The Complete History
Rolex Conquers Mount Everest
[Part 4 0f 8]
Man Versus Mountain
In 1952 while Tenzing had been climbing Everest with the Swiss Expedition, Edmund Hillary had been surveying Everest for the upcoming British expedition. In the photo below, we see Edmund Hillary standing at the base of Mount Everest staring at the monster he would soon try to conquer.
The First Meeting
When Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first met, as seen in the series of three photos below, they had no idea their lives would be inextricably linked forever. From all accounts, they were both very humble, unassuming, unpretentious men; both with a quiet, but burning desire to reach the top of the world.
Tenzing and Hillary were an odd couple. They came from completely different cultures and did not speak the same language. Hillary was 6 foot 3 inches tall and Tenzing was 5 foot 6 inches tall.
Tenzing Norgay was 39 years old and Edmund Hillary was 34 years old when they both finally climbed to the top of the world on May 29, 1953.
Tensing Norgay was part of three official British attempts to climb Everest from the Tibetian side from the north in the 1930s. In 1947 Tensing also took part in another unsuccessful attempt to climb Mount Everest that failed because the weather pounded them. In 1952, Tensing took part in two Swiss expeditions led by Raymond Lambert which were the first serious attempts to climb Mount Everest from the southern (Nepalese) side.
In the photo below you notice Tenzing is wearing an oxygen tank like a scuba diver. This is because the higher you get on Everest the thinner the air gets. At the top of Mount Everest you enter a section aptly named "The Death Zone" because there is less than 1/3 of the amount of oxygen a human needs to live.
The further the climbers get to the top the slower they move due to the lack of oxygen. A very fit 30 year old man is suddenly rendered into an 90 year old man with the lack of oxygen.
After the Chinese government took over Tibet in 1950 they closed off any routes to Everest and Nepal only allowed one expedition per year.
Edmund Hillary was a member of a 1951 British reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest. Again in 1952, Hillary with George Lowe were part of another British attempt led by Eric Shipton which failed due to a lack of a route from the Nepal side.
Eric Shipton was named as the leader for the 1953 British expedition, but was replaced by British Brigadier, Sir John Hunt. The Hunt expedition was a giant team effort that consisted of over 400 people of which there were 362 porters and 20 Sherpa guides along with 10,000 pounds of baggage.
British Expedition leader, Hunt appointed two climbing teams for the attempted conquest of Mount Everest. The first team consisted of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and the other team consisted of Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon. In the photo above you see Tenzing below with Hillary leading the way above.
Ironically, on May 26, 1953 the team of Tom Bourdillon and Chalres Evans attempted to climb the last stretch of Everest but had to turn back when Charles Evans' oxygen system experienced a failure. The Evans and Bourdillon team came within 300 vertical feet (91 meters) of the summit.
Hunt then directed Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to ascend to the summit.
The Ultimate Wisdom
The famous mountaineer and writer, James Ullman who was the ghost writer for Tenzing Norgay's autobiography, Man of Everest (originally published as Tiger of the Snows), once wrote: "It is the ultimate wisdom of the mountains that a man is never more of a man than when he is striving for that which is beyond his grasp" and that was clearly the case with Tenzing and Hillary as they strove toward the top of Everest.
As a matter of fact, Sir Edmund Hillary said "we didn't know if it was humanly possible to reach the top of Mount Everest" but that clearly did not stop them from trying.
At 11:30 a.m. on May, 29, 1953 Hillary and Tenzing reached Mount Everest's Summit at 29,028 feet (8,848 Meters) which is the highest point on earth. When they reached the top they spent 15 minutes looking for evidence of the 1924 Mallory expedition but came up empty handed. When they returned down the mountain the first team member they ran into was Hillary's lifelong pal, George Lowe to which Hillary famously said "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off."
I always thought the photo above was of Hillary and Tenzing on top of the summit but apparently it is not. The only photo of either one of them on the summit is of Tenzing (pictured below) and it was taken by Hillary. Tenzing did not take a photo of Hillary because he did not know how to use a camera.