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It was like all base camps: It had piles of equipment and food and climbing gear. Nowadays, the Sherpas do most of the work and the expedition members sit around a great deal. In the decade following Hillary's climb, seven other people from two teams, Swiss and Chinese, managed to reach the top.

I don't remember doing a great deal of relaxing there. It wasn't until 1963 that an American team—Jim Whittaker, Luther Jerstad, Barry Bishop, Willi Unsoeld, Norman Dyhrenfurth, and Tom Hornbein—arrived in Base Camp for a first attempt at Everest. On March 23, two days after arriving, team member John "Jake" Breitenbach was crushed by a falling wall of ice. With the traditional Southeast Ridge route already conquered, climbers, especially British climbers, began looking for new, difficult, and more aesthetically pleasing routes to the top.

This month, some 500 climbers from around the world, along with their support crews and hired Sherpas, will set up camp on a rock-strewn glacier at the foot of 29,035-foot Mount Everest, in the Khumbu region of northeastern Nepal.

By all accounts, the strip of moraine that serves as Everest Base Camp is a barren wasteland, capable of sustaining little save the few single-cell creatures and lichens that live on the million-year- old granite.

Modern Base Camp is a far cry from the solemn, holy ground where Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander Edmund Hillary launched their historic bid for the summit in the name of the British Crown in 1953.

At that time, very few Westerners had laid eyes on the mountain's southern, or Nepalese, side.

Breitenbach was the first to die on the shifting Khumbu Icefall, a much-feared place that would claim at least 17 more lives over the next 38 years. We were in fantastic shape when we got there; it took almost a month to get in. By the 1970s many expeditions had done away with huge, militaristic assaults in favor of smaller, lighter expeditions.

That changed, in sometimes startlingly cushy ways, in 1983, when the Nepalese government opened up the mountain to five teams per season, each on a different route. We had this young hotshot named David Breashears rope-gun the camera to the summit. PETE ATHANS, consummate American guide known to his peers as "Mr.With pulses quickening in anticipation of clear skies and a chance to make the summit, decided to take a look back at the history of this little village at the top of the world.What follows is a catalog of recollections, edited for length and clarity, as told by the hardy individuals who've made it their home over the last 48 years.REINHOLD MESSNER, Italian Tyrolean climber considered by many of his peers to be the greatest alpinist of the modern era; in 1980, he completed the first solo climb of Everest via the North Face: Everest Base Camp in '78 was a cloudy, quiet, dirty place.It was dirty from many, many expeditions—25 years of Everest ascents. We were a dozen climbers, another dozen Sherpas, and half a dozen Base Camp staff—kitchen and so on.