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Hundreds rally in Nepal to celebrate Everest conquest anniversary, remember avalanche victims

Members of Nepal mountaineers association light candles before statues of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on the eve of the anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest as they remember the climbers who died in the April 18 avalanche in Katmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Norgay and Hillary reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953. Since then thousands of people have reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

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Members of Nepal mountaineers association light candles before statues of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on the eve of the anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest as they remember the climbers who died in the April 18 avalanche in Katmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Norgay and Hillary reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953. Since then thousands of people have reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

KATMANDU, Nepal - The lone surviving member of the first expedition to reach the top of Mount Everest led a rally Thursday marking the 61st anniversary of the achievement, a day after a memorial was held to remember the 16 Sherpa guides who died in an avalanche on the mountain last month.

Kancha Sherpa, 81, led the rally of 500 people in Kathmandu on Thursday, with mountaineers and trekking guides also taking part. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climbers to reach the top of Everest on May 29, 1953.

Kancha had carried loads on his back up the mountain for the expedition and went up to the last camp on Everest, but did not climb to the summit.

"We were all very happy on that day. It was the biggest day of my life," Kancha said, recalling the day Hillary and Tenzing reached the top of Everest.

More than 4,200 climbers have scaled the world's highest mountain since then.

A service was held Wednesday night in memory of the 16 guides killed in an April 18 avalanche just above Everest's base camp. Participants held candles and pictures of those who died in the disaster. "Long live our brave Sherpa brothers," they chanted.

The avalanche swept the Sherpas early in the climbing season, while they were carrying equipment and tents to set up camps.

After the avalanche, the Sherpa guides refused to continue for various reasons, including out of respect for the dead and pressure from family members, causing the climbing season to be cancelled.

A Chinese climber, however, returned to Everest and scaled the peak last week. Her claim is being disputed because she apparently used a helicopter from the base camp to Camp 2, and mountaineering authorities say climbers are required to trek from the base camp at 5,300 metres (17,380 feet) to the 8,850-foot (29,035-foot) summit and back to be counted as a successful climb.

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