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The story of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary goes beyond conquering Mt. Everest. It is a story of how a Sherpa and a mountaineer from New Zealand met and became the first persons to reach the world’s highest summit. They achieved this extraordinary feat in 1953 as a part of Sir John Hunt’s ninth British expedition to Everest. Let us travel back in time and learn the story of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary.
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Tenzing Norgay Sherpa
The early life of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa has conflicting origins. But based on his autobiography, he was born and raised in Tengboche which lies in the Khumbu region. His exact date of birth is unknown. His father, Ghang La Mingma was a Tibetan yak herder. Similarly, his mother Dokmo Kinzom was also a Tibetan. He was the 11th child among the 13th of his parent.
Born Namgyal Wangdi, Sherpa’s name was changed to “Tenzing Norgay” on the advice of Rongbuk Monastery’s founder and head lama, Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. The name translates as “wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion.” In his teenage years, Sherpa fled twice from his home. He was also sent to Tengboche Monastery to become a monk. But he ended up leaving the monastery. He decided to settle in Darjeeling at age 19.
Sherpa was 20 years old when he began his mountaineering career. He received an opportunity to join an Everest expedition as a part of the 1935 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition led by Eric Shipton. His friend Ang Tharkay recommended Sherpa for the expedition after two potential team members failed medical tests. Shipton, impressed by his attractive smile, decided to tag him along.
Before his successful Mount Everest expedition in 1953, Sherpa was part of different mountain expeditions. Among them, his 1952 Swiss Mount Everest expedition is the most notable one. During the expedition, he was considered a full expedition member for the first time. Sherpa along with Swiss mountaineer, Raymond Lambert reached the altitude of 8,100 meters (26,575 feet).
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Sir Edmund Percival Hillary was born on July 20, 1919, in New Zealand. His father was Percival Augustus “Percy” who served at Gallipoli and his mother was Gertrude Hillary. He was the second of the three children. As a child, Edmund Hillary was a shy kid who did not enjoy Grammar at school.
Hillary started to become interested in climbing at the age of 16. A school trip to Mount Ruapehu awakened his desire to “see the world”. However, in 1938, he gave up his education and became an apiarist with his father and brother. Two years later in 1939, he made his first major climb to Mount Oliver in New Zealand. Unfortunately, World War II broke out in the same year.
Hillary applied for the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). He was initially deferred from service due to his size and fitness but later joined the RNZAF in 1943. Hillary was deployed to Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 1945. There he got into an accident and was injured.
Luckily Hillary managed to recover and World War II came to an end in 1945. After which he climbed New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook in 1948. Similarly, he was also part of the 1951 British reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest which was led by Eric Shipton.
Tenzing Norgay Sherpa had been to Everest six times before he joined the 1953 expedition. Similarly, Sherpa had climbed with other members of Sir John Hunt’s team before. Sir Hunt divided the expedition team into two, one of which was the Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary’s team.
Meanwhile, the other team consisted of Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans. The whole expedition had over 400 people which included 362 porters and 20 Sherpa guides. Likewise, the baggage for the whole expedition weighed 10,000 pounds (4,500 kgs).
On May 26, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans made their attempts to climb Everest. However, due to Evans’s oxygen system failure, the team had to turn back. Then on May 28, Sherpa and, Hillary set out to attempt the summit in Sir Hunt’s direction. The pair pitched their tent at 8,500 meters (27,900 feet) while their support team headed back down.
The next morning, Sherpa and Hillary made their final attempt at the summit. The pair reached the top of Mount Everest, at an elevation of 8,848 meters (29,028 feet) at 11:30 am. They made a history. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary became the first persons to climb Mount Everest.
Celebration At Everest
Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary spent only 15 minutes at the peak. While Hillary took Sherpa’s famous photo of him posing with his ice-axe, Hillary himself refused to take any photos. Based on Sherpa’s autobiography, he offered to take Hillary’s photo but for some reason, he declined.
Sherpa offered chocolates as an offering to Mount Everest. Hillary on the other hand left a cross that Sir John Hunt had given him. Then, the pair retraced their way back down the mountain. The drifting snow had made it difficult to retrace their tracks back down.
After their success, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Hillary and Sir John Hunt while Sherpa was bestowed the George Medal. Sherpa received lots of admiration from Nepal and India. Similarly, King Tribhuvan awarded him with the Star of Nepal.
Life After Everest
After the success, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa was appointed the Director of Field Training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. In 1975, he served as a guide for the first American tourist party in Bhutan. Similarly, he founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures in 1978. Sherpa passed away on May 9, 1986, in Darjeeling.
Hillary continued with his expedition after conquering Mount Everest. He climbed ten other Himalayan peaks. Similarly, he joined the Commonwealth Trans-Anatartic Expedition and reached the South Pole in 1958. He joined Neil Armstrong and flew over the Arctic Ocean and landed at the North Pole in 1985. Hillary became the first man to stand on the north and south poles as well as on the Everest Summit. He passed away at the age of 88 on January 11, 2008.