When Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay stood on the world's highest peak half a century ago, the two of them would have looked out on an utterly pristine wilderness. Today, the landscape has changed drastically. Dozens of teams line up along narrow trails, each jostling for position, vying for rope-holds and trying to come up with some novelty value to satisfy their sponsors. Modern-day base camp is a far cry from the small rocky slope from which Everest's first con-querors chose to launch their historic summit attempt. Today a permanent encampment sits atop the glacier at the foot of the mountain, and twice a year this barren land is transformed into a thriving village, occupied by more than 500 climbers, their support staff and hundreds of Sherpas. The mess tent is big, comfortable and well stocked. Today's climber can order Starbucks coffee, Coca-Cola or beer; there's good food to eat, rock 'n' roll music to listen to, and no shortage of satellite phones with which to call loved ones. There's even hot water for washing clothes with. Aches and pains are seen to by the camp physiotherapist, and ailments are dealt with at the base camp medical centre, complete with hyperbaric chamber. Taschi Tenzing, veteran Everest climber and a grandson of Tenzing Norgay, has even set up an internet cafe on the moving Khumbu Glacier, 300 metres above base camp. Brent Bishop, the son of the United States' first man to the top, Barry Bishop, says base camp has become one big party. 'Anybody in the outside world who thinks you're suffering is delusional,' he says. 'You've got staff here, and even if you want to work they won't let you.' In those early years the mountaineers worked hard. 'We helped carry loads up with the Sherpas,' recalls Hillary. 'Nowadays, the Sherpas do most of the work and the expedition members sit around a lot. We did not sit around and I don't remember doing a great deal of relaxing at base camp.' For decades Everest remained a solitary and foreboding place, with just one team permitted to occupy base camp each season. This all changed in 1983 when the Nepalese government opened up the mountain to five teams at any one time. In 1987 the government allowed multiple permits on routes, and by 1991 it had lifted many of the qualifications required to attempt Everest, opening the floodgates for a deluge of summit hopefuls. On May 23, 2001, a record 89 people stood on the roof of the world. One of those climbers, Chris Warner, wrote that on reaching the top, he found 'a summit jammed with damned people, each performing his or her own little victory ceremony'. This year there will be at least 73 teams - a record - attempting to reach the top of Everest from all sides, and a further 9,000 trekkers are expected to pass through base camp in its busiest season yet.