Hillary and Norgay conquer Mount Everest

Tenzing and Hillary are the second team to have the chance to climb to the top after Bourdillon and Evans have given up. Here they check their oxygen bottles before departure.

The creature that comes down in the evening of May 26, 1953, looks like the terrible snowman. And a few meters behind him another snowy figure appears. They are both covered with ice from head to toe and walk with stiff, clumsy movements.

With a gigantic backpack on their backs, an oxygen mask over their face and white frozen hair, the men stagger silently toward Edmund Hillary and George Lowe who meet them from the camp.

New expedition must determine whether Mount Everest has shrunk

In 2015 a huge earthquake took place in large parts of Nepal that caused the country to be 9 meters higher or lower in some places.

And so the Nepalese government has decided to send four specially trained surveyors to the summit of Mount Everest to see if the mountain is still the same height.

The height of Mount Everest was set at 8848 meters in 1954. And that is still the official height in Nepal, although an American team with GPS meters reached a height of 8850 meters in 1999. That is the height that the National Geographic Society and this article maintain.

Two of the Nepalese surveyors will climb all the way to the top of Mount Everest and send their data back to their colleagues at the base camp. The altitude is determined using a new satellite system, donated by from New Zealand, with gravity meters and old, trusted trigonometric surveyors.

The expectation is that the height of Mount Everest can be determined to the nearest centimeter.

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They are so cold that they can't even raise their hands to say hello, and only after Tenzing Norgay comes running out with a few cups of warm soup and holds it against their lips, does the blood in their exhausted bodies begin to run out again flow.

Thankfully Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon are brought to their tents and only an hour later have they gained enough strength to tell what they have experienced.

Climbing stopped at 90 meters from the top

The two mountain climbers have not reached the summit. But they have come closer than anyone else. Only 90 meters and they had conquered the highest and most notorious mountain peak in the world.

In the beginning the climb went very well, but then it suddenly became foggy and it started to snow heavily, causing them to be delayed.

At the South Summit, on the south side of Mount Everest, they had to make the difficult decision to return. They thought it would take another five hours to reach the top and come back, but their oxygen was running out, and so was the time and their physical strength. So they had to go down disappointed again, until they were attacked by the darkness.

After a long hike, almost crashed a few times, they are now safe in the camp again - exhausted and frozen, but they live and can share their important experiences with the highest part of Mount Everest with two other men who also want to make an effort to reach the top: the New Zealand beekeeper Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Edmund Hillary (1919-2008)

Conquered all three poles

Born in Auckland, New Zealand. Worked as a beekeeper and climbed mountains in his spare time.

After his success on Mount Everest, Edmund Hillary went back to Nepal a number of times; to climb, but also to build schools, hospitals and clinics.

In January of 1958 he reached the South Pole in a caterpillar vehicle and in 1985 he flew to the North Pole. For example, Edmund Hillary managed to reach the three poles of the earth, if you see Mount Everest as the third pole.

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While the earlier expeditions had attempted to reach the top via Tibet from the north side, the expedition led by John Hunt in 1953 was forced to make the final attempt from the south, from the Nepal side.

Politics had decided that they had to take a different route - because while Nepal was closed to foreigners from the mid-19th century to 1949, the roles were reversed in 1950 and Tibet had now become a 'no-go zone'.

"The most important thing is that you return safely. Do not forget that. But if possible, go for the top! " The words with which John Hunt said goodbye to Hillary and Norgay on 28 May 1953.

In April 1953, the expedition arrives at the Khumbu Glacier Breach at the foot of the mountain, where the British, their sherpas, and about 350 bearers have camped among ice blocks the size of houses.

From here Colonel Hunt has planned the final climb as if it were a military operation, with the sole purpose of defeating the enemy, in this case Mount Everest.

Tenzing Norgay (1914-1986)

Passed on Mount Everest to his son

Born in Tibet as 11th out of a total of 13 children. Grew up among the mountain slopes of the Himalayas where he herded yaks.

In 1935, Tenzing went on a Mount Everest expedition for the first time. After the climb in 1953 he became head of a school for mountain climbers. In 1978 he founded the company Tenzing Norgay Adventures, which organizes hikes through the Himalayas.

Today his son is the owner of the company.

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According to Hunt's strategy, it should be possible to reach the top from the highest camp, Camp 8 on South Col. But after the unsuccessful attempt by Evans and Bourdillon, it is clear that the second group of men must start from an even higher camp.

So on May 28, 1953, Hillary and Norgay begin the climb to Camp 9. A group of three men walk up the mountain with provisions, tents, and oxygen bottles for them. And while the chunks of ice from the mountaineers are flying around them, Hillary and Norgay come after them - each with a pack of up to 20 kilos.

Last camp is on rock face

At an altitude of 8500 meters, they are left with their belongings, and while the porters climb down again, Hillary tries to find a place to spend the night.

He does not have much choice - the only place to set up a camp on the steep mountainside is a narrow and windy protruding boulder, where the ice must first be chopped away before they can set up a tent.

Before the men crawl into their sleeping bags, Hillary looks up at the starry sky. It is clear and completely clear - that is a good prospect for their climb of tomorrow.

Tenzing and Hillary are the second team to have the chance to climb to the top after Bourdillon and Evans have given up. Here they check their oxygen bottles before departure.

After a restless night in the wind and cold, Hillary decides at four o'clock in the morning that he can no longer sleep. He shivers with cold and can hardly crawl out of his sleeping bag.

Because of the cold, it is as stiff as a board, but if it finally manages to get up, it is rewarded with a magnificent view: in the early morning light, the mountain peaks of the Himalayas stand out sharply against the deep blue sky, while the is still dark in the valleys below.

The thermometer indicates -27 degrees - an excellent temperature at 8500 meters, where 40 to 50 degrees below zero is not unusual.

Before they leave their tent, the mountaineers rub their faces with a greasy cream to protect themselves from the biting wind and put on a windproof nylon trousers and jacket over all the clothes they are already wearing: a jumper, a woolen shirt, a pullover of shetland wool, a woolen underpants, and a down pants and jacket. They wear three pairs of gloves on their hands - the inner one is made of silk, the middle one is made of wool and the outer one is made of a windproof fabric.

It is 6:30 am when Hillary and Norgay leave their tent in the highest camp in the world. As they try to keep their balance on the narrow, protruding rock and the wind whistles around them, they attach the 14-kilo oxygen devices to their backs.

Because of these heavy devices they can hardly stand upright, but as soon as they put on their oxygen masks and take a few deep breaths, things get better again.

Tied together with a nylon rope and armed with a pickel, the men begin their journey to the top. Above them they see an almost vertical mountain slope that is covered with a thick layer of powder snow. When Norgay takes the first step on this unknown path to the top, he sinks to his knees.

Looking around the Mountain of Death:

  • Since the first serious mountaineering in 1922, Mount Everest has killed nearly 300 people. Here you will find an overview of the deadliest expeditions. The blue line indicates the southern route - which Hillary and Norgay have taken - and the yellow triangles indicate where their camps were. *

They bumble around like stiff zombies for the first 20 minutes, but as their muscles get warmer, Hillary and Norgay manage to find a good pace. They are determined to plow their way through the snow and not much later they see their first goal of the day: the South Summit, which shimmers in the sun.

The men change places. In a few places they have to cut steps into the ice, but the worst are the parts where the wind has formed a hard layer on the ice. Sometimes this layer can bear their body weight, but sometimes they suddenly drop through it, causing them to stumble and hold their breath.

They are constantly afraid of causing an avalanche or slipping and crashing, but they keep going - ever further and higher.

Meter by meter, Hillary and Norgay are getting closer to their goal.

Ice floe comes loose near the abyss

Shortly after eight the two men arrive at the South Summit. The ridge that leads to the southern summit is horribly narrow and like cord dancers with an abyss of about 3 kilometers deep, the men balance to the other side, while the ice layer starts to burst under their feet.

Suddenly, an approximately 2 by 1 meter large ice floe comes loose, directly below Hillary. And while he tries to hold his ground, he is shocked to see how fast the ice floats sliding down the mountain.

This makes a huge impression on Hillary, who is beginning to doubt. Maybe it's smarter to go back.

He looks questioningly at his friend: "What do you say, Tenzing?" Very tricky, very dangerous, "he answers in his best English." What do you think, shall we continue? " Hillary asks, although he already knows the answer. "If you want to," Norgay says briefly while he is on his way again.

VIDEO - Follow Hillary and Tenzing on the way to the perilous South Summit:

They work their way upwards slowly. It seems as if they are sliding two steps backwards for each step they walk forward on the slippery surface, but at nine o'clock they have reached the round summit of the South Summit. They chop a platform in the ice and sit down to rest and have a drink.

From here, the view of the triangular summit of Mount Everest 90 meters up is impressive and frightening at the same time: the summit looks beautifully white, but the ridge that should take them to their final goal is, as Evans and Bourdillon have already warned, incredibly narrow and stylish, and at first glance seems irreconcilable.

But if they look closely, the snow appears to be pretty firm and hard, and that can make the difference between success and failure. If the snow had been loose and soft, the ridge would be life threatening, but it should now be possible to make a kick in the snow.

It is hard work, but not impossible, thinks Hillary. A few minutes later, the sound of chopping pickaxes on the slopes of Mount Everest. While Norgay holds his friend tightly with a rope, Hillary cuts it loose.

A perpendicular wall of ice stands in the way of their success

The closer they get to their goal, the longer and monotonous the climb becomes. While the men were still bursting with energy and enthusiasm in the morning, they are now completely exhausted.

They move forward with difficulty, almost imperceptibly slowly, and the biggest obstacle is yet to come: a smooth, perpendicular rock wall of about 12 meters high.

Hillary and Norgay have prepared themselves well on the basis of aerial photos, but when they stand at the foot of this rock face, courage falls in their shoes: against their expectations they cannot get around it in any way. Hillary begins to examine the wall - which keeps them from the final leg of their adventure - inch by inch.

Hillary and Tenzing encounter numerous obstacles on their way to the top of Mount Everest, but where their predecessors threw in the towel, they insist.

To his relief, he discovers that part of the ice hanging on the rock has come loose. This has created a crack that is just large enough to continue climbing up. With his back against the bare, cold rocks, he drills the climbing irons of his boots deep into the ice and works his way up step by step through the narrow shaft - knowing that the ice can release at any time, with disastrous consequences.

Without accidents, but with his very last powers, Hillary manages to get all the way up, where he then holds the rope, so that Norgay can also climb up.

Like a huge fish that has just been brought ashore, Norgay lies a bit later on the top of the cliff, gasping for breath. At that moment Hillary really starts to believe in it. "Now nothing can stop us," he thinks, looking up at the summit of Mount Everest.

Sherpas are indispensable

During the 1953 expedition, the British took a small army of sherpas.

Because they live all their lives in the Himalayas, these people are extremely persistent. Without the Nepalese sherpas, and in particular Tenzing Norgay, the British would never have reached the top in 1953.

Around the year 1500, the ancestors of the sherpas arrived from Tibet on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, where they have since been living on agriculture and livestock in the high valleys. Because of this they know the mountains like the back of their hand, but due to the harsh conditions they have also become incredibly strong and persistent.

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During the last leg over the inhospitable mountain ridge, the climbers must regularly step into the ice to continue. Every time they pass a small top, they hope it's the last one, but every time they see a new, even higher top. And as they climb higher and higher, the mood drops proportionally.

After two hours - for Hillary it feels like an eternity - the men reach a snow-covered mountain peak at 11.30 am, and they automatically prepare themselves for the next - in vain. Then it dawns on them that there is no next: the summit on which they stand is higher than the rest - and with 8850 meters higher than all other mountain peaks in the world.

And while Hillary experiences a whole roller coaster of emotions in a nanosecond, he looks at Norgay. Behind the frozen oxygen mask and under the icicles hanging from his hair, he sees a broad grin. And when Hillary takes a step forward to shake hands with a friend like a true British gentleman, Norgay falls into his arms.

On 29 May 1953, Tenzing holds an ice ax with the flags of the UN, Great Britain, Nepal and India in the air.

© Royal Geographical Society

Overjoyed, the two men embrace each other, and Norgay rolls out the flag that he had wrapped around the handle of his pickel. While holding the flag up against the bright blue sky, Hillary takes one photo after another. Then he leans forward, scratches some snow away and picks up some pebbles which he puts in his pocket as a souvenir.

In the meantime, Norgay is quietly praying while he buries a piece of chocolate and some cookies as a sacrifice on Mount Everest.

Telegram with bad news to London

"We knocked the bastard off" - "We defeated the monster" - Edmund Hillary exults as he and Norgay finally reach Camp 4 after another ice-cold night on the mountain, where the rest of the expedition is waiting with excitement.

The rest of the world has not yet heard the news, but the British newspaper journalist James Morris The times has gone along with the expedition. He hurries to the base camp at the Khumbu Glacier Breach, where he brings out his typewriter and sends a telegram to his editors:

"Snow condition bath hence expedition abandoned advance base on 29th and awaiting improvement being all well."

For outsiders it may seem like a depressing message - attempt has been halted due to bad weather. But Morris agreed in advance that he would use this code to prevent other journalists from receiving the news.

The moment the telegram arrives at the editors in London, the employees know exactly what they should put on the front page tomorrow: "Summit reached on May 29 by Hillary and Norgay."

Hillary and Tenzing had this view from the top of Mount Everest. The photo is more recent.

© Roddy Mackenzie

Video: Sir Edmund Hillary - The Race for Everest (January 2020).

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