THIS year was the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary's and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay's acclaimed ascent of Mt Everest on May 29,1953.
However, just two weeks later, on June 6, 1953, four intrepid New Zealand men also made a spectacular ascent of a Himalayan peak that has never been ascended since, even though there have been three attempts by climbers from Europe.
The four Kiwis, now all dead, Maurice Bishop (Ohakune), Athol Roberts, Phil Gardener and Graham MacCallum (all of Wellington) made the first ascent of the 7000-metre peak Chamar. It is the highest peak of the Sringi Himal, a sub-range of the Nepalese Himalayas.
Even though the Sringi Himal is small in land area it is still very remote even by Himalayan standards, and few outsiders have been there. Although low in elevation among the major mountains of Nepal, Chamar is exceptional in its steep rise above local terrain.
Maurice's son Brent and 92-year-old widow Marguerite said it had always amazed them that the four men had never really been recognised. Brent owns the family farm in Horopito and Marguerite lives in Ohakune.
There was probably nothing made of the 1953 climb probably because they were real do-it-yourself Kiwi chaps just going off on an adventure, Brent said.
"They wouldn't have made a big to-do about it which is a shame."
The Himalayan Index, a record of expeditions to Asian peaks over 6000m, has listed three more unsuccessful attempts of Chamar, in 1983, 1994, and 2000, but no more ascents of the peak have been made.
Their trip lasted 18 months and the men visited a large area of central Nepal never before seen by Europeans, Brent said. Phil Gardener made an invaluable botanical study of the area bringing back 1600 plant specimens which all went to the British Museum, Brent said.
At the end of their spectacular adventure the villagers in the tiny village of Tumje gave them a precious gift - a three-month-old black bear cub. Athol Roberts described Baloo as a "delightful little fellow" in a short book the men wrote about their trip, Himalayan Holiday.
"He was about as big as an average-sized dog and very tame and playful," he said.
The men travelled thousands of miles with little Baloo, determined to get him back to New Zealand somehow.
Finally, after Baloo had destroyed a hotel bathroom, caused a commotion with a herd of pigs, and pandemonium with grazing herds of cows and buffaloes, they finally led Baloo on his chain into Kathmandu, where the Sherpas took him and looked after him in the servants' quarters at the embassy.
Even after days of travel and frantic cables pleading for Baloo to be allowed to come to New Zealand, the four men had to sail from Bombay and leave the small bear behind.
However, months later Baloo was given the all-clear and was shipped to New Zealand where the Wellington Zoo took him in.
Brent said for the kids of the men it was a real highlight to be taken to the zoo to visit Baloo. "I was always sad that he didn't bother with us. He just lay on his back on a high rock and didn't care whether we were there or not. I even tried throwing stones at his stomach but he never moved."
Baloo died about 10 years ago.
The extraordinary thing about that expedition was the guys just had the bare minimum.
"I mean there were no big sponsors or huge back-up team ... just four guys and a big dream."
After months of planning in New Zealand, permission finally came through for the men to enter Nepal and the British Museum showed interest in getting a botanical collection from the region.
Brent said his mum, who was pregnant with him at the time and had his older brother, made Maurice a suit from a sleeping bag and stuffed it with down. Friends and families of the men spun and knitted pounds of raw, greasy wool into socks and mittens.
For months the men sorted and packed supplies in one of their homes.
Four sherpa porters from Darjeeling were organised and outfitted with clothing and equipment as well. They were paid a wage of about 4 shillings a day, Brent said.
The men travelled to Perth and then to Bombay, followed by a sweltering five-day train trip across India, a long, tedious van trip and finally a car trip to the British Embassy in Kathmandu.
Of their arrival Athol Roberts wrote that they pulled up at the portals of the impressive Embassy buildings.
"And there we were; four New Zealanders clad in shorts, shirts and sandshoes with about 300lbs of personal gear to be greeted by two gentlemen, spotless in dinner suits, with servants flitting everywhere."
Brent said it was incredible to think the men came back and hardly a word was said.
"What they had done was incredible. But they didn't look for any publicity or anything apart from family and friends. I remember my father saying when I was a boy that it had been a damn good climb!"
But today climbing Everest has become another popular tourist venture with 800 people lining up this year to go, he said.
"You know, my dad and his three mates had that real can-do Kiwi mentality. They believed that achievement was a great thing in life and that the fruit was always choicer over the other side.'