intrepid ‘mountaineers’ anticipated reaching the ‘virtual’ summit.

Senior Chelsea School lecturer Dr Neil Maxwell, who organised the event, praised the students taking part. “The conditions were cold and hazardous but they rose to the challenge, worked as a team, and successfully reached the summit in six hours and 52 minutes – with no acute mountain sickness!”

“I would like to thank everyone who made this event possible. It was a great experience for the students to remember and also attracted lots of media interest. Southern Counties Rasio carried live interviews with the students and with me (to the students’ great amusement!), and the Eastbourne Herald, Eastbourne Gazette and the Argus also covered the event” Neil Maxwell added.

“Neil, many congratulations to everyone involved. I’m really sorry I couldn’t get there (I was fighting with the Stadium project all afternoon), but I got a couple of updates from Stuart Laing. I’ll match your £100 for the Chelsea Kids Camp with the same from the VC’s fund” Sir David Watson (Vice Chancellor)

“The only way now is down, of course, but then we will expect a journey to the bottom of the sea next year I suppose. I know all colleagues will join me in saying thanks as these innovations take a lot of time and effort but have great spin off for us all. Your students were a credit to you as so many are to us all, all the time. I’m sure this will make sure they appreciate how impressive the show was. Top job Neil.” Paul McNaught-Davis (Head of Chelsea School)

Pro Vice Chancellor, Stuart Laing, donated this framed original of the newspaper article that reported the 1st ascent of Everest in the News Chronicle on Tuesday 2nd June 1953.