THIS SPRING MARKS THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's epochal first ascent of Mount Everest, on May 29, 1953. To celebrate, we're profiling some of the greatest pioneers of the Himalayas: the Sherpas. "In the work of the Sherpas," wrote Sir John Hunt, leader of the British expedition that put Hillary and Tenzing on top of the world, "lies the immediate secret of our success." On that expedition and in every subsequent season of triumph and tragedy on Everest, it has been the Sherpasan ethnic group, some 110,000 strong, most of whom reside in Nepal's Khumbu regionwho have made the accomplishments of Himalayan mountaineering possible. ¦ Today, Sherpas go well beyond their traditional duties of setting fixed lines at altitude and shuttling gear up unimaginable terrain. Sherpa climbers hold the records for the most ascents of 29,035-foot Everest and for the fastest climb; indeed, 579 of the 1,651 climbers to reach the summit of Everest have been Sherpas. But it hasn't all been glory56 of the 175 people who have lost their lives on the mountain were also Sherpas. ¦ In November 2002, Outside dispatched photographer Martin Schoeller and journalist Jenny Dubin from Kathmandu to the Khumbu Valley and to Darjeeling, India, to seek out the grand old men of Everest's golden age and, in a look toward the future, some of the brightest stars of Himalayan mountaineering's new generation.
Behind the scenes footage of Schoeller on assignment in Nepal