Edmund Hillary Biography: The First Man To Climb Mt. Everest

Travel to the highest point on the planet with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Everest.

On June 2nd, 1953 Queen Elizabeth II was crowned as monarch of the Commonwealth. Just days before, however, a humble bee keeper from New Zealand had managed to replace news of the Coronation on the front pages of the British newspapers. On May 29th, 1953 that man - Edmund Percival Hillary - and his companion, Tensing Norgay, achieved the seeming impossible - they climbed Mount Everest. The 34 year old kiwi and the 38 year old Nepalese Sherpa guide leader conquered the world's tallest mountain after a slow climb at less than three steps per minute up the final three hundred yards from their last Camp. This final climb to the top had defeated seven other expeditions. It's success this time was in no small part due to the careful planning and teamwork of the whole expedition, which was organised as a British trek and was led by Colonel Sir John Hunt. State of the art equipment was also used to enable the climbers to breathe and walk in the thin air. Each man had to carry a 26 pound cylinder of extra oxygen lasting five hours. Combining this with their own superhuman endurance and persistence paid off for Hillary and Tensing, who had got to within a tantalizing 800 meters of the summit the previous year with Raymond Lambert while on a Swiss expedition.

The first attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest began in the early 1920's with the opening of the Tibetan route. Over the next thirty or so years, eight attempts were made on the Northeast Ridge and three on the Southeast Ridge. The combination of thin air, extreme temperatures and high altitude brought failure to each successive attempt.

The successful climb in 1953 was jointly sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society and the Joint Himalayan Committee of the Alpine Club. On March 9th the British Everest party took the road from Katmandu. They had with them the largest amount of oxygen ever carried by a climbing party. Within 6 weeks the party was strung out right up the treacherous Lhotse Face of Mount Everest. Here they established Camp VII. On May 28, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay left Camp VII on the long climb to the top of the world. For more than two hours the two men tramped along in the snow. Finally they raised a tent for the night.

The following morning Hillary and Tensing headed to the Southern Summit. To travel the four hundred feet to this point took two and a half hours of solid climbing. Finally Hillary and Tensing had reached the spot that no man was ever able to reach again. Realising that they had made it, Hillary pulled off his oxygen mask and looked over the vast Himalayan landscape along with his Nepalese companion. The two men took photographs, left mementos and then turned for the descent. The 12,000 foot drop to the Kangshung Glacier was right alongside them.

The two men were now international heroes. Their picture was plastered over the front page of nearly every newspaper in the world. But among the fanfare was a sour note. The issue surrounded the question of who had actually reached the summit first - and which country could claim the honor. Of course Hillary and Tensing were roped together, no more than ten feet apart. The question of who actually set foot on the summit first is, for climbers, a ridiculous one. Climbing is a total team effort and no one person can possibly be singled out. To prevent things getting out of hand, expedition leader Colonel John Hunt officially announced that the two men had reached the Summit "╦ťalmost together.' Hillary and Tensing went further to sign a statement that neither of them had reached the Summit ahead of the other.

Edmund Hillary received a knighthood for his achievement. His most memorable response to his achievement was recorded on the triumphal return to London. He said "We knocked the bastard off."

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