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THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE STORY OF
AN ORDINARY MAN WHO BECAME THE
CENTURY'S MOST IMPORTANT EXPLORER
Adventurers the world over have been inspired by the achievements of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man ever to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest. In this candid, wry, and vastly entertaining autobiography, Hillary looks back on that 1953 landmark expedition, as well as his remarkable explorations in other ...
THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE STORY OF
AN ORDINARY MAN WHO BECAME THE
CENTURY'S MOST IMPORTANT EXPLORER
Adventurers the world over have been inspired by the achievements of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man ever to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest. In this candid, wry, and vastly entertaining autobiography, Hillary looks back on that 1953 landmark expedition, as well as his remarkable explorations in other exotic locales, from the South Pole to the Ganges. View From The Summit is the compelling life story of a New Zealand country boy who daydreamed of wild adventures; the pioneering climber who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth after scaling the world's tallest peak; and the elder statesman and unlikely diplomat whose groundbreaking program of aid to Nepal continues to this day, paying his debt of worldwide fame to the Himalayan region.
More than four decades after Hillary looked down from Everest's 29,000 feet, his impact is still felt — in our fascination with the perils and triumphs of mountain climbing, and in today's phenomenon of extreme sports. The call to adventure is alive and real on every page of this gripping memoir.
Chapter 1: Roar of a Thousand Tigers
Tenzing called it the roar of a thousand tigers. hour after hour it came whining and screeching in an unrelenting stream from the west with such ferocity it set the canvas of our small Pyramid tent cracking like a rifle range. We were 25,800 feet up on the South Col, a desolate saddle between the upper slopes of Everest and Lhotse. Rather than easing off, the gale grew more violent the longer it went on. I began to fear that our heaving and thrashing shelter must surely be wrenched from its mooring, leaving us exposed and unprotected amongst the ice and boulders. I was braced between Tenzing Norgay and the tent wall with no room to stretch out to my full length. Jammed in tight, just turning over was difficult and resulted in a spasm of panting. The thudding canvas beat constantly against my ribs and whenever my head touched the fabric my brain felt like it had been placed under a pneumatic drill. As a weight-saving device, we had left behind our inner sleeping bags and this was proving to be a considerable mistake. Even wearing all my down clothing I found the icy breath from outside penetrating through to my bones. A terrible sense of fear and loneliness dominated my thoughts. What is the sense in it all? I asked myself. A man was a fool to put up with this! When it came, sleep was a half-world of noise and cold. Then my air mattress deflated, freezing my hip where it rested on the ice. It was the worst night I have ever spent on a mountain.
On the other side of Tenzing my old climbing friend and fellow New Zealander George Lowe and the English climber Alf Gregory were similarly hunched up in their sleeping bags, twisting about in futile search for some position less uncomfortable and for some escape from the bitter cold. We were using the oxygen sleeping sets at the rate of one liter per minute, which made it easier to doze. At this height you dribble a good bit in your sleep, and when your oxygen bottle gives out you wake with a terrible start and your rubber mask is all clammy and frigid. Throughout the endless night I kept looking at my watch, wondering if it had broken, for the hands hardly seemed to move. Finally, when the hour hand crawled around to 4 A.M., I struck a match and read the thermometer on the tent wall. It was -25°C and still pitch black. I gently nudged Tenzing and he was immediately awake and, in his universally helpful fashion, wriggled up and began lighting our primus stove. The tent started warming up a little and I retreated callously deeper into my bag and thought about the events of the previous day. What a momentous day it had been!
The 26th May 1953 had dawned cold, bright and clear. We were at Camp VII, 24,000 feet up in the middle of the Lhotse Face. Overhead a cloud of powder snow was being blown off Everest's upper ramparts, but it didn't look too bad. It boded well for the first assault pair of Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon. They were at Camp VIII on the South Col and would be going all out for the South Summit this day. Their start would need to be better than ours. At Camp VII it took us ages to get moving. Even simple tasks at this height take an inordinate length of time, as oxygen-starved brains and bodies have little concentration and lack coordination. At 8:45 A.M., after breakfasting on biscuits and lukewarm tea, Tenzing and I, the second assault pair, led off on one rope. Our support team of George Lowe and Alf Gregory followed on a second rope. Behind them were our three high-altitude Sherpas who would help us establish Camp IX on the South-East Ridge. Bringing up the rear were five load-carrying Sherpas who were taking supplies only as far as the South Col. Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon had been chosen for the first assault because they had developed a successful partnership and were better versed than any of us in using the more experimental closed-circuit oxygen equipment which, if it worked, would allow faster and more economical progress toward the South Summit and, maybe, beyond. If the weather made it a one-dash venture, they were equipped to take their chance. Meanwhile Tenzing and I had established our credentials by being acclimatized and strong, so we would be close behind, awaiting our turn, with the cumbersome but more familiar open-circuit systems.
We crossed a frighteningly unstable crevasse and made our way up the long steep slope of the Lhotse Face. We hadn't gone far before the ever-observant George shouted and pointed up to the distant South-East Ridge, where we could see two tiny figures making their way upward toward the South Summit. It could only be the first assault party of Evans and Bourdillon. Their main objective was to reach the South Summit itself but they could make the decision to carry on toward the top if they thought they could do it. Further down the South-East Ridge we could see another couple and judged this to be John Hunt and Da Namgyal carrying some assault supplies for us as high as they could on the ridge. It was an exciting scene — we were really on the move!
Tenzing and I rushed on ahead and reached the top of the Geneva Spur. We caught glimpses of the first assault team making excellent time up the ridge until they disappeared into the cloud covering the upper part of the mountain. I noticed that Tenzing looked decidedly subdued. We dropped down the 200-foot descent to make our second visit to the South Col. The first had been when we had pioneered the major lift of supplies to the col which had made the attempts on the summit possible. The small group of tents in the camp, bucking in the wind, looked very lonely indeed and we crawled inside one for shelter.
I kept looking out the door and very soon picked up two figures moving down the Great Couloir, and traveling very slowly. I hurried across the South Col to meet them. It was John Hunt and Da Namgyal and they were completely exhausted. They had carried their loads until they could carry no longer and then dumped their supplies on the South-East Ridge. John had left his half bottle of oxygen there too and had come down without it, so was in a desperate condition. I supported him across the col as best I could but he collapsed time and time again. It was only when I obtained some oxygen from the camp and returned with it to John that his energy partly returned and he made it back to his tent and crawled thankfully inside.
By now George and his team had joined us, and he suddenly gave a yell. Through a break in the clouds his sharp eyes had caught a view of the tiny figures of Evans and Bourdillon, still above 27,000 feet, but descending into the Great Couloir. Clouds swept in again and then lifted barely ten minutes later. To our astonishment we realized that our two friends were now at the bottom of the couloir. Obviously they had slipped and fallen hundreds of feet. Only the soft snow at the bottom had saved them from plummeting into a crevasse or down the terrible Kangshung Face. They, too, were completely exhausted, only able to move a few steps before stopping and slumping over. George and I hurried across to join them. They were an astonishing sight — covered in ice from head to foot. It demanded a great effort to get them over to a tent and push them inside with John Hunt.
With numb lips they told their story. Right from the start they had problems with their powerful but experimental closed-circuit oxygen equipment. When all went well they made excellent speed. High on the South-East Ridge Charles Evans' problems increased and they reached the South Summit with faulty gear and feeling very tired. The weather, too, had deteriorated with cloud and wind. The very stubborn Tom Bourdillon wanted to carry on, whatever the risks, but Charles Evans was sure that if they persisted they would never return. "If you do that, Tom," warned Charles Evans, "you will never see Jennifer again." So they came down.
That was a terrible night on the South Col! Charles and Tom had performed magnificently and, despite technical problems, had achieved their objective of reaching the South Summit. Now I had learned why Tenzing had been so morose — he thought Charles and Tom were about to reach the top of Everest. He desperately wanted a Sherpa to be in the first summit team and he was always confident that he himself was the right Sherpa for this task. I, too, had a slight sense of guilt. I greatly admired what Charles and Tom had done but I had a regrettable feeling of satisfaction as well. They hadn't got to the top — there was still a job left for Tenzing and me to do. But the storm raged on and intensified, so it was already clear there was little chance of Tenzing and myself moving upward in the morning.
The day dawned in a fury of wind and drifting snow which after a few hours started to ease a little, although there was still streaming cloud over the upper mountain. Our main worry was the importance of getting Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon down to safer levels. I talked to Charles about the final stretches of the mountain and, although he was never prone to exaggeration, he sadly told me that he didn't think we'd make it along the summit ridge. But I didn't take this too seriously — I had the confidence to believe I was a more experienced snow and ice climber than Charles or Tom and I felt I was probably fitter than either of them. We would see when the time came.
Around midday they emerged slowly from their tent and were joined by Sherpa Ang Temba who had come up with us to carry high on the mountain, but he had been nauseated all night so had to go down, too. To save oxygen for us they generously decided to do without it on the descent. I watched with great concern as they weaved their way up the slope toward the top of the Geneva Spur, the obstacle blocking access to descent of the Lhotse Face. To my horror, I saw Tom crumple and fall flat on the snow. Riveted with disbelief, I watched him drag himself to his feet, take a few more tottering steps, and then crash to the snow again. Clearly, he would need oxygen to have any hopes of getting down the mountain. Charles came back down with me and we quickly prepared an oxygen set which I carried up to Tom who was now on his hands and knees. With the oxygen turned on full volume, he was able to get slowly to his feet and very tentatively move up the slope again.
I returned to the tents and, when I told John Hunt and George Lowe of my considerable worry about the others getting down safely, John agreed that someone must go with them. Somewhat laboriously, he explained his conviction that he regarded it as his duty, as expedition leader, to supervise the action from the South Col. If something went wrong he might be needed higher on the mountain. George would have to go down as escort. I was greatly taken aback by this suggestion, as I was expecting considerable help from George, but I also realized how desperately keen John was to stay on the South Col, despite his exhaustion. It was difficult to know how to react to this decision. George had no such qualms. In strong and even bitter terms he pointed out how much fitter he was than John and how important he was to the success of the expedition. John had burned himself out, he said, on his great carry up the South-East Ridge and would be useless in an emergency. All very true, but unpalatable words to hear just the same. John remained adamant — George must go! I don't know why nobody mentioned Alf Gregory. He didn't seem to be around when these crises occurred. A disgruntled George started making his preparations for departure. However, it was only a few moments before John's sense of responsibility overruled his tired mind and he agreed that he himself was indeed the right person to take the party down.
I have never admired John more than I did at that moment. When we were alone, gray and drawn, but with his blue eyes frostier than ever, John gripped my arm and told me of his deep belief that we had a duty to climb the mountain. Many thousands of people had pinned their hope and faith on us and we couldn't let them down.
"The most important thing is for you chaps to come back safely. Remember that," he implored. "But get up if you can!"
I carried John's load for him to the top of the Geneva Spur and was distressed at how weak he was as he weaved from side to side. We arrived at the top of the slope only to see that Tom, despite breathing oxygen, had once again collapsed on the snow. It seemed that the whole expedition was falling to pieces. Noting my concern, Charles turned his warm and friendly smile on me and said consolingly, "Don't worry, Ed. I'll get them down."
John immediately decided he would take the back place on the rope and play the critical anchor role, but Charles merely did a middleman loop, handing it to his leader and said, "Get in there, John." Which he meekly did. With John in the middle position, they shuffled off. Watching them disappear from view down the steep and demanding Lhotse Face was a disheartening sight. George was with me and, to vent some of the guilt I felt at letting four exhausted men descend unaided, I turned on him and snapped unreasonably, "It will be all your fault, George, if they don't get down!"
George and I spent the rest of the day preparing the oxygen, food and equipment for the next day's assault, periodically ducking into our tents to warm ourselves. With the wind behind us, we crossed over the South Col and looked down the great East or Kangshung Face as no one had ever seen it from the top before, and a very awesome sight it proved to be. We turned back into the bitter wind and had a fearful struggle reaching our tents again, but were greatly encouraged at how fit we still felt and how freely we could work and move at 26,000 feet without oxygen. We were still worried about the descending party but we knew that with every hundred feet of height they lost, their strength would improve. As the day wore on, my thoughts turned increasingly to the next day ahead of us but I couldn't help dwelling at times on those rather awful moments with the departing team. Where were Tenzing and Alf Gregory, I asked myself, when we were making all our executive decisions, as I kindly described our rather ferocious arguments? Probably Tenzing was very wisely keeping his distance. And where was all the help when I was carrying loads and encouraging people up and down the demanding slope to the top of the Geneva Spur? I was pretty sure that Alf had been resting comfortably in his sleeping bag, conserving his strength for what he saw as the battles ahead. The altitude of 26,000 feet distorted everyone's judgment during this long and difficult day.
That night I moved with Tenzing into the relative comfort of a Meade tent. I had been wandering around all afternoon with a span-ner in my hand (George claimed I looked more like a mechanic than a mountaineer) but it meant I knew precisely how much oxygen we had and decided we could spare a tiny bit for sleeping. It was still blowing hard, but at first I slept quite well, although periodically I'd waken stiff and cold to find my air mattress had deflated due to ice in the valve. It reminded me of an earlier time I had been sleeping with Tenzing at much lower altitude and woke to see him on his hands and knees bowing and murmuring in a strange fashion. I accepted that he was carrying out some sophisticated Buddhist ceremony until I realized that he was only inflating a faulty air mattress.
Early in the morning I was woken by a sudden quietness and realized the wind had stopped. Although it soon returned, it was much more spasmodic and a good sign for the day ahead. We started making our slow preparations and at 7:30 A.M. I crossed to George and Alf in the Pyramid tent. We agreed to start and accepted that we would have to carry heavy loads. Two high-altitude porters were supposed to go with us but, to our disappointment, we found that poor Pemba had been vomiting all night and would obviously have to go down. That meant we would only have the redoubtable Ang Nyima to help us, so all our individual loads would have to increase.
Thank goodness Tenzing was still so fit and strong. He was a remarkable man. He not only had the Sherpa's amazing ability to deal with altitude but was a skilled climber and had the unique motivation of wanting desperately to get to the top. Forty-five years ago carrying loads on a high mountain was just a well-paid job for the average Sherpa. Few of them had the drive to go any higher than they needed to. It is very different today, when many Sherpas are experienced guides with much mountaineering knowledge and considerable interest in pushing on to the summit. But in 1953 Tenzing and I were now reduced to one Sherpa instead of the planned three.
Our situation looked a little desperate, but George and I agreed there was no question of giving up. George, Alf and Ang Nyima would go ahead to establish the route and Tenzing and I would follow an hour later to conserve our strength for the next day. Our final preparations completed, George led his small group away across the South Col and slowly mounted the steep slope approaching the Great Couloir which shot up to the South-East Ridge more than a thousand feet above us. At 10 A.M. Tenzing and I made our move, heaving our cumbersome loads into place and turning on our open-circuit oxygen sets. As we breathed in the oxygen the loads seemed to lighten appreciably. Moving relatively easily, we crossed the South Col ice and cramponed up the firm snow above. High above us we could see the three tiny dots of our companions as they made their way into the couloir. The angle of the slope increased more than I had expected and we were forced to zigzag in order to gain comfortable height. A great crevasse stretched from side to side but we were able to cross it without too much trouble over a substantial ice bridge and continue upward. The slope was growing steeper when, to my pleasure, I came on a line of George Lowe's steps and we quickly moved up these, resting every forty feet or so for a breather. We were catching the others up and I could see the smooth swing of George's ice axe as he established a substantial route. Soon we were being peppered with chunks of ice traveling at great speed and we hastily moved to the side until George's team had hacked their way out of the couloir. While waiting, we turned off our oxygen to conserve it for higher up. Soon we were moving on again, reveling in George's steps and looking almost vertically downward to the tiny tents on the South Col. We climbed up to the right over mixed rock and snow and a few minutes later joined George, Alf and Ang Nyima on the crest of the South-East Ridge.
Despite all our efforts, we were a very happy and relaxed group. Our location was spectacular. Still rising above us was the craggy summit of Lhotse, but we could look over mighty Nuptse and see the superb peaks of Ama Dablam and Kangtega. Thousands of feet below us we could look down on Advanced Base Camp in the Western Cwm and it was even further down the other right-hand side to the Kangshung Glacier in Tibet. We were all going well but very much aware of the tremendous slopes sweeping down on both sides of us. Just in front was an incredibly lonely sight, the battered framework of the tent that Tenzing and Raymond Lambert of the 1952 Swiss expedition pitched over a year before and where they had spent an extremely uncomfortable night without food, without drink, and without sleeping bags. What a tough couple they had been, but perhaps not very well organized.
Feeling slightly embarrassed at our vigor, we carried on up the mixed rock and snow ridge. At 27,350 feet we reached the depot established with such effort by John Hunt and Da Namgyal. It was an ominously large pile and we needed all of it for higher on the mountain. But we didn't even know if we could carry such loads at this altitude, even using oxygen.
George and I discussed the problem. There were two particularly troublesome objects — a Meade tent weighing 14.5 lbs. and a large black oxygen bottle weighing 20 lbs. I've always been a good load carrier, so I told George that I'd take on the tent. George was a little doubtful as he knew it would give me a load of over 60 lbs., but we knew there was no alternative. Then we both looked at Alf Gregory. Alf was small, lean and very fit but had shown little enthusiasm for load-carrying in the past. This time we gave him no alternative. I handed him the black oxygen bottle and we removed most of his food and the cooker. George put a third bottle of oxygen on his frame, plus Gregory's excess gear, and Tenzing had another oxygen bottle. All of us now had over 50 lbs. each and I had more than 60 lbs.
We moved on and there was no doubt that our pace had dropped off considerably. Few, if any, people had carried these sorts of loads before at well over 27,000 feet. Instead of walking freely step for step, we were now battling for every foot in height. We came to a short but steep bluff and puffed our way up it with considerable effort. The ridge broadened onto a steep snow slope where the surface was very firm and George's ice axe started swinging freely again. We were getting very high now and the great summit of Lhotse was dropping away beneath us. We started looking rather desperately for a suitable campsite, but nothing appeared. We were just below the height Tenzing had reached with Lambert the year before and I didn't expect him to have much memory of the area. But I was wrong, he had recollections of seeing more suitable ground out to the left, above the Western Cwm. We plunged out in knee-deep snow, very much aware of the great drops beneath. Tenzing's site proved rather unsatisfactory but fifty feet up it looked more promising. We struggled up and, to our satisfaction, realized we had found a possible site for Camp IX, far from flat, but capable of producing a suitable area for our small tent. We were at an altitude of 27,900 feet.
We didn't waste any time. George, Alf and Da Namgyal had still to get safely back to the South Col. They removed their huge loads, gave us each a hearty handshake, and wished us every success before turning downward again on their return journey. We had every confidence they would safely reach the tents on the South Col.
Tenzing and I removed our oxygen sets and were pleased to notice no immediate discomfort. It was not an ideal campsite. There wasn't a large enough flat place to pitch a tent, so I decided we'd just have to dig out two ledges and spread the tent across them, which is what we did. Tying the tent down was a harder job. There was a small rock face above the tent, but we'd made the mistake of not having any rock pitons with us to make a strong belay. Instead, I hammered several frail tent pegs into a few cracks and hoped they would hold. We had a couple of empty oxygen bottles by then, so I dug holes in the snow, tied the guy ropes around the bottles, and stamped them well into the ground as deadmen anchors. Tenzing crawled inside to melt some snow while I checked our oxygen. It demanded quite a bit of mental arithmetic, as I had to work out the number of liters left in a bottle by the pressure shown on the dial. I estimated that during the night we could breathe oxygen at one liter a minute for four hours and this would help us get a little sleep.
The setting sun bathed the giant peaks of Makalu and Lhotse in warm red light. They seemed almost close enough to touch. Far below fleecy clouds floated above gloomy valleys. I joined Tenzing in the tent where he was cooking chicken noodle soup. Astonishingly for this height, we were really hungry. Out came all our delicacies, with the tinned apricots being a special treat. We also drank ample liquid. It was very cramped inside, particularly when we tried to crawl into our sleeping bags. I have such big feet that I decided to remove my boots for the night. Tenzing left his footwear on, while I used mine to prop the toe of my sleeping bag off the ice. Tenzing lay on the bottom ledge, almost overhanging the slope, while I stretched out on the top ledge with my legs across Tenzing in the bottom corner of the tent. We started getting the odd fierce gust of wind and I had some concern as to whether the tent would remain in place, but when I started our oxygen flowing we quickly warmed up and dropped off to sleep peacefully on and off for four hours and then wakened feeling cold and miserable.
At 4 A.M. I looked out the tent doors and could already see signs of the early morning light. Tenzing peered over my shoulder and then pointed and said, "Tengboche," and there, sure enough, was Tengboche Monastery, 15,000 feet below us. The temperature was -27°C, chilly enough in our flimsy tent. We made our slow preparations for departure, eating well and consuming plenty of vital fluid. My boots were frozen solid and I cooked them over the primus stove until they were soft enough for me to pull on. We were wearing every piece of clothing we possessed and I checked my camera for the last time, setting it at a standard aperture and then placing it carefully inside my clothes and zipping up my windproofs. At 6:30 A.M. we crawled out of our tent and were ready to go.
Above our camp was a great steep bulge of snow and, as my feet were still cold, I waved Tenzing on to take the lead. Surging on with impres-sive strength, he ploughed a knee-deep track upward and I was happy to follow behind. We reached the top of the bulge at 28,000 feet and, as my feet were now warmer, I took over the lead. Towering over our heads was the South Summit and running along from it to the right were the great menacing cornices overhanging the Kangshung Face. Ahead of me was a sharp narrow ridge, icy on the right and looking more manageable on the left. So it was to the left I went, at first making easy progress, but then experiencing one of the most unpleasant mountaineering conditions — breakable crust. The surface would hold my weight for a few seconds, shatter beneath me, then I lurched forward knee-deep in powder snow. For half an hour I persisted and was encouraged at how well I was moving in these difficult conditions. I crossed over a little bump and saw before me a small hollow on the ridge and in that hollow were the two oxygen bottles left by Evans and Bourdillon. I wiped the snow off the dials and saw that the bottles were less than a third full of oxygen, but this could give us another hour of endurance on our return. That could be very useful later.
We had made considerable height, but there was much more ahead. A 400-foot-long snow slope rose steeply up toward the South Summit. Alternating the lead, we made our way forward, but it was an extremely uncomfortable experience. A thin skin of ice covered deep soft snow. On one occasion there was a dull breaking noise and a six-foot-wide piece of ice around me shattered and slid away down the mountainside. I slipped backward three or four steps and fortunately stopped, but the ice carried on with increasing speed far out of sight. It was rather frightening, but we had no alternative, we must keep going. With a considerable feeling of tension, we forced our way upward, the snow condition improved and we emerged with great relief onto the South Summit. We were now as high as anyone had ever been before. It was impossible not to dwell for a moment on the remarkable support we had received from our colleagues — John Hunt and Da Namgyal's lift to the depot on the South-East Ridge; George Lowe, Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima with their superb support to Camp IX; and the pioneer effort by Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon to the South Summit. Their contribution had enabled us to make such good progress. But now the next move was up to us.
I looked carefully along the final summit ridge. It was impressive all right, but not impossible, despite what Charles Evans had said. We'd certainly give it a good try. We had a drink out of Tenzing's water bottle and I checked our oxygen supplies. Each of us had a bottle that was almost empty so, to save weight, we removed these and I attached our other full bottles firmly into place. It meant we had a total endurance of just under four hours. If we kept moving quickly it should be enough.
With a growing feeling of excitement, I moved down from the South Summit to the small saddle at the start of the summit ridge, cutting steps on the left-hand side below the great cornices and keeping just above the rock face sweeping into the Western Cwm. We moved cautiously, one at a time. I hacked a line of steps for forty feet, thrust my ice axe into the firm snow as a sound belay, and then brought Tenzing along to join me. After I had covered several rope-lengths, I noticed to my surprise that Tenzing was moving rather slowly and seemed in some distress. When he came up to me I examined his oxygen equipment. The pressure seemed satisfactory but then I noticed that his face mask was choked up with ice. I squeezed the mask to dislodge the ice and was relieved to see Tenzing breathing freely again. I checked my own equipment — it, too, held some ice, but not enough to cause me concern, and I quickly cleared it away. I moved on again, cutting line after line of steps.
Ahead of me loomed the great rock step which we had observed from far below and which we knew might prove to be a major problem. I gazed up at the forty feet of rock with some concern. To climb it directly at nearly 29,000 feet would indeed be a considerable challenge. I looked to the right, there seemed a chance there. Clinging to the rock was a great ice cornice hanging over the mighty Kangshung Face. Under the effects of gravity, the ice had broken away from the rock and a narrow crack ran upward. Nervously, I wondered if the cornice might collapse under my pressure. There was only one way to find out!
Although it would be relatively useless, I got Tenzing to establish a belay; then I eased my way into the crack, facing the rock. I jammed my crampons into the ice behind me and then wriggled my way upward using every little handhold I could find. Puffing for breath, I made steady height — the ice was holding — and forty feet up I pulled myself out of the crack onto the top of the rock face. I had made it! For the first time on the whole expedition, I had a feeling of confidence that we were going to get to the top. I waved to Tenzing and brought in the rope as he, too, made his way laboriously up the crack and dragged himself out beside me, panting for breath.
We didn't waste any time. I started cutting steps again, seeking now rather anxiously for signs of the summit. We seemed to go on forever, tired now and moving rather slowly. In the distance I could see the barren plateau of Tibet. I looked up to the right and there was a rounded snowy dome. It must be the summit! We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upward. 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!
It was 11:30 A.M. on 29th May 1953. In typical Anglo-Saxon fashion, I stretched out my arm for a handshake, but this was not enough for Tenzing who threw his arms around my shoulders in a mighty hug and I hugged him back in return. With a feeling of mild surprise I realized that Tenzing was perhaps more excited at our success than I was.
But time was short! I turned off my oxygen and removed my mask. Immediately my face was prickled sharply with ice splinters
Posted June 7, 2008
Edmund Hillarys' 300 page autobiography is well worth reading. Born in New Zealand, this beekeeper accomplished amazing feats as scaling Mount Everest, participated in a trans-Antarctic expedition from McMurdo Sound to the South Pole and back, explored the North Pole, explored the Ganga River, and provided humanitarian aid to the people of Nepal. A fascinating story about a remarkable man.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.