Tenzing Norgay (May 15, 1914 – May 9, 1986), a Tibetian climber, along with New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary, was one of the first two people to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Everest (8,848 meters), on May 29, 1953.
He was involved in several early attempts on the peak, beginning with the famed 1935 British reconnaissance expedition led by Eric Shipton, which succeeded in climbing a whopping 26 peaks over 20,000 feet. His eventual success on Everest garnered him worldwide fame, as well as numerous awards and honors. Today he remains one of the most well-known Sherpas of all time.
Tenzing Norgay's early life:
As a teen, he emigrated to Darjeeling, India, settling in a Sherpa community in the city. At that time, Darjeeling was the launch point for most expeditions into the eastern Himalaya, and Norgay became acquainted with a number of porters, cooks, and other Sherpas working for mountaineering expeditions.
Norgay's climbing career:
At the age of 19, Norgay was chosen as a porter for Eric Shipton’s 1935 British reconnaissance expedition, despite having no mountain experience, due to the recommendation of his close friend Ang Tharkay (one of the preeminent sherpas and sirdars of the era), who had participated in earlier expeditions with Shipton. The expedition was prevented at 23,030 feet on the North Col, but also identified a viable alternative route up the Western Cwm to the South Col, which today is used by climbers attempting the peak from the south via Nepal.
Perhaps more importantly, the expedition resulted in what Shipton called “a veritable orgy of mountain climbing” with team members collectively summiting 26 peaks over 20,000 feet, 24 of which were first ascents. The expedition also proved the beginning of Norgay’s prolific career as a sherpa, which lasted until his ultimate success in 1953 with Hillary.
1953 Mt Everest Expedition:
Norgay, who had already been to Mt Everest six times at this point, was a leading member of the 1953 Everest expedition, led by John Hunt. Norgay and Hillary were one of two pairs of climbers selected to make summit pushes, the other being Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans. The latter duo made it just 300 feet shy of the summit on May 26, but turned around after experiencing issues with their oxygen equipment.
Their efforts to break trail and cache oxygen, however, proved vital when Hillary and Norgay made their summit bid two days later, from a bivy at 27,900 feet on the southeast ridge. Hillary and Norgay reached the summit of the world’s highest mountain at 11:30 am local time. The pair are generally accepted as the peak’s first ascentionists, though some still claim, albeit rather baselessly, that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were the first to summit Everest, in 1924.
Norgay's accomplishments, awards:
Member of numerous early expeditions to Everest (1935, 1936, 1938, 1947, 1952 [2x]).
Awarded Himalayan Club’s “Tiger Medal” for porter work (1938).
Set high altitude record (28,200 feet) on Everest with Raymond Lambert (1952).
Achieved first summit of Everest (8,848 meters) with Edmund Hillary (1953).
Recipient of UK’s George Medal and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953).
Recipient of Order of the Star of Nepal (1953).
First Director of Field Training, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (1954).
Recipient of India’s Padma Bhushan medal (1959).
Founder of guiding company Tenzing Norgay Adventures (1978).
TIME magazine “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century” (1999).
Subject of Ed Douglas’ Tenzing: Hero of Everest (2003).
Namesake of India’s Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award (2003).
Namesake of Nepal’s Tenzing–Hillary Airport (2008).
Namesake of Tenzing Peak [25,971 feet] (2014).