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Conquering Everest: What You Didn’t Know About Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, and the First Trip to the Top of the World

People | June 6, 2019

First Conquerors of Mount Everest. Smiling victors Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (Left) and Edmund Hillary at their camp after their return from Everest. Source: (gettyimages.com)

In case you haven’t seen the news recently, let’s catch you up on the news for Nepal. This climbing season, more climbers than ever before are attempting to summit Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. This is creating a log jam of people near the summit…with deadly results. So far, eleven climbers have died this season in their quest to stand at the top of the world. Everest is a lot more crowded than it was this time 66 years ago when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first documented people to stand at the top of Mount Everest. Let’s look back on their historic climb to learn what you didn’t know about Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, and the first trip to the top of the world.

Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak. Source: (cnn.com)

“Because It Is There”

For mountain climbers, Everest is the pinnacle. It is a 29,029-foot tall beast of a mountain that pierces the upper atmosphere. It is taller than most jets fly at cruising altitude. Cradled in between Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest is called Chomo-Lungma in the Tibetan language, a term that means “Mother Goddess of the Land.” The British named it after Sir George Everest, a British surveyor to Asia in the 19th century. The Brits have long had a fascination with the mountain and a strong desire to reach its peak. George Leigh Mallory was a member of the 1921 British expedition, the first to attempt to summit Everest. When asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, Mallory responded, “Because it is there.”

Summitting Everest. Source: (nationalgeographic.com)

A Race to the Top

When Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Everest in the morning of May 29, 1953, they not only accomplished what no human had done before, but they beat out their rivals, the Swiss. Just a year earlier, it looked as though a team of Swiss mountaineers were going to beat them to the top. Led by Raymond Lambert, a superstar of the Swiss alpine climbing arena, the team had blazed a path up the treacherous Lhotse Face on route to the summit. Lambert and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, made it as high as 28,210 feet before they were forced to turn back. At the start of the 1953 climbing season, the British team hired Norgay away from the Swiss and planned their push to the top and recruited the best British climbers, including those from the British Commonwealth of New Zealand. 

Tenzing Norgay at the top of the world. Source: (cbsnews.com)

Who was Tenzing Norgay?

For decades, no one knew the name, Tenzing Norgay. Most reports of the conquest of Mount Everest stated that the mountain was summited by Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide. Gradually, Europeans began to recognize the important contribution of the native people living in villages around Mount Everest. Born on May 29, 1914, Norgay celebrated his 39th birthday atop Everest. The Nepali-Indian mountaineer was not only in excellent physical condition, but he had the can-do attitude to push through the obstacles on his way to the top. 

Edmund Hillary. Source: (indiatoday.in)

Who was Edmund Hillary?

Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand beekeeper. The 33-year old was a fitness and adrenaline junkie. He had climbed most of the ice peaks in New Zealand—good training for Everest—and had set his sights on the Himalayas. In fact, 1953 marked Hillary’s fourth Himalayan expedition and the British mountaineering team knew he was the best-equipped person to push through Everest’s ‘death zone’ and make it to the summit. For his historic accomplishment, Queen Elizabeth knighted him, Sir Edmund Hillary. 

The Sherpa people are well-suited to the harsh conditions on Mount Everest. Source: (snowbrains.com)

Are Sherpas Super-Human?

Sherpas, an ethnic group living in the mountainous regions of Nepal, are so well-suited for the high elevations and thin oxygen that they have been called super-human. Now geneticists think they have proven this. A 2010 study by UCLA showed that Sherpas have adapted to now exhibit at least 30 genetic markers that make them ideal for living in high altitude regions. One of these genetic factors is a gene called EPAS1, or the ‘super-athlete gene’. This gene allows the Sherpa’s body to regulate the production of hemoglobin, which in turn, makes the body use oxygen more efficiently. 

News of Hillary's ascent of Everest reached England on the day of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Source: (moneyweek.com)

News of the Ascent was Seen as a Lucky Omen

Although Hillary and Norgay reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953, the news of their accomplishment didn’t reach England until the morning of June 2, 1953—the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The British people had two reasons to celebrate and felt an enormous sense of pride that their country’s expedition was the first to reach the top of the world. They viewed it as a lucky omen that the reign of Queen Elizabeth II would be a long and prosperous one. 

Teen actor Tenzing Norgay Trainor, the grandson of Tenzin Norgay. Source: (celebbodysize.com)

Norgay’s Grandson is a Disney Channel Actor

Tenzing Norgay passed away in 1986 so he was never able to meet his grandson with whom he shares a name. Tenzing Norgay Trainor, 17, is a Hollywood actor known for his role of one Disney channel shows such ad Liv & Maddie, Good Luck, Charlie, Clueless, and Wonder Pets. He stars in the upcoming animated movie, Abominable, which is about the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, that is said to live in the Himalayan Mountains. 

Tags: mount everest | sir edmund hillary

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.