Saturday May 29, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
On this Day:
In 1953, Edmund Hillary (NZ) and Tenzing Norgay (Nepal) were the first two people confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest as part of a British Expedition.
Sir Edmund Percival Hillary KG ONZ KBE (20 July 1919 – 11 January 2008) was a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist. On 29 May 1953, Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. They were part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt. From 1985 to 1988 he served as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India and Bangladesh and concurrently as Ambassador to Nepal.
Hillary became interested in mountaineering while in secondary school. He made his first major climb in 1939, reaching the summit of Mount Ollivier. He served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II and was wounded in an accident. Prior to the Everest expedition, Hillary had been part of the British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain in 1951 as well as an unsuccessful attempt to climb Cho Oyu in 1952. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition he reached the South Pole overland in 1958. He subsequently reached the North Pole, making him the first person to reach both poles and summit Everest. Time named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Following his ascent of Everest, Hillary devoted himself to assisting the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he established. His efforts are credited with the construction of many schools and hospitals in Nepal. Hillary had numerous honours conferred upon him, including the Order of the Garter in 1995. Upon his death in 2008, he was given a state funeral in New Zealand.
Tenzing Norgay GM OSN, (perhaps 29 May 1914 – 9 May 1986), born Namgyal Wangdi, and also referred to as Sherpa Tenzing, was a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer. He was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which he accomplished with Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953. Time named Norgay one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In 2003, the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award, India’s highest adventure-sports award, was renamed in his honour.
In 1953, Tenzing Norgay took part in John Hunt’s expedition; Tenzing had previously been to Everest six times (and Hunt three). A member of the team was Edmund Hillary, who had a near-miss following a fall into a crevasse but was saved from hitting the bottom by Norgay’s prompt action in securing the rope using his ice axe, which led Hillary to consider him the climbing partner of choice for any future summit attempt.
At the time, newspaper reports variously referred to him as Tensing, Tenzing, Tenzing Bhotia, Tenzing Norgay, Tensing Norkey, Tenzing Sherpa or Dan Shin, as one Indian academic suggested.
The Hunt expedition totalled over 400 people, including 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides and 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of baggage, and like many such expeditions, was a team effort.
The expedition set up base camp in March 1953. Hillary wrote in 1975 about first meeting Norgay in Kathmandu on 5 March 1953:
I was eager to meet Tenzing Norgay. His reputation had been most impressive even before his two great efforts with the Swiss expedition … Tenzing really looked the part – larger than most Sherpas he was very strong and active; his flashing smile was irresistible; and he was incredibly patient with all our questions and requests. His success in the past had given him great physical confidence – I think that even then he expected to be a member of the final assault party … One message came through however in very positive fashion – Tenzing had substantially greater personal ambition than any Sherpa I had met.
Working slowly, the expedition set up their penultimate camp at the South Col, at 25,900 feet (7,900 m). On 26 May, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans attempted the climb, but turned back when Evans’ oxygen system failed. The pair had reached the South Summit, coming within 300 vertical feet (91 m) of the summit. Hunt then directed Norgay and Hillary to go for the summit.
Snow and wind held the pair up at the South Col for two days. They set out on 28 May with a support trio comprising Ang Nyima, Alfred Gregory and George Lowe. Norgay and Hillary pitched a tent at 27,900 feet (8,500 m) on 28 May while their support group returned down the mountain. On the following morning Hillary discovered that his boots had frozen solid outside the tent. He spent two hours warming them before he and Tenzing attempted the final ascent, wearing 30-pound (14 kg) packs. The last part of the ascent comprised a 40-foot (12 m) rock face later named the “Hillary Step.” Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and the ice, and Norgay followed.
From there, the following effort was relatively simple. They reached Everest’s 29,028-foot (8,848 m) summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. As Hillary put it, “A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top.”
They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit. Hillary took the famous photo of Norgay posing with his ice-axe, but since Norgay had never used a camera, Hillary’s ascent went unrecorded. However, according to Norgay’s autobiography Man of Everest, when Norgay offered to take Hillary’s photograph Hillary declined—”I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture. But for some reason he shook his head; he did not want it.” Additional photos were taken looking down the mountain, in order to reassure that they had made it to the top and to document that the ascent was not faked. The two had to take care on the descent after discovering that drifting snow had covered their tracks, complicating the task of retracing their steps. The first person they met was Lowe, who had climbed up to meet them with hot soup.
Afterwards, Norgay was met with great adulation in Nepal and India. Hillary and Hunt were knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, while Norgay received the George Medal for his efforts on the expedition. It has been suggested that Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused permission for Norgay to be knighted.
It has been a long road … From a mountain coolie, a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax.
Nonetheless, there was some inequity, according to National Geographic,
“Hillary was knighted for being the first known person to climb to the top of Mount Everest. But Tenzing, who simultaneously reached its summit, only received an honorary medal. In the years since, there’s been growing disquiet at the lack of official recognition.”
Norgay and Hillary were the first people to conclusively set foot on the summit of Mount Everest, but journalists were persistently repeating the question: “Which of the two men had the right to the glory of being the first one, and who was merely the second, the follower?” Colonel Hunt, the expedition leader, declared, “They reached it together, as a team.”
Norgay eventually ended the speculation by revealing that Hillary was first in his 1955 autobiography Man of Everest (page 268; originally titled Tiger of the Snows). It was ghost-written by American writer James Ramsay Ullman as Tenzing could not read English; he could speak four languages but his English was minimal. They were roped six feet apart, with most of the 30 foot rope in loops in his hand:
A little below the summit Hillary and I stopped. … I was not thinking of ‘first’ and ‘second’. I did not say to myself, there is a golden apple up there. I will push Hillary aside and run for it. We went on slowly, steadily. And then we were there. Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him … Now the truth is told. And I am ready to be judged by it.
In 1938, after Norgay’s third Everest expedition as a porter, the Himalayan Club awarded him its Tiger Medal for high-altitude work.
On 7 June 1953, it was announced that the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II wished to recognize Norgay’s achievements. 10 Downing Street announced on 1 July that, following consultation with the governments of India and Nepal, the Queen had approved awarding Norgay the George Medal. He also received, along with the rest of the Everest party, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal.
In 1953, King Tribhuvan of Nepal presented him with the Order of the Star of Nepal, 1st Class (Supradipta-Manyabara-Nepal-Tara).
In 1959, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award of India. In May 2013, Norgay’s grandson, Tashi Tenzing, said he believed his grandfather should have been knighted, not just given “a bloody medal.”
In September 2013, the Government of Nepal proposed naming a 7,916-foot (2,413 m) mountain in Nepal Tenzing Peak in Norgay’s honour.
In July 2015, the highest-known, 3.4-kilometre-high (11,000 ft) mountain range on the dwarf planet Pluto was named Tenzing Montes.
Norgay died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, on May 9, 1986 at the age of 71. His remains were cremated in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, his favorite haunt (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What did an insomniac Edmund Hillary say to Tenzing Norgay? “Bro, do you Everest?”
Second, a Song:
If you have ever wondered what it would look like to climb Mt. Everest (south col route), here is a 3D video, courtesy of Google Earth, of the base camps, path and views along the way to summit Everest. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky