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Mt Everest First Ascent Anniversary; Who was first on summit – Hillary or Tenzing?

(In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers reach the peak of Mount Everest. Listen to Hillary recount the journey in “Interview with Sir Edmund Hillary: Mountain Climbing,” a 1974 interview produced by Smithsonian Folkway Recordings. Photo courtesy of Flickr user agirregabiria)

Birat Anupam, SUNSARI:- At 11:30 am of 29 May 1953, for the first time there were human steps on the top of the world, Mt. Everest (8848m). It was the historic day not only in the mountaineering world but also to the humankind. The 15-minute-long time spent on the summit has penned a precious page of epoch-making event on the Everest bringing in thousands of climbers from across the globe in the last 67 years.
Despite being the British expedition led by John Hunt, no Britisher was lucky enough to be one of the first two men to make an incredible achievement.
Nepal-born Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and New Zealander Edmund Hillary made it to the mountaintop of Everest. Other expedition member preceded them.
Hillary and Tenzing troubled by question of ‘who first’
Mountaineering is not an individual work. So comes true to the summit success, said Tshiring Jangbo Sherpa, a veteran mountaineer from Nepal. He said unclimbed summit attempt needs more collective work.
”Mountain climbing is a united task. The stronger ones reach the top first. Others follow,” said Sherpa, adding, ”there is no feeling of first and second while we are in the mountain. It only comes into the talks only after coming to the city.”
Sherpa, senior instructor at government-owned Nepal Mountain Academy that teaches first academic mountaineering and adventure tourism courses of Nepal’s Tribhuwan University, said First Mountaineering summit success is like a military war where a team wins not an individual member.
He added, ”That is why some westerners call expedition lines by militaristic phrases like first, second or third assault pairs. The ascents of Everest and Kanchenjunga used the word assault pairs.”
True to his saying, the way first Everest summit history was co-created by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, first ascent to the third tallest peak Mt. Kanchenjunga (8586m) was made by Joe Brown and George Band of UK.
Likewise, on the first summit of Lhotse (8516m), the fourth highest mountain of the world, were Fritz Luchsinger and Ernst Reiss of Switzerland. On first ascent on the top of fifth tallest mountain Makalu (8463m) were Jean Couzy and Lionel Terry.
Still, general people and press personnel question about the first of the firsts, shared Mingma Sherpa, the first South Asian to scale all 14 eighth-thousander of the planet. Mingma, the chairperson at Seven Summits Treks Private Limited, said such a concern comes in pioneering ascents.
Such question came from the first day of the Everest summit, shared the climber duo Hillary and Tenzing in their respective autobiographies.
”When we came out towards Kathmandu, there was a very strong political feelings, particularly among the Indians and Nepalese press, who were very much wanted to be assured that Tenzing was first,” shared Hillary in his autobiographical book titled ‘View from the Summit’ published on 1999 by Doubleday.
He has said, ”That would indicate that Nepalese and Indian climbers 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.”
Tenzing has echoed Hillary. In his autobiographical book titled ‘Tiger of the Snows’ written in collaboration with American novelist and mountaineering writer James Ramsey Ullman from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York in 1955, Hillary has said he was pressured to tell he scaled first.
”In India and Nepal, I am sorry to say, there has been great pressure on me to say that I reached the summit before Hillary,” shared Tenzing in the chapter ‘The Dream Comes True’, adding, ”To put a stop to such talk, Hillary and I signed a statement in which we said we reached the summit almost together.”
What Hillary and Tenzing said about who was first?
Despite their initial reluctance to pronounce about who was first among them to the summit, both climbers spoke about the ‘mystery’ in their respective autobiographical books. Hillary has spoken in symbolic way. Tenzing has made it clearer in detailed elaboration.
Hillary has hinted that he stepped first and Tenzing ‘quickly joined’ him in the maiden Everest summit. He has written indirectly in the first chapter titled ‘Roar of a Thousand Tigers’ that starts with the first word of Tenzing.
In the chapter, he said, ”I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction. Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked around in wonder. To our immense satisfaction, we realized we had reached the top of the world.”
Tenzing has similar saying in his autobiography. Unlike Hillary, Tenzing has made a long elaboration. ”All over the world I am asked- who got there first? Who got there first? Again, I say, this is a foolish question. The answer means nothing. And yet it is a question that has been asked so often- that has caused so much talk and doubt and misunderstanding- that I feel, after the long thought, that the answer should be given. As will be clear, it is not for my own sake that I give. Nor is it for Hillary’s. It is for the sake of Everest- the prestige of Everest- for the generations who will come after us,” Tenzing has described before clearing the then long ‘mystery’ about who was first on the joint summit success on the Everest.
Tenzing added in the book, ”The rope that joined us was thirty feet long, but I held most of it in loops in my hand, so that there was only about six feet between us. I was not thinking of ‘first’ and ‘second’. We went on slowly, steadily. And then we were there. Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him.” RSS

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