This year our Himalaya Day event is a very special affair. We’re honouring the 70th anniversary of the first Mt Everest Summit in 1953.

When it comes to legends, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay spring to mind. But there are so many other legends walking among us.

One such person is Aileen Davis (OAM) who met Edmund Hillary and George Lowe in 1952, the year before Ed summited Mt Everest. They forged an extraordinary friendship that spanned many decades.

A keen horse rider and swimmer, Aileen’s chance meeting with the two yet-to-be-known climbing enthusiasts began on a ship set for Sydney. It was 1952 and Mt Everest was yet to be conquered.

As leaders of the ship’s Sports Committee, Aileen (19) and her sister Pat (21) were tasked with entertaining passengers through sport and had to recruit new members.

“When I was young you always travelled by ship,” says Aileen. “They didn’t have things organised like they do on the big liners today.”

“When we reached Bombay, George and Ed came on board and we asked them if they’d like to join the deck sports and have some exercise while they were on board. I didn’t know they were mountaineers. They were just two guys and we had to ask anyone who got on the ship to join.”

Tales from the Inside

In the ensuing months and years, Aileen and her sister built a strong friendship with Sir Ed and George Lowe, and their families. The two men sent regular updates about their escapades. Sir Ed even wrote to Aileen from Everest just 10 days before the infamous summit. 

Sir Ed commended Aileen and her sister on their dedication to taking action.

“I admire the way you girls decide to do something and then go ahead and arrange things to make it possible.” He was referring to Pat and Aileen’s bold decision to live and work in London for a year.

Meanwhile, he and George were scoping the world’s highest mountain. Ed wrote to tell Aileen and her sister how they were faring. He described the path that George was carving, 22,000 feet around the West Col.

“A great deal depends on this work of George as we are waiting for its completion before we can send a lot of food, tents, equipment, and our oxygen … and then make our final assault from there.”

This was days before the inaugural climb, 70 years ago.

Climb every mountain

“Naturally Ed and I have been thrilled with the interest you have taken in our doings. It’s amazing how some travellers on ships become merely passing acquaintances and other firm friends.”

George Lowe, in a letter to Aileen

Today Aileen continues to hold a place in her heart for Sir Ed and George Lowe, two very dear friends whose adventures she followed with avid interest. A friendship that was far from one-sided.

Just after they summited Mt Everest, George and Ed wrote to Aileen describing the event. Sir Ed was due to receive his knighthood and the pair had hired morning suits.

Aileen describes how many laughs they shared. Especially when the two down-to-earth climbers were being flown around in chartered planes to meet the Queen.

In a letter from George describing the moments before Sir Ed’s knighthood, the New Zealand climbers were having fun trying to cope with their newfound fame.

“The waistcoat was miles too big for Ed and so George said he got safety pins and pinned it all up the back. They hoped it didn’t show when he was awarded Sir Edmund!”

To this day, Aileen still keeps a treasure chest of letters, photos and newspaper clippings. A testament of friendship that is also a historical trove.

In honour of her extraordinarily close friendship with Sir Ed and George Lowe, Aileen will be joining us for the Sydney Himalaya Day lunch at the CurryNest Restaurant in Crows Nest on Friday 2 June.

We invite you to join us and hear more of Aileen’s marvellous stories about Sir Ed and George.

You’ll hear about and see some of the personal photos that she has kept from that time.

We would love you to hear Aileen share her fond memories of Sir Ed and George; two kind and ordinary men who did extraordinary things.

Join us for a delicious Nepali & Indian feast and hear more of the inside stories of two of the most iconic and pioneering mountaineers of all time.

Buy your tickets today. Limited tickets are available.

Words by Hannah Hempenstall