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May 12, 2018

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay: Who Dares to Follow Their Icy Steps?

It was the year 1953, in the month of May. Two men stared at the perilous journey ahead that few men dared to travel. They were willing to rest the fate of their lives in the frozen hands of Mother Earth. Would you have the nerves of steel that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had as they faced the spine-chilling Mount Everest?

These two men, however, were not the first to attempt the climb. The first attempt to summit Mount Everest was in 1921 by George Leigh Mallory and his team of climbers.1 They had not been able to complete their ascent due to an unforgiving storm. With the determination to reach the summit, where no man had ever stood before, Mallory made a second attempt a year later in 1922. This time, Mallory and his team were able to trek more than 27,000 feet up the behemoth of a mountain! On this climb, several of the Sherpa, people who live on the borders of Nepal and Tibet that are well known for their astounding capabilities in mountaineering, on his team were killed by an avalanche. This was still not enough to satisfy Mallory’s thirst for adventure! Third times the charm, right? Maybe? No? Mallory made his third and final attempt to conquer one of the seven natural wonders of the world in 1924. Except, this time he and his partner, Andrew Irvine, threw all caution out the window and set their minds to reach the top no matter what troubles they faced. To this day, no one knows if they reached the top. After they departed on their trek… they were never seen again.2

Mallory and Irvine’s final attempt | Courtesy of Sujoy Das

Now let’s shift the focus to New Zealand… Auckland, New Zealand to be exact. This is where the soon famous Edmund Hillary resided, passing through life as a beekeeper by day and a mountain climber by night. By the time he attempted the climb of Mount Everest in 1953, he was at the age of thirty-four years, and luckily he had the assistance and camaraderie of a skilled Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who was thirty-nine years old.3 Thanks to the thirty years that had passed since Mallory’s attempt, Hillary and Norgay had more advanced climbing equipment than Mallory had, such as more advanced oxygen equipment, a form of portable communication through radio, and clothing that would better suit the environment.4 Although this equipment was not the only things they had that Mallory didn’t. The two had something that is the difference between life and death… a greater sense of caution.

Edmund Hillary (left) and Tenzing Norgay (right) | Courtesy of National Geographic

The two departed to accomplish their goal on the 28th of May and managed to climb an astonishing 27,900 feet. Now you’re probably thinking, “Oh, 27,900 feet? Yeah, that’s a little challenging, but I could probably do that.” Sorry to break it to you, but these were no ordinary 27,900 feet. Along the way, Hillary and Norgay faced blinding blizzards, the risk of avalanches, or the risk of falling into an icy abyss, as well as running out of oxygen.5 Another risk that is faced when mountain climbing is altitude sickness. This is what happens when one ascends or descends in altitude too quickly without allowing one’s body to adjust to the different pressures and altitude. It can be life threatening if it is not treated or prevented.

After a long, freezing, and brutal night, the two were able to reach the top of the world at 11:30 a.m on May 29, 1953. This also happened to be the birthday of Tenzing Norgay! Prior to reaching the summit, Hillary climbed his way up a forty-foot rocky ledge and pulled Norgay up by rope. This ledge came to be known as the Hillary Step.

Word spread that the two accomplished the unimaginable! News of this accomplishment even got to Queen Elizabeth II just two days later on June 1.6 In commemoration of this accomplishment, Hillary was knighted by the Queen, but since Norgay was not a citizen of London he received a British Empire Medal. This concludes the immense journey that was traveled by our two unwavering men.

  1. C. G. Bruce, “Mount Everest,” The Geographical Journal 57, no. 1 (January 1921): 5-7.
  2. Vanessa Bush, “The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory,” Booklist, Literature Resource Center (Aug. 2000): 2097.
  3. Peter H. Hansen, “Tenzing’s Two Wrist-Watches: The Conquest of Everest and Late Imperial Culture in Britain 1921-1953,” Past & Present, no. 157 (1997): 168-171.
  4. L. G. C. E. Pugh, “Scientific Aspects of the Expedition to Mount Everest, 1953,” The Geographical Journal 120, no. 2 (June 1954): 184.
  5. Walther Kirchner, “Mind, Mountain, and History Revisited,” Journal of the History of Ideas 55, no. 2 (1994): 303-5.
  6. “The Society’s News,” The Geographical Journal 120, no. 2 (June 1954): 246-248.

Tags from the story

Edmund Hillary

Mount Everest

Tenzing Norgay

Recent Comments

Bictor Martinez

Just by thinking of Mt. Everest I get the chills. George Leigh Mallory is person of great determination who never stopped reaching his goal. Even though he lost his crew the second time around, he went back for the third time. That shows a lot of courage. Mallory is a person I look up upon now even though he may or may not reached his goal because he shows the definition of not giving up. I’ve read about Hillary and Norgay being the first to climb Mt. Everest, but never with this much detail the article had. These people had the bravery to climb the highest peak in the world knowing the challenges they had to overcome. They set the path for other climbers around the world that dare to climb Mt. Everest and because of this, this makes them leaders.



9:27 am

Mariana Gonzalez

This was a very interesting read, I really enjoyed it. It is fascinating how Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay where able to climb Mt. Everest, they must have been very ambitious because it was clearly no simple task. What I got from this article is that, it is possible to accomplish a dream if you really work hard for it and in their case even risk their lives, just to have the opportunity to reach (literally) their goals.



9:27 am

Tyler Boyd

You asked at the end of the first paragraph if I would attempt this. No. That is my answer to the question you asked at the beginning of the article. I would not attempt this even today with all of the advancements in rock climbing technology. These two men were pioneers who were able to conqueror mother nature, just the two of them and 1950’s equipment.



9:27 am

Michael Hinojosa

If there’s one thing I learned from this article it’s that the third times a charm huh? Climbing Mt.Everest has always been the pinnacle of human achievement in terms of conquering Mother Nature herself as scaling the mountain is a pass or fail type test, you either get to the top or die trying. Before reading this article I didn’t know of anyone who dared to challenge the mountain not once, not twice, but THREE times! A human feat like that is sure to be the reason why many risk their lives climbing the mountain to show off just how powerful the human will can be.



9:27 am

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