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

The Summit of Mount Everest | Courtesy of iExplore

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.
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39 Comments

  • I have read about how hard it is to climb Mount Everest. Dying is very easy because of how harsh the weather conditions are. It amazes me that someone is able to climb all the way to the top of the highest mountain on Earth. The obstacles these men had to go through are beyond what a normal person would be able to go through.

  • Reading this article reminded me of a book I read in high school, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, that entails Krakauer’s struggle filled adventure while climbing up Mount Everest in 1997. I think that mountain climbing is something that is very impressive because of the challenging conditions that climbers must endure; freezing temperatures, deadly heights, and rough terrain are just some of the obstacles that stand in these brave individuals paths to the top of the world.

  • Hearing many times before about the great Mount Everest it was fascinating to read about this great accomplishment of climbing to the top of the mountain. I like how the article gives the back story to this great accomplishment. Having insight of the failed attempts before being able to climb to the top goes to show that many great things take some failures but with determination they can be accomplished.

  • This climb was no small task back then and is still a formidable task today, even with all the innovations in climbing equipment. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, being the first two to successfully scale Mount Everest, was not only the first successful climb recorded because they had luckily been able to survive the climb, it was the first to document the treks up and down the mountain. What most people don’t realize is that there can be even more dangers descending from the climb that can be life threatening then actually ascending up the mountain. These men were the inspiration and guiding knowledge on how to make the climb for years having been the ones to survive the climb.

  • I loved how this article gave background information on the three other attempts made by Mallory. It really helped to provide a sense of background information as to how hard the trek would be. Even with a change in technology that provided a slightly safer climbing experience, Mount Everest is still a force to be reckoned with. If the elevation isn’t enough, the weather is sure to kill anyone not prepared for the worse. Knowing that two men were able to conquer the deadly rock is absolutely fascinating.

  • Climbing Mount Everest is no easy feat, even for those that have trained months or even years for the event. I feel bad for George Leigh Mallroy and Andrew Irvine because they were so determined to climb Mount Everest that they were unable to see the immediate danger in disregarding all caution; unfortunately, to this day, they have yet to be found. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, being the first two to successfully scale Mount Everest, were not only bold and ambitious but also lucky; becoming celebrities due to being knighted and given a medal by Queen Elizabeth II is something to write home about! Any individual that dares to climb any mountain is brave beyond conception.

  • The monumental experience that Norgay and Hillary had with climbing such a majestic peak was very daring and courageous. The frigid temperatures and lack of a abundance of oxygen must have driven these men into many challenging obstacles. I have always wanted to challenge my self and climb a mountain peak. It is crazy that these men where so advantageous and determined to accomplish their goal.

  • I will never think of doing such things.It is certainly a fatal experience, but I loved the challenge self and the Insisting on achieving the goal despite its difficulty. I liked the author’s style of recounting the experiences of climbers and how Hillary and Norgay ended up at the top of the mountain . A beautiful story learning that patience is the key to the success.

  • I could never imagine accomplishing such an outstanding goal. I’m still wondering if Mallory and Irvine made it to the top first, but I guess no one will never truly know. If only they were a little more cautious they might have lived to tell the tale. Then a beekeeper of all people decides that he wants to go and attempt to conquer the highest point in the world. The picture of Norgay and Hillary makes me happy to see such big smiles on their face, which were well deserved. It might have been easier with the new technology they had, but the danger they faced was very real and they played it smart. I think the accolades they received at the end of the article are outstanding and very well deserved.

  • I had never heard of this story before reading this article. It is so crazy to read that they actually made it to the top despite the obstacles. In my opinion I don’t think I would ever try to do this. I acknowledge their determination to reach the top, however, I would not have it in me to do so. It must take a lot of courage and will power to achieve this goal.

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