The first recorded use of the word summit came towards the end of the 15th century, as an adaptation of the French somete meaning the top of a hill. For almost 500 years the meaning remained constant, but just as mankind conquered nature’s greatest summit with the climbing of Everest in 1953, the word was being hijacked by politicians. Winston Churchill coined the phrase “summit meeting” to describe a crucial gathering between world leaders. Throughout the cold war, and several hot ones, we have grown accustomed to such events shaping the world we live in. A 1961 meeting between John F Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev went so badly that it almost drove the world to nuclear war. A 1985 summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev paved the way for the end of Russian communism and of the Soviet Union.
As we write these words our political leaders are gathered in St Petersburg for the latest G20 summit, where international action in the Middle East will be hotly debated. But we might also recall a more innocent summit meeting of 60 years ago between a New Zealander and a Nepalese Indian, standing at the top of a hill called Mount Everest. Six miles high, with not a politician in sight.
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