On 29th May 1953 the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest on the Nepal–Tibet border! What a wonderful birthday present for Tenzing who reached the age of 39 on this day!
They reached the top of the world at 11:30 local time after a grueling climb up the southern face. The two men hugged each other with relief and joy but only stayed on the summit for 15 minutes because they were low on oxygen.
Mr Hillary took several photographs of the scenery and of Sherpa Tenzing waving flags representing Britain, Nepal, the United Nations and India. Sherpa Tenzing buried some sweets and biscuits in the snow as a Buddhist offering to the gods.
Then they began the slow and tortuous descent to rejoin their team leader Colonel Colonel John Hunt further down the mountain at Camp VI. When he saw the two men looking so exhausted Col Hunt assumed they had failed to reach the summit and started planning another attempt. But then the two climbers pointed to the mountain and signaled they had reached the top and there were celebrations all round.
News of the conquest of Mount Everest did not reach the outside world until 2nd June, the day of the Queen’s coronation, so Queen Elizabeth II was most pleased and on their return to the UK Colonel John Hunt & Edmund Hillary were knighted and Tenzing Norgay was awarded the George Medal for their amazing achievement.
Sir Edmund took part in several expeditions after that including a trip across Antarctica to the South Pole in 1958. He set up a medical and educational trust for the Sherpa people in 1961 and was New Zealand High Commissioner to India in Delhi from 1984 to 1989. He built his first Sherpa school in 1961 – 55 years ago and by 2011 there were 63! He died aged 88 in January 2008 and was honoured with a State Funeral! His ashes were then scattered into the sea by his family. The shipboard ceremony fulfilled the wishes of Sir Edmund who once wrote that, he had spent so much of his life in mountains, he preferred to be buried at sea. In recognition of his contribution to the people of Nepal, an unclimbed mountain, Hillary Peak, was named in his honor in 2014. If Sir Ed (as he preferred to be called) were still alive, he would, no doubt, have found the best route to the top.
With the impetus provided by the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) was established in Darjeeling, India on 4th November 1954. This first ascent of Mount Everest had sparked a keen interest in the establishment of mountaineering as a well-respected endeavour for people in the region and HMI played an important part in encouraging people to take up mountaineering as an organized sport in India.
As a matter of interest, last names are not part of Sherpa culture and that’s why people refer to heroic duo as Hillary & Tenzing rather than Hillary & Norgay! Tenzing was appointed the first Director of Field Training for HMI. He died aged 71 in 1986. The procession that followed his funeral bier was more than a kilometer long. One hundred years after his birth on 29th May 2014 HMI paid tribute to this legendary climber!
By the 50th anniversary of the ascent in May 2003 over 1,300 people had reached the summit of the roof of the world!