THE IDEA WAS SIMPLE. With the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's historic climb to Mount Everest's 8,848-metre peak looming, a television company decided it would mark the occasion with a filmed expedition involving the climbers' sons, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay. The pair were asked to retrace their fathers' famous footsteps along the south-east ridge to the summit. Both were experienced climbers who had made successful separate missions to the top of the world's highest mountain; Hillary in 1990 and Norgay six year later. But while Hillary readily accepted the offer, Norgay declined. He agreed to go only as far as base camp (5,400 metres). So in May last year, 49 years after the first ascent, Hillary again hauled his way to the top of the world for a documentary, which will be released this May. Norgay stayed behind. 'There was pressure from [the television company] National Geographic to go,' says the Sherpa, 'but I said no.' He took his climbing equipment in case he had a change of heart, and Hillary, his friend, urged him to make a joint assault, but Norgay was resolute. 'It was tempting but I decided not to,' says Norgay, who is in Hong Kong for an anniversary lecture tonight. 'The main thing is not to climb the mountain, but to be part of the team,' he insists, although even he must concede that few people remember the 1953 expedition's leader Colonel John Hunt. 'Before I went up [in 1996], I had to promise my family that this was it, no more,' says Norgay, 37. 'It was a promise made on the spur of the moment, but once I had climbed Everest and come back down, I really felt I did not want to go back again. 'It had been my passion, my goal, my dream since I was a child. [During the ascent] I learned a lot about life and death, my father and my culture. It was a pilgrimage to honour my father. I have done what I needed to do. I don't see any reason to go back. Money is not the point.' Norgay's father reached the summit, which straddles the border of Nepal and Tibet, just once, at his seventh attempt, on May 29, 1953. 'He did not feel any reason to go back again,' says Norgay, who has spent much of his life in the shadow of the mountain and his father's achievement. By scaling Everest in 1996, for an Imax movie expedition that reaped US$100 million (HK$780 million) at the box office, he finally moved out of that shadow. In his book, Touching My Father's Soul, he reveals how as a boy he saw little of his father, who was often travelling and trekking. His father also forbade Norgay, when he was 18, from joining an expedition. 'I climbed Everest so you wouldn't have to,' the illiterate father told his son. 'You can't see the entire world from the top of Everest, Jamling. The view only reminds you how big the world is and how much more there is to see and learn.' Norgay studied in Canada and attained an arts degree before working as a karate and tae kwon do instructor. But he was a keen climber and involved in the family's business. Ten years after his father's death in 1986, he finally followed in his footsteps. 'I could experience what he went through,' says Norgay. 'I realised how difficult it had been for him. That was when I learned to respect my father a lot more. It was a good way for me to connect with him.' Norgay says the ascent was harder than he had imagined. 'Not the technical side, but the altitude and the natural disasters. Anything can happen.' While an estimated 1,500 people have scaled Everest (as of May 2001), at least 180 have perished on the climb. Their bodies litter the mountainside. Norgay's 1996 expedition was grim because nine people had died a week before in a storm. 'Some were right in our way,' he recalls. 'It was chilling, but a reminder for us to be careful.' Nevertheless, Norgay, a devout Buddhist, recalls in his book being so happy he cried, planting a prayer flag in the snow alongside photos of his parents and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. He then struck the same pose as his father had 43 years before for a photograph. Norgay says many fail to heed his father's words: to treat the mountain - known to Sherpas as Chomolungma or 'Mother Goddess to the World' - with respect. Operators charge about US$65,000 a head to take people to the summit, even inexperienced climbers. 'Tourism is good for any country, it benefits everyone,' says Norgay. 'But I resent the commercialisation of the mountain. It's becoming a playground of the rich. They are endangering the lives of sherpas and other climbers who have to go and rescue them because of their ignorance and stupidity. Everyone has the right to make money, but they should select climbers who have gone through a screening process. 'My father and Hillary enjoyed climbing. They were carefully selected for their experience. Now 60 to 80 per cent are climbing because they have an ego problem. They want to prove something.' Norgay has little time for the designer-clad climbers who boast the latest, lightest and warmest gear. 'You still have to climb Everest with your feet,' he says. Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund, who still lives in his native New Zealand, formed a strong bond through their experience, but Norgay says he has an even closer friendship with 47-year-old Peter Hillary, whom he met 10 years ago. 'We both understood what each other had grown up with. Our steps have been similar.' Norgay says much of his time is now spent helping the Sherpa people in Nepal and Darjeeling, his home in India. He works with the American Himalayan Foundation, building schools and clinics. 'I feel like a spokesman for the Sherpa people. Many people think Sherpas are just people who carry packs up mountains, they do not realise we are an ethnic group. We have become more modern today but we continue to preserve our culture and tradition.' Norgay continues to climb. 'I love to be in the mountains. It makes me feel alive and physically fit. It offers a sense of how small we human beings are.' He also runs a travel business but always rejects offers to climb Everest again. 'I can't see myself returning,' he says, 'unless any of my daughters want to go.' His three girls, one aged seven and twins aged four, already are keen users of the climbing wall at Norgay's home. 'If they decide they want to climb Everest, I would go with them to protect them,' he says, then smiles and adds: 'They could be the first twins to climb Everest.' The thought seems to please him. For all his denials, he may yet revisit the scared summit. And not simply because it's there. Jamling Tenzing Norgay gives a lecture and slide show, 'Everest - 50 Years On', to the Royal Geographical Society at 7.45pm tonight. 2/F, Sports House, So Kon Po, Causeway Bay. A champagne reception takes place at 7pm. Tickets $230 ($130 for members and $180 for members' guests). To reserve tickets call 2583 9700 or e-mail email@example.com .