Tenzing Norgay: He who scaled the ultimate peak

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent
Aug 28, 2019 12:00 PM IST

Tenzing Norgay: This Nepalese-Indian sherpa (guide) and mountaineer scripted history in 1953, along with fellow mountaineer Edmund Hillary when they scaled the world’s highest peak, the 8,848-metre Mt Everest

Born in Tengboche Khumbu, Nepal, on May 29, 1914,* to Buddhist yak herder Ghang La Mingma and his wife Dokmo Kinzom, the infant was originally named Namgyal Wangdi. Later, heeding the advice of Lama Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, his name was changed to Tenzing Norgay, which roughly means wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion. Tenzing was 19 when he shifted base to Darjeeling.

Tenzing Norgay(Illustration: Rushikesh)
Tenzing Norgay(Illustration: Rushikesh)

From porter to mountaineer

On May 21, 1935, Tenzing joined his first expedition to Mt Everest when he was hired by well-known mountaineer Eric Shipton for a British reconnaissance expedition after two other porters had failed to clear the medical test. The mission was unsuccessful.

The next year, he became part of another such expedition under the English mountaineer John Morris. During the 1930s, he was a member of three other expeditions to Mt Everest from the Tibet side, none of which was successful.

In 1947, Tenzing took part in an unsuccessful attempt on Everest with Canadian mountaineer Earl Denman. In the same year, he became a senior climber with a Swiss expedition that conquered 6,700 m-Kedarnath peak in the Garhwal Himalayas.

Setting first record

In 1952, Tenzing was part of two Swiss expeditions that attempted to climb the Everest from the Nepalese side. During the first one, Swiss mountaineer Raymond Lambert and Tenzing set a high altitude climbing record by reaching 8,595 metres and opened a new route to the Everest. During the second one, bad weather stopped the expedition after they had reached climbing around 8,100 metres.

Finally, success

In 1953, Tenzing took part in a mega expedition to Everest led by John Hunt that involved more than 400 men. During the trip, Tenzing saved Edmund Hillary from falling into a crevasse. The incident strengthened their bond and made them trusted climbing partners.

In March 1953, a base camp was established. On May 26, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans made an attempt but returned after Evan’s oxygen equipment ran into trouble when they had reached 91 metres away from the summit.

On Hunt’s direction, Tenzing and Hillary headed for the summit. After a two-day struggle with heavy snow and wild wind, the pair went ahead on May 28. At 8,500 metres, they set up a tent and on the following morning the duo targeted the final climb. But before that they warmed themselves and prepared their equipment. Hillary’s frozen boots were thawed over the flame of their small stove. The pair also melted ice for drinking water before they set off for the summit. The last part of the Everest ascent was a 12-metre rock face climb which later named as Hillary Step. On May 29, 1953, they reached at the highest point of the Earth at 11:30 am.

The duo spent 15 minutes on the Everest summit during which Hillary took photographs, Tenzing left an offering of food and both of them relished a mint cake.


Tenzing’s life underwent a dramatic change. From his initial days as an unknown member of an little-known mountain tribe, he had grown up to become an international hero. He was honoured with a number of awards, including the George Medal by Britain’s newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II and a Coronation medal on July 1, 1953. He was also awarded the Order of the Star of Nepal. In 1959, Tenzing received the Padma Bhushan and in 2013, a 7,916 feet mountain in Nepal was named the Tenzing Peak.

In 1954, he became the founder and director of field training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, which trained mountaineers.

Interesting facts

Mountains of Pluto

On July 14, 2015, NASA named the icy mountains of the dwarf planet Pluto after Tenzing. Earlier NASA’s New Horizon Spacecraft team had named the peak Norgay Montes but on September 7, 2015 it formally changed its name to Tenzing Montes.

Could have been a monk

When he was a teenager, Tenzing was sent by his parents to a monastery in the Tengboche village of Khumbu, Nepal, to become a monk. Tenzing, however, realised that he was not cut out for a monk’s lifestyle and fled the place.


In 1999, Time named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

The Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award recognises outstanding achievements in the field of the adventure and is presented by the President of India every August.

Career in Climbing

In 1954, after he and Edmund Hillary had scaled the Everest, Norgay became the first director of field training of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling which was set up in the same year. In 1978, Tenzing founded his own mountaineering company, Tenzing Norgay Adventures, which organises mountaineering expeditions for the public.

Appeared in Comic

In 2011, the Amar Chitra Katha comics published an edition on the life of the great mountaineer.

*Tenzing’s autobiography, Tigers of the Snow, mentions that the Sherpa was born at Tengboche, Khumbu in Nepal, though several accounts including an interview given by him claim that he was born in Tibet, China.

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