Mythical journeys begin in the mind. For John Cunningham it had begun in the east end of Glasgow, in Duke Street where he was brought up, and the weekends in the Arrochar Alps, the peaks above the village. For Hamish MacInnes, it was perhaps sparked by a lecture in the Usher Hall given by a Swiss climber who recounted a failed expedition to climb the world’s tallest, and still virgin, mountain.

No-one kept bucket lists then, only their own obsessional hopes and ambitions, and as the talk continued it grew in MacInnes. A throwaway line pierced him – it seemed that lots of supplies had been left behind on the slopes. It was obvious then. The two would go to Nepal and climb Everest.

In June 1953, when MacInnes joined Cunningham in New Zealand, he had just turned 23 – his climbing partner was three years older. Both were vastly experienced mountaineers. MacInnes had climbed the Matterhorn at 16, Cunningham had scaled numerous mountains in New Zealand, India and Antarctica. They were shockingly ill-equipped, they had no oxygen, their spending money was to be 12 of the old pounds, and their food consisted largely of dried vegetables, 100 bars of chocolate, packets of soup, 10lb of butter – although a sheep would later be purchased, or acquired, en route. The medical kit was rudimentary – a bottle of Aspro, two tubes of penicillin ointment, a large box of Elastoplasts, sundry bandages, at a cost, Cunningham recorded, of around 25 shillings, less than £40 today.

Their climbing gear was what they used on weekends – there was no oxygen of course – and a small Yak tent which had been gifted to them. They set out from Christchurch to Sydney on June 24, and from there to India on July 3.

After three weeks on the SS Stratheden the two young men walked down the gangplank to the place then known as Bombay and took the train to the Nepalese border where, in Cunningham’s account, “we shouldered our 160lb loads and walked five miles into Nepal into the town of Bergunje”.

Cunningham was a member of the Creagh Dhu climbing club, more like a secret society of tough young men from Glasgow who escaped to the hills. MacInnes was not an official member but climbed with the others often.

After a first night in a rat-invested hotel and an attempted burglary, then trips on a train and a ramshackle bus, they set out on foot and with a local guide to walk the 20km to Kathmandu.

At the top of a mountain they came upon an army post with an armed sentry, who “started to babble something about permits”, Cunningham remembered. “I was sure he really meant our inoculation certificates [although he probably didn’t] and I personally assured him that we had three each before leaving the ship, we then pressed on past him refusing to listen to any more nonsense.”

The much better-equipped, financed and ultimately successful party with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay was ahead of them. The two had a reserve plan. If Everest was captured they’d climb the neighbouring unconquered 23,129ft peak Pumori.

Twelve days after leaving Kathmandu “we marched into Namche Bazaar. At Namche Bazaar we were met by the frontier police who insisted that we have dinner with them, and that night we set a Nepalese roti eating record”.

Eventually they reached Everest base camp, where they acclimatised for a week at 14,000ft and in the Yak tent while the snows blew around them. At the end of it, Cunningham reported, they were both extremely fit and their pulses were back to normal, “Hamish’s 56, myself 62”.

It had now come out that Everest had been defeated by Hillary and Tenzing, so, after considering whether to become the first Scots to climb it, they decided on Plan B, Pumori.

“At about 10am we set off,” Cunningham recalled. “Our mountain food consisted of two small turnips, four bars of chocolate and one small tin of meat paste. After a two-mile walk over rough country, we reached the ridge we were going to attempt. We followed the side of the ridge for about 1,500 feet. At this point we had a rest and greedily devoured our turnips.”

The indomitable duo, MacInnes in the cloth cap he aways wore, Cunningham bare-headed, both reinforced, not by provisions or doughty Alpine equipment but sheer steely bravery, or arguably stupidity, pressed on. MacInnes slept in a lightweight, totally inadequate, sleeping bag which he called a “thirty-shilling Boy Scout model” and which did little to stop him shivering through the nights.

Cunningham continued: “We were now forced on to the ridge as everything around us was steepening. It was now past midday and to save time we decided not to rope up until the ridge started to get difficult. We climbed up over moderately easy rocks for about another 1,500 feet until we came to a large easy angled slab with huge boulders balanced on it.

“Hamish was climbing about five feet above me, when suddenly I heard the sound of a rock being dislodged and when I looked to my right, Hamish was in the act of taking the quick way down to the screes below. I grabbed his anorak as he slipped past and stopped his fall.”

Pumori, which means “mountain daughter” in the Sherpa language, rises to 23,500ft. By now the weather had worsened, snow had turned to blizzarding and avalanches were a constant danger. Cunningham described it as “like Aberdeen on a flag day”.

After a couple of days bivouacking on a ridge and one attempt to reach the summit which took them to 22,000ft, they were forced to abandon the attempt. A few kilometres away, however, there was Pingero – at 20,000ft almost five times as high as Ben Nevis – which they managed to take a few days later, reaching the summit in the early evening in a snowstorm, forced to inch their way back down in darkness because, of course, they had no torches.

After that success, the pair stayed in the area and climbed peak after peak, sleeping under overhanging rocks after the virtual destruction of the Yak tent, eating mostly fried potatoes and rice ... as well as breaking off to compete in a police sports day in Namche Bazaar – “We were by this time very fit and defeated them in everything from the long jump to putting the stone” – before running short of funds and making the hazardous return to Bombay and the boats to Australia and New Zealand.

“The end of the trip, too, had its humorous aspects. On arrival at Jaynagar,” MacInnes later wrote, “we were interrogated, the police thinking we were from communist Tibet.”

This is surely movie material. MacInnes went on, among other triumphs including leading Glencoe Mountain Rescue and inventing lifesaving climbing equipment, to be an adviser on several climbing films, including Five Days In Summer with the the first James Bond, Sean Connery. He even wooed and won the female lead, Betsy Brantley, taking her back home to Glencoe.

He come back to Everest in 1972 on Chris Bonington’s lightweight – MacInnes probably told him what lightweight really meant – and unsuccessful expedition.

At home, the European football championships were going on and England had been defeated by Germany. The Austrian climber Felix Kuen heard the result on the radio and said to another legendary member of the party, Don Whillans: “We beat you at your national game, Whillans”. To which Whillans replied: “Aye, but we’ve beaten you at your national game twice now, haven’t we!” This was before the age of PC.

MacInnes is 89 now. He suffered an infection in 2014 which left him delirious and severely confused, so much so that he was sectioned. When he recovered his memories of his former life had been wiped but, using archive footage, photographs and his many books, he was able to piece them back together.

Cunningham worked for several years for the British Antarctic Survey. In 1964, he became the first to climb Antarctica’s 10,000ft Mount Jackson.

In 1976, he became an instructor at John Moores University in Liverpool. In January 1980, he took his students for practical instruction on climbing to the cliffs on Anglesey. He was carried away by waves and drowned. He did not know how to swim. He was 52. His students survived.

Cunningham had worked in the Falkland Islands and there is a mountain on South Georgia’s Esmark Glacier named after him. There isn’t even a hill in his home country which bears his name.

At 11.30am, 67 years ago this

Friday, Edmund Hillary, closely followed by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay,

set foot on the summit of Everest, the highest place on Earth.