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54 climbers reach Mount Everest's peak

Friday, May 17, 2002

KATMANDU, Nepal -- It got crowded in the so-called "Death Zone" on Mount Everest on Thursday, as a record 54 people stood atop the world's highest peak -- including a grandson of one of first two men to conquer it in 1953. The son of the other was headed for the summit on a slower route.

Basking in rare, fine weather was Tashi Wangchuk Tenzing, whose Sherpa grandfather, Tenzing Norgay, made history when he and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary made it to the summit 49 years ago.

Still ascending in a separate expedition was 47-year-old Peter Hillary, who is retracing his father's original route with a National Geographic film crew.

The two men had hoped to meet on the roof of the world to begin a year of celebrations ahead of the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent on May 29, 1953. However, Peter Hillary's route was slower and he was not among those who made it to the top Thursday. Climbers cannot stay at the summit for long, and by nightfall Tashi Wangchuk Tenzing was on his way back down.

Both men have climbed the mountain previously -- Tenzing in 1997 and Hillary in 1990.

Thursday was a day of record-breaking on the summit, 29,035 feet above sea level. Nepal's Tourism Ministry said climbers broke four records, including collectively being the largest group to reach the top in a single day.

Phil and Susan Ershler of Bellevue, Wash., became the first married couple to climb the highest peaks on each of the world's seven continents together, their spokesman, Dan McConnell, said in Washington.

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