The New Zealander Edmund Hillary, and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, have become the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border. They reached the top of the world at 1130 local time after a gruelling 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.
When we came out toward Kathmandu, there was a very strong political feeling, particularly among the Indian and Nepalese press, who very much wanted to be assured that Tenzing was first,” Sir Edmund recalls today. “That would indicate that Nepalese and Indian climbers were at least as good as foreign climbers. We felt quite uncomfortable with this at the time. John Hunt, Tenzing, and I had a little meeting. We agreed not to tell who stepped on the summit first.
“To a mountaineer, it’s of no great consequence who actually sets foot first. Often the one who puts more into the climb steps back and lets his partner stand on top first.” The pair’s pact stood until years later, when Tenzing revealed in his autobiography, Tiger of the Snows, that Hillary had in fact preceded him.
Neither man anticipated how much, in the wake of their success, the appeal of that patch of snow more than five miles in the sky would grow. “Both Tenzing and I thought that once we’d climbed the mountain, it was unlikely anyone would ever make another attempt,” Sir Edmund admits today. “We couldn’t have been more wrong.”
SOURCE: National Geographic; Everest Trust