Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay

By: Victoria Yates
Edmund Hillary was born Percival Augustus Hillary in Auckland on the 20th July 1919. He finished his primary school education two years early but struggled in secondary schooling, achieving only average marks. Hillary was very shy and took refuge in daydreams of adventure and reading. His everyday train journey to and from school lasted over two hours, time often dedicated to reading. He discovered a love of climbing on a school trip to Mount Ruapehu when he was 16. Although he was gangly, standing at 6ft 5in, and somewhat uncoordinated he proved himself to be stronger and with more endurance than his companions. He went on to study Maths and Science at Auckland University College before completing his first major climb in 1939 to the summit of Mount Ollivier. Along with his brother he became a beekeeper, so the summer nature of the work allowed him to continue pursuing his climbing in the winter months. During WWII he withdrew his enlistment application because of his religious conscience. However the outbreak of the war of the Pacific and the introduction of the conscription saw him becoming a navigator serving on Catalina flying boats.

Tenzing Norgay's early life isn't entirely clear, with a birthday believed to be May, 1914. Initially it was believed that he was a Sherpa born and raised in Khumbu, Nepal. However following further research many accept him to have been born in Kharta Valley in Tibet, initially born Namgyal Wangdi, the 11th child of 13 to a Yak herding father and his wife. Tenzing's name was changed on the advice of the head lama and founder of the Rongbuk Monastery, his new name translating to "wealthy fortunate follower of religion." Later his family was left destitute after the death of their yaks and he was sold as a bonded servant to a Sherpa family in Nepal. He ran away twice in his teenage years before settling at 19 in a Sherpa community in Darjeeling, West Bengal. He was married three times and had seven children, one of whom died at age four. Though never able to read or write Tenzing spoke several languages, speaking both Sherpa and Tibetan from an early age and learning Nepali and (with varying levels of success) Hindustani, English, Garhwali, Punjabi, Sikkimese, Yalmo, Pasthu, and Chitrali in his adulthood. He took part in several expeditions, including two failed attempts to summit Mount Everest. Following his ascent of Everest on the 29th May he decided to celebrate his birthday on that day thereafter.

Together the pair were the first to summit Mount Everest during the 1953 British expedition led by John Hunt. The expedition included over 400 people including 362 porters, 20 sherpa guides, and 10,000lbs of baggage. They were almost beaten by Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans who made it to within 91m of the summit before Evans' oxygen failed and they turned back. Hillary and Tenzing camped on the 28th May,with Hillary waking to find his boots frozen solid. After two hours spent warming them they began their ascent. The crucial moment in the last stages was the ascent of the 12m rock face (now known as "Hillary step"); Hillary saw a way to wedge himself up between the ice and the rock wall with Tenzing following. The pair reached the highest point on Earth (29, 028ft or 8,848m) at 11:30am. They spent 15 minutes on the summit, looking for evidence of Mallory's expedition (rumored by some to have reached the summit) but found none. There are no pictures of Hillary on the summit as Tenzing didn't know how to use a camera. Hillary left a cross behind whilst Tenzing left chocolates as an offering.

Both Hillary and Hunt were knighted by the Queen whilst Tenzing was given the British Empire Medal. Hillary and Tenzing brought different skills and experience to the team, applying their abilities and working with one another in order to reach their ultimate goal. Their hard work and dedication led the way for further attempts and successes on Everest, making them leaders in their field and explorers of world wide renown.