Great Expeditions; Travel: Next Month Is the 50th Anniversary of the Ascent of Everest. Half a Century on, There Are Countless Expeditions for Intrepid Travellers to Join

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Byline: NICOLE SWENGLEY

FANCY following in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary, who scaled Everest on 29 May, 1953? Joining an expedition is easy.

Adventure-tour companies organise treks just as tough as those undertaken by professional explorers, while holidaymakers are increasingly joining scientists in the field to monitor humpback whales off Australia or dig for Etruscan remains in Italy.

Today's expeditions are unlikely to tread virgin soil.

Instead, they satisfy personal goals or help with conservation or community projects.

Some even raise funds for charities. But who goes? Everyone from pop stars to politicians, financiers to factory workers, teachers to taxi drivers. Any age from students to grandmothers. Some travel solo, others in couples or as groups of friends.

Raleigh International's trips, such as the one Prince William joined in Chile, are geared towards ages 17 to 25 but 70-year-olds have participated in Worldwide Journeys' charity expeditions (being fit helps).

Flights, accommodation and meals are included along with local guiding, team leaders and overseas medical support.

New friends are guaranteed.

Just do it.

Expeditions: mountaineering trips to Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest, the Himalayas; climbing in the Antarctic. Call Jagged Globe (0114 276 3322) www.jagged-globe.co.uk Cost: from u1,850 (Everest Base Camp Trek) to u5,950 (South Georgia Traverse).

Ages: all. City solicitor Jane Tyler, 35, has climbed Stok Kangri in the Himalayas and Mount Kilimanjaro and tackled ice-climbing in the Alps with Jagged Globe. "I keep going with them because I have a great time," she says.

"The guides are very professional and inspire confidence, and you are in manageable groups of eight to 10 people. I'd never climbed a mountain before I tried Stok Kangri and did not find it a problem.

"I'm smitten now - ice-climbing is a fantastic combination of amazing scenery and physical challenges."

Expeditions: Everest, the Himalayas and trekking in Nepal or Bhutan (tailor-made or group). Charity fundraisers (travel organised by Worldwide) include Tanzania bike ride for Teenage Cancer Trust, Vietnam trek for Scope.

Call Worldwide Journeys & Expeditions (020 7381 8638) www.worldwidejourneys.co.uk Cost: from u875 (Mount Toubkal trek in the High Atlas, Morocco) to u2,375 (23-day Nepal trek). Charity treks (Scope: 020 7619 7100; Teenage Cancer Trust: 020 7387 1000); minimum u2,600 sponsorship.

Ages: all. Doug Brain, 39, director of a central Londonbased sales recruitment agency, has joined three expeditions - the Inca trail, Nepal's Annapurna trail and a Kilimanjaro climb - raising u17,000 for Scope. "The physical challenges are achievable but they take you to extremes," he says.

"Groups average about 50 people from every walk of life.

I love the mix. Everyone is focused but also supportive and sociable."

Expeditions: trekking in Morocco, conservation in New Zealand and community projects in Tanzania and Mongolia. …