Tenzing Norgay

First Sherpa on Mt.Everest

His Trip Up to the Top of the World

His Early Years

There are different versions of his early life. The account that he gave in his autobiography, is that he was a sherpa born and raised in Tengboche, Khumbu in northeastern Nepal.

Khumbu lies near Mount Everest, which the Tibetans and Sherpas call Chomolungma which in Tibetan means Holy Mother. He was a Buddhist, the traditional religion of the Sherpas. He was the 11th of 13 children, most of whom died young.

He ran away from home twice in his teens, first to Kathmandu and later Darjeeling. He was once sent to Tengboche Monastery to be a monk but decided that it wasn't his lifestyle choice, so he left. At the age of 19, he eventually settled in the Sherpa community.

His Mountaineering Skills

Tenzing got his first try on an Everest expedition when he was employed by Eric Shipton, leader of the reconnaissance expedition in 1935.

After that,Tenzing took part as a high-altitude porter in three official British attempts to climb Everest from the northern Tibetan side in the 1930s. He also took part in other climbs in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. In 1947, he took part in an unsuccessful summit attempt of Everest. Canadian-born Earl Denman, Ange Dawa Sherpa, and Tenzing entered Tibet illegally to attempt the mountain; the attempt ended when a strong storm at 22,000 ft (6,700 m) pounded them. Denman admitted defeat and all three turned around and safely returned. He climbed Kedarnath peak in the western Garwhal Himalaya– the first ascent of the peak.

In 1952, he took part in the two Swiss expeditions, the first serious attempts to climb Everest from the southern (Nepalese) side. The expedition opened up a new route on Everest that was successfully climbed the next year. Tenzing Norgay and Raymond Lambert reached on 28 May the then-record height of 28,200 ft., and this expedition, during which Tenzing was for the first time considered a full expedition member, created a lasting friendship between Tenzing Norgay and his Swiss friends, in particular Raymond Lambert.

At the Top of the World

In 1953, he took part in John Hunt's expedition, his own seventh expedition to Everest. 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 Tenzing'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.

The expedition set up base camp in March 1953. Working slowly it set up its final camp at the South Col at 25,900 feet (7,890 m). On 26 May, Bourdillon and 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 Tenzing and Hillary to go for the summit.

They set out on 28 May with a support trio of Ang Nyima, Alfred Gregory and George Lowe. The two 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 packs. The crucial move of the last part of the ascent was the 40-foot rock face later named the "Hillary Step". Hillary somehow managed to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and the ice and Tenzing followed. From there the following effort was relatively simple. They reached Everest's 29,028 ft (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 fifteen minutes at the summit. Hillary took the famous photo of Tenzing posing with his ice-axe, but since Tenzing had never used a camera, Hillary's ascent went unrecorded. However, according to Tenzing's autobiography 'Man of Everest' when Tenzing 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".

Afterwards, Tenzing was met with great adulation in India and Nepal. Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, while Tenzing received the George from Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts on the expedition.

In the end, Edmund and Tenzing were great friends!