Tenzing on the summit of Everest, 1953
Tiger of the Snows
"Late in the morning of May 29, 1953, two mountaineers, named Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, stood for fifteen minutes on the summit of Mount Everest. They did what all climbers do when they have reached their goal: shook hands, took pictures, looked at the view, and started down again for the world below. That world, however, was to be very different from the one-they had left. For Tenzing, in particular, it was a world he never made and had never known. He went up the mountain as a simple man, but he came down a hero. And perhaps as much as any man in history he has reaped the hero's reward — and ordeal."
In 1954, James Ramsey Ullman, a well-known mountaineering writer, travelled to Darjeeling and spent several months with Tenting and his family. The result of their conversations was "Tiger of the Snows: The Autobiography of Tending of Everest". To readers used to accounts of Himalayan expeditions in the words of their Western organizers and climbers, this book is a refreshing and enlightening change. Tending tells his story, and the stories of some of the world's most famous expeditions, from the view point of a Sherpa, those strong and courageous mountain people, originally from Tibet and now settled in Nepal, who have made all the expeditions possible.
Tenzing was born in 1914 in Solo Khumbu, Nepal, in the shadow of the snowy ranges. He was, he says, born for the mountains. Not only was his body exceptionally fit for high altitudes (other climbers joked that he had a "third lung"!), but from childhood he was possessed of an unquenchable desire to scale the peaks that he saw towering above him.
Eventually Tending became a much sought-after Sherpa and was sirdar of several big expeditions, climbing and carrying as well as organising all the other Sherpas and local porters. He climbed, and helped others climb, many of the high Himalayan peaks — but his heart and mind were always fixed on the highest of them all.
Tenzing's autobiography, unfortunately now out of print, is a rare and wonderful record of his many adventures and achievements. Here we are presenting a few passages dealing with his expeditions to the mountain which countless generations have known as Chomolungma, and which the British named after the first Surveyor General of India, Sir George Everest.
They say you should start with little things and go on to big ones, but it was not that way for me. My first expedition, in 1935, was to Everest. This was the fifth of the big British parties to go out to the mountain.
Their first one, in 1921, had not been an attempt to climb, but only an exploration, and it was on this that a way was found through Tibet, to the north side of the peak. To the Sherpas, who knew the route from Darjeeling to Solo Khumbu, it seemed strange to be going so far round to get to Chomolungma. But the reason was that the English had per mission to enter Tibet, while at the time — and until only a few years ago — no Westerners at all could enter Nepal.
From near the Rongbuk Monastery, directly north of Everest, the : 1921 explorers made many journeys along the glaciers and to the high passes, looking for a route to the upper mountain; and at last it was decided that the best one was along the East Rongbuk Glacier, and then up a steep wall of snow and ice to a pass, or saddle, more than 22,000 feet high, which they called the North Col. The famous climber, George Leigh-Mallory, with some others, reached this col, and though they were not equipped to go farther, they felt sure they had found a good way up the mountain. Later they looked for still other ways, and climbed a pass near the Lho La, which looks over on to the south-west side of Everest and almost to Solo Khumbu. But Mallory did not think this side looked like good climbing; and, besides, it was in Nepal, where they were not allowed to go. So it was thirty years before any one tried the mountain from that direction.
In 1922 the first real climbing expedition came. With many English men and Sherpas, they set up camps on the glacier, another on the North Col, and still another on the steep ridge above. From there the strongest climbers went on to more than 27,000 feet, which is only two thousand feet from the top, and much higher than men had ever been before. But later there was the great avalanche on the steep slopes below the North Col, when a whole ocean of snow came pouring down on the roped porters. This was when seven Sherpas were killed, and it was the worst accident there, has ever been on Everest.
Still, in 1924, both Englishmen and Sherpas came back, and this was the famous expedition on which Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared as they climbed together towards the top. This time there were two camps, not one, above the Col, and the higher, at 26,800 feet, was carried up by the three Sherpas, Lhakpa Chedi, Norbu Yishay, and Semchunbi. From here, before Mallory and Irvine were lost, Colonel E.F. Norton and Dr. T.H. Somervell made a fine attempt, in which Norton reached more than 28,000 feet. This remained the world altitude record until Raymond Lambert and I went a little higher on the other side of the mountain during the first Swiss expedition of 1952.
The fourth attempt on Everest was not until 1933, which was the one on which I so much wanted to go, but was not taken. The result was much as in 1924, except that no lives were lost, and two teams of climbers — Wyn Harris and L.R. Wager together, and Frank Smythe, with Eric Shipton stopping a little below him — went to about the same place that Norton had reached. Again the highest tent, Camp Six, was set up by Sherpas, and this time the top men were Angtharkay, Pasang, Rinzing, Ollo, Dawa, Tshering, and Kipa. "Tigers," the English men called them. It was not until 1938 that this title became official, and Tiger Medals were awarded to the porters who went highest. But already in the twenties and early thirties the name was used, and our men bore it proudly.
Then came 1935, and my first chance.
From the beginning of the year there had been much talk about another expedition; but there was trouble getting permission to enter Tibet again, and it was late before Eric Shipton, who was now leader, arrived in Darjeeling. Because of this it was decided that there would be no real summit attempt, but only a reconnaissance, as in 1921. For the monsoon, which blows up each June from the south, would surely
come while we were still climbing, and after that it is almost certain death on a high mountain from storms and avalanches. A reconnaissance would not be waste of time, though, because the British thought they might find a better route for the next year than the one always used before by way of the North Col.
(...) Like the earlier expeditions, we marched north from Darjeeling through Sikkim — first up and down, up and down, through the deep valleys and then high over the great passes into Tibet. In a straight line the distance from Darjeeling is only about a hundred miles, but we had to travel almost three hundred, going roundabout to the north and then off to the west. It was a long trip over wild, barren country, with much wind and dust. But one advantage of this old northern route was that you could carry things on mules almost to the base of the mountain, while on the new route through Nepal there are so many rivers and hanging bridges that everything must go on men's backs. On this 1935 expedition there were only twelve Sherpas, but many more non-climbing porters, mostly Tibetans, to take care of the mules and help with the unloading at base camp.
(...) This time, in 1935, was my first on a big mountain, and it was very exciting for me. Especially this was so because it was not just any mountain we had come to, but Everest itself — the great Chomolungma. Here we were up on the glaciers, already higher than anything that lives, and straight in front of us, straight above us, is this tower of rock and ice, climbing still more than two miles, almost three, into the sky. It is strange for me to realize that my old home is only a few miles away; that this is the same mountain in whose shadow I grew up and tended my father's yaks. From this side it is, of course, all different. There is nothing that I recognize, and it is hard to believe that it is really the same. And yet I do believe it. Besides what others tell me I know it in my heart, because I know that no mountain but Chomolungma could be so tall and great.
The work was hard. Between the lower camps we carried sixty to ninety pounds on our backs, beyond them about fifty-five pounds; and it was not just once up, and that was all, but up and down, up and down, for days and weeks, until all the tents and food and equipment were brought up where they should be. I did not mind it at all though, because, like all Sherpas, I was used to carrying heavy loads. And I thought. Now I am having my first chance to fulfil my dream.
Because this was my first expedition there were, of course, many things that were new to me. We were issued with special clothes and boots and goggles. We ate strange foods out of tin cans. We used pres sure stoves and sleeping-bags and all sorts of other equipment I had never seen before. And in the actual climbing, too, there was much that I had to learn. Snow and glaciers themselves were nothing new to a boy who had grown up in Solo Khumbu, but now for the first time I had experience with the real techniques of mountaineering— using a rope, cutting steps with an axe, making and breaking camps, choosing routes that are not only quick but safe. As an apprentice porter, I was not given much responsibility. But I worked hard and was generally useful, and I think the sahibs liked me. Also the altitude did not bother me, even though I had never been so high before, and I was one of the Sherpas who carried loads to the North Col, at a height of more than 22,000 feet.
This was as far as the expedition went. As a reconnaissance, it did not have the equipment or number of men to go higher. And it was there on the Col, before we turned back, that I first realized that I was in some way different from the other Sherpas. For the rest of them were glad to go down. They did their work as a job, for the wages, and wanted to go no farther than they had to. But I was very disappointed. I wanted to go still higher on the mountain. Even then it was as it has been with me for all the rest of my life. When I am on Everest I can think of nothing else. I want only to go on, farther and farther. It is a dream, a need, a fever in the blood. But this time, of course, there was nothing I could do. We came down from the Col, and soon after left the mountain.
"Oh, well," I told myself, "you are only just twenty-one. There will be other expeditions. And soon, soon now, you will be a real Tiger...."
1947 The fourth time to Everest
(For almost ten years there had been no attempts on Everest because of World War II)
(...) In the spring of 1947 a mad thing happened. And it began when Mr. Earl Denman came to Darjeeling.
Mr. Denman had been born in Canada, grown up in England, and
now lived in one of the British parts of Africa. There he had done a good deal of travelling and climbing in wild country, and he was obviously a man who could take good care of himself. But all the things he had done before or might do later meant little to him, because he had one great plan that had become the dream of his life. He wanted to climb Everest — and to climb it alone!... Well, no, perhaps 'alone' is not quite right.... He wanted to do it without a real expedition. Or/at least, he had no expedition. But he had to have some one to go with him, and that was how I met him. One day Karma Paul, the old sirdar, looked me up and said, "There is a sahib who has come to town, and he has an idea that might interest you." "About mountains?" I asked. "Yes, about mountains." And a while later, with another Sherpa, Ang Dawa, I found myself in Karma Paul's little office, meeting Mr. Denman.
Right from the beginning it was like nothing I had experienced before. Denman was alone. He had very little money and poor equipment. He did not even have permission to enter Tibet. But he was as determined as any man I have ever met, and talked — mostly through Karma Paul as interpreter — with great earnestness and persuasion. He was especially insistent that he wanted me with him. Because I was a Tiger; because I had climbed to 27,000 feet on Everest; because I spoke Tibetan and also some English; because I had been recommend ed as the best of all Sherpas. And it was all very flattering — but still mad — and Ang Dawa and I said we must think it over.
What there was to think about I do not know, because nothing made sense about it. First, we would probably not even get into Tibet. Second, if we did get in we would probably be caught, and, as his guides, we, as well as Denman, would be in serious trouble. Third, I did not for a moment believe that, even if we reached the mountain, a party such as this would be able to climb it. Fourth, the attempt would be highly dangerous. Fifth, Denman had the money neither to pay us well nor to guarantee a decent sum to our dependants in case something happened to us. And so on and so on. Any man in his right mind would have said no. But I couldn't say no. For in my heart I needed to go, and the pull of Everest was stronger for me than any force on earth. Ang Dawa and I talked for a few minutes, and then we made our decision "Well," I told Denman, "we will try."
As it turned out, he was not only without permission to enter Tibet, but had signed a paper promising not even to approach the border. So
secrecy was of much importance, and instead of leaving Darjeeling together we met at a prearranged point outside the town and began our trip from there. Then we followed the usual expedition route through Sikkim. But that was our only resemblance to an expedition; for on such treks everything was carefully planned and organized, while we simply lived from day to day and hoped for the best, never knowing what the next would bring. Sometimes we travelled alone, sometimes with small caravans, from which we were able to hire pack animals to carry our loads. And gradually the valleys and forests of Sikkim fell away behind us, and we came up into the high Himalayan passes that mark the frontier of Tibet.
Here I recommended to Denman that we get off the usual expedition and trade route, that was sure to be patrolled; and, following a little-used pass, we were able to get across the border. Then we headed west over the great plateaux towards Rongbuk. Things went wrong, of course. Almost every day something went wrong. We seldom had enough food. Once the yaks that were carrying out loads plunged down a hillside, almost destroying both themselves and our baggage. Another time, as we had feared all along, a patrol caught up with us and ordered us to go back. But we were able to talk ourselves out of actual arrest, and after we had pretended to turn round were able to make a wide detour and continue on our way. From there on we avoided all towns and villages, and at last reached the Rongbuk Monastery, where we were received without questions or suspicion.
And now there, straight before us, was Everest — huge and white, with its streaming snow-plume, just as was meant to be. But I had not? taken leave of my senses, and, with the mountain looming above us, I was more conscious than ever of the hopelessness of what we were doing. I kept thinking of Maurice Wilson and his pathetic death in 1934, and I told myself, "No, we are not going to get into anything like that. No one is going to find our bodies dead and frozen in a tent."
Still we went on: up the glaciers, past the old lower camp-sites, towards the base of the walls below the North Col. With only the three of us, the work was back-breaking. The wind and cold were terrible. In face, they seemed to me the worst I had ever known on the mountain until I realized it was not so much they themselves as that we were so badly equipped. Our clothes were not wind-proof. Our food supply was low, and we were already out of the most important item — tea. Our
two tents gave us as much protection as a sheet of paper, and soon Denman, who at first occupied one of them alone, had to come in with Ang Dawa and me, so that our three bodies together could make a little warmth.
At least we moved fast. On a big expedition it takes days between the setting up of one camp and the next, while all the supplies are brought up in relays. But each day we set up a new camp, carrying everything we had in one trip, and soon we were at the foot of the snow-slopes beneath the Col. I knew, though, that this was the end of it. Denman was less used to cold than Ang Dawa and myself and was suffering terribly. He could not sleep at night. Sometimes he seemed to have barely the strength to walk. From our highest camp — the fourth — we made a brief try at the steep snow and ice leading up to the Col; but the cold went through to our bones, and the wind almost knocked us flat. In a little while we were back in the tent, exhausted and beaten.
Even Denman knew we were beaten. He was a brave man — a determined, almost fanatic man with a fixed idea. But he was not mad. He was not ready to kill himself like Wilson, and he was willing to go back. For this I am as grateful as for anything that has happened in my life, for it would have been a terrible decision for Ang Dawa and myself if he had insisted on going on.
Our retreat was even faster than our advance. Now that he was defeated, Denman seemed only to want to get away from Everest as quickly as possible, as if it were a thing he no longer loved, but hated. We almost raced back to the Rongbuk Monastery, and then on across the wild, high plains of Tibet — almost as if the mountain were following us as an enemy. Now we were even shorter of food than before. Our clothes were in rags, and Denman's boots were in such bad shape that for a few days he had to walk barefoot. But we kept going. At least we were stopped by no patrols. And almost before I knew it we had crossed back from Tibet into Sikkim, and a few days later, towards the end of April, arrived in Darjeeling. The whole trip — to Everest, at Everest, and return — had taken only five weeks!
Everest with the Swiss: Spring 1952
Nanga Parbat, Nanda Devi, Kang Peak, Kashmir, Garhwal, Nepal, and even Tibet. I had been all over the map. I had climbed many mountains, seen many sights, lived through many experiences. But one thing
had been missing — Chomolungma, the Great One. It was five years now since I had even seen it, on that strange, quick trip with Denman; fourteen since I had climbed high on its walls to win my rank as a Tiger. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever get back to it, or if the cods, for reasons of their own, were going to keep me for ever from this mountain that was closest to my heart.
But the gods were kinder than that. I was to go back again — and again, and again. And the last years of my 'critical' late thirties were to be the great years of my life.
It was a new Everest to which I returned. For the post war expeditions were no longer approaching it from the north, but from the south, and to climb a mountain from a different side is almost like climbing a different mountain. But while it was in one way new, in another it was old — older, for me at least, than the peak I had approached four times from Tibet and Rongbuk. For the southern route to Everest leads through Solo Khumbu and the country of my childhood; and, while I had never tried climbing from this side, it was the side I knew best of all in my memories and dreams....
(...) We were now at almost 20,000 feet, and some of the Swiss were beginning to feel the thinness of the air — especially Asper and Roch, who had worked very hard at the first crossing of the crevasse. One evening, I remember, they were sitting round talking about it, and some one said there was no need to worry about it: every one felt bad until they were acclimatized — even the Sherpas.
"Except this one," some one else said, pointing at me.
"Oh, him! He's got three lungs."
"The higher he goes the better he feels."
They laughed. And I laughed too. But the strange thing was that the last part of it, at least, was true. It had always been true in the mountains that the farther I went the more strongly I went, the better I felt in my legs and lungs and heart. What it is that makes this so I do not know. But it is there. As surely as the mountains are there. And it is this, I think, that has made possible what I have done; that has given me not only the strength, but the will, to go on; that has made my life in the high places not only a thing of work and struggle, but of love. Looking up on that evening through the cold, darkening air, I felt inside me a wave of strength, of warmth, of happiness. And I thought, Yes, I feel well. And it is going well.... I looked at Lambert. "Ca va bien," I
said, smiling.... Perhaps this time — this time at last — we would go on and on until the dream came true.
There we were in the cwm, where no man — no living thing except an occasional bird — had ever been before. It was a deep, snow-filled valley, about four and a half miles long and two miles wide, with Everest on the left, Nuptse on the right, and the white walls of Lhotse rising straight ahead. Once you are really close to a mountain, it is hard to see much of it, and it was that way now with Everest, with its whole upper part lost in the sky above us. But we knew which way we must go to get there, for there was only one possible way — along the length of the cwm to the foot of Lhotse, and then up the steep snow-slopes on its left to the great saddle called the South Col which joined the peaks of the two mountains. After that ... But that was something we hardly dared think about. The first thing was to get to the col.
For three weeks we lived and worked in the Western Cwm. But the Swiss did not call it that. They had a better name for it — the Valley of Silence. Sometimes, of course, the wind would howl. Once in a while there was a great roaring as an avalanche fell from the heights above us. But mostly there was only a great snowy stillness, in which the only sounds were our own voices, our own breathing, the crunch of our boots, and the creaking of the pack-straps. We set up Camp Four, our advance base, near the middle of the cwm, and Camp Five near the foot of Lhotse. Every few days there was a storm that kept us pinned down in our tents: but mostly we were able to move according to schedule, and this was of the greatest importance. For, like all spring Everest expeditions, we were in a race with the monsoon, and we had to be not only up, but down and off the mountain, before it struck.
Camp Five was at about 22,640 feet, the South Col more than three thousand higher. The route selected for reaching it slanted upward from the head of the cwm, followed a deep couloir in the ice, and then ran along a great outcropping of rock which the Swiss named the Eperon des Genevois, or Geneva Spur. As in the icefall, there had to be much reconnoitring, much trying and failing, long days of step-cutting and rope-fixing, in which sahibs and Sherpas both took their turns. By this time I was working mostly with Lambert. There was nothing official about it; no one had ordered it that way. It had just seemed to happen. And I was happy about it, for we got along fine and made a strong team. By the beginning of the last week in May all the preparations had
been made. A supply-dump had been established half-way up to the col; some of the climbers had gone still higher, almost to the top of the Geneva Spur; and now we were ready to try for the col itself. The team what was chosen to make the first effort — and also, if we got there, the first attempt on the summit — consisted of Lambert, Aubert, Flory, and myself, and with us went the Sherpas Pasang Phutar, Phu Tharke, Da Namgyal, Ajiba, Mingma Dorje, and Ang Norbu. My own job was now a double one. As from the beginning, I was still sirdar of the Sherpas, with the responsibility of seeing that they got their loads to their destination; but now I was also one of the climbing team and a real expedition member. It was an honour I was well aware of — the greatest honour that had ever been paid me — and in my heart I swore I would prove myself worthy.
We made one start on "May the 24th, but were turned back by bad weather. Then we set off again the next day, and this time kept going. We followed steps that had already been cut, and our loads were not heavy; so for a while we made good time. But after an hour we had our first bad luck when Ajiba had a sudden attack of fever, and there was no question but that he had to go back. Luckily we had not gone so far that he was unable to do it alone, and while he descended the rest of us divided up his load and went on. Towards midday we reached the supply-dump at the half-way point, and here we added to our loads many of the things that had already been brought. These included tents, fuel, and oxygen cylinders, but we were just carrying the oxygen, not using it. We had only enough with us to use near the very top of the mountain, where it might not be possible to live without it.
We moved on for another four hours — eight altogether since we had left the cwm. The 25,680-foot peak of Nuptse, behind us, was now "o higher than we were; we were already well up alongside the rocks of the Geneva Spur; the col was not far away. But the sun was sinking, and it was getting terribly cold. After struggling on a little farther Ang Norbu and Mingma Dorje stopped, dropped their loads, and said they were going down, because they were exhausted and afraid of frostbite. I began to argue with them: but the sahibs said, "No, they have done their best. Let them go." And they were right. When a man has done his best — and when he is in such a position as we were — he himself "must be the only judge of what he will do, and to make him do otherwise may result in his injury or death. So the two of them went down.
Again the rest of us shared out the extra loads; but we could carry only a small part of them, and the bulk we had to leave to be brought up later. Suddenly something whipped past my face. It was Aubert's sleeping bag, that had somehow got loose during the repacking. The wind carried it like a great wobbling bird far out into space.
We went on for another hour. And another. Then it grew dark, and, though we were very close, we knew we could not reach the South Col that day. Stopping, we dug out a platform in the steep snow and ice and set up two tents. The three sahibs crawled into one; Pasang Phutar, Phu Tharke, Da Namgyal, and I into the other. The wind rose, and many times seemed about to carry us away. But we managed to hold our selves down, and I succeeded, after many attempts, in making some hot soup. Then we tried to sleep, but it was too cold. In the tiny tent we lay almost on top of one another, trying to get some warmth into our bodies, and the night seemed to go on for ever. Then at last it was morning again — and a clear morning. We looked up, and the col was very close. To-day we could reach it.
Only four of us started up —Lambert, Aubert, Flory, and myself, Phu Tharke and Da Namgyal went down to bring up the loads that we had had to leave below, and Pasang waited for them at the bivouac. The three Swiss and I moved up again — and up — but this time it was not for too long, and at about ten o'clock there came a great moment. The ice and rock flattened out before us; we had reached the top of the Geneva Spur, and there before us, at last, was the South Col. Indeed, it was not only before us, but below us, for the top of the spur is about 50 feet above it, on the Lhotse side, and we now had to go down to it just then. While the sahibs continued, taking my pack with them, I turned and descended the way we had come, to met the three other Sherpas and help them carry up the loads. I had hoped to meet them part of the way to the bivouac. Phu Tharke and Da Namgyal had come back all right with the loads from below, but had made no start to go farther, and Pasang Phutar, who had stayed at the bivouac all along, was lying in his tent and moaning.
"I'm ill," he told me. "I'm ill and going to die."
"No, you're not," I answered "You're going to be all right. You're going to get up and carry a load to the South Col."
He said he couldn't. I said he must. We argued, and I swore at him' and then I began slapping and kicking him to prove to him he wasn't
dead. For it was a different thing now from when the others had turned back below. If the loads did not get up to the col the three sahibs there would surely die. And if I left Pasang where he was he too would surely die — and this time not only in his imagination. He was ill, yes. He was exhausted and miserable. But he could still move. And he had to move.
"Come on! Come on, Jockey!" I yelled at him. ("Jockey" was what we all called him, because he was little and often used to ride horses at the Darjeeling race-tracks.) And at last I got him up and out of the tent. We slung on our loads and started off. We climbed and crawled and staggered and pushed and pulled, and at last the four of us got up to the top of the spur, and then down to the col. By this time Phu Tharke and Da Namgyal were almost as done in as Pasang, and all they could do was get their tent up and creep inside. Luckily, though, my own "third lung" was still working fine; so, since there was still much food and equipment left at the bivouac place, I went down alone twice more and brought it all up. Now at last we had everything with us that we were supposed to have, and could make our attempt for the top.
I have been in many wild and lonely places in my life, but never anywhere like the South Col. Lying at 25,850 feet between the final peaks of Everest and Lhotse, it lacks even softness of snow, and is simply a bare, frozen plain of rock and ice, over which the wind roars with never a minute's stop. We were already almost as high as any mountain that had ever been climbed, but above us Everest's summit ridge rose up and up, as if it were another mountain in itself. The best route seemed to lead first up a long slope of snow, and then out on to the ridge itself: but how it would go we would not be able to tell until we got there. And the very top we could not even see, because it was hid den behind the snowy bump of a slightly lower south summit.
Night came. The wind howled. Lambert and I shared a tent, and did our best to keep each other warm. It was not quite so bad a night as the one before — but bad enough — and in the morning it was plain that the other three Sherpas were finished. Jockey was still talking about dying, and by now seemed really very ill; and the others were not much better off. The Swiss knew that if we were to have any chance of reaching the summit we must set up still another camp — the seventh — on the ridge above us, and they offered Phu Tharke and Da Namgyal special rewards if they would try to make the carry. But the two refused.
Not only their bodies were worn out, but their spirits too; and besides not being willing to go higher themselves, they begged me not to do it. I was as determined one way, however, as they were the other, and finally things were worked out in the only possible manner. We got Jockey to his feet, tied him tightly on the rope between Phu Tharke and Da Namgyal, and the three of them started down, while the three sahibs and I made our preparations to go up. Without the others to help with the loads we could not carry nearly as much as was needed for Camp Seven, and our prospects for success looked slim. But there was nothing we could do about it.
So we started off — Aubert and Flory on one rope, Lambert and I on another. We climbed and climbed, hour after hour, up from the col along the steep snow-slope to the base of the south-east ridge, and then on up the ridge, and then on up the ridge itself. The weather was clear, and the mountain itself now protected us from the west wind; but the going was very slow, both because of the altitude and the problems of finding a safe route. We had only one tent with us, which I carried, and enough food for one day, and each of us also carried a small tank of oxygen, this being the first time in my mountain experience that I had ever used it. But the oxygen did not do us much good, because the apparatus would work only when we were resting or standing still, and not when we needed it most. Still we kept going. To 27,000 feet, and then farther. Now I have broken my own record, I thought. We are higher than I was at Camp Six, on the other side of the mountain, in 1938... But there were still almost two thousand feet to go.
At about 27,500 feet we stopped. We had gone as far as we could that day. As I have said, we were travelling very light, and I think it had been the sahibs' intention only to reconnoitre that day, dump the tent and a few supplies, and then come back up again when more porters were available. But the weather was almost perfect. Lambert and I were not too tired. I saw a small, almost level place where the tent could be pitched, pointed to it, and said, "Sahib, we ought to stay here to-night," Lambert smiled at me, and I could tell he had been thinking the same thing. Aubert and Flory came up behind us, the three talked it over, and it was decided that the first two would go down while Lambert and I stayed there. And in the morning, if the weather was still good, we would make our try for the top.
Aubert and Flory dumped their few things. "Take care of yourselves,"
they told us — and there were tears in their eyes. Like Lambert and me, they were in good shape. It could have been they, instead of us, who stayed there, and they would have had as good a chance of success. But there was only the one tent and very little food, and they made the sacrifice without complaint. That is the mountain way.
They went down. They became tiny specks and disappeared. Lambert and I pitched the little tent, gasping and stumbling with the exertion; but as soon as we stopped working we felt better again, and the weather was so fine that we were able, for a while, to sit outside in the fading sunlight. With our different languages, we could not talk much. But there was no need to talk. Once I pointed up and said in English, "Tomorrow — you and I." And Lambert grinned and said, "Ca va bien!" Then it grew dark and colder, and we crawled into the tent. We had no stove, but we were not hungry, arid all we ate was a little cheese, which we washed down with snow that I melted over a candle. Also we had no sleeping-bags, and we lay close together, slapping and rubbing each other to keep the circulation going. This worked better for me, I think, than it did for Lambert, for I am of normal size, while he is so big and husky that I could warm only a small bit of him at a time. Still, it was not himself but me that he was concerned about — and especially that I should not get frostbitten feet. "For me it is all right," he said. "I have no toes. But you hang on to yours!"
There was no sleep. But we did not want to sleep. Lying still, with out any bags to protect us, we probably would have frozen to death. So we just slapped and rubbed, rubbed and slapped, and slowly, slowly the hours passed, until at last there was a faint grey light in the tent. Stiff and cold, we crawled out and looked about; and what we saw was not good, for the weather had worsened. It was not wholly bad — there was no storm — but the clearness was gone, clouds filled the sky to the south and west, and the wind, rising, blew sharp grains of ice into our faces. We hesitated a few moments, but, as usual, there was no need for words. Lambert jerked his thumb at the ridge with a wink, and I nodded, smiling. We had gone too far to-give up. We must make our try.
It seemed to take hours to get our crampons fastened on with our numb hands. But at last we were on our way. Up — up — very slowly, almost creeping — three steps and a stop, two steps and a stop, one step and a stop. We had three tanks of oxygen between us, but, as
before, they were of no use while we were moving, and after a while we dropped them to relieve ourselves of the weight. Every twenty yards or so we changed places in the lead, so as to share the harder work of breaking the trail, and also so that one of us could rest and breathe deeply while letting the other pass. An hour went by. A second and a third hour. Mostly, the climbing itself was not too hard, but we had to be very careful of our route, for on one side of the ridge was a great precipice, and on the other a cornice of snow overhanging a whole ocean of space. Then at times the ridge steepened, and we had to cut steps; and at this sort of climbing Lambert was wonderfully good, because his short feet, with no toes, allowed him to stand on the tiniest places, just like a goat.
Another hour passed. It seemed like a day — or a week. The weather was growing still worse, with waves of mist and wind-driven snow. Even my "third lung" was beginning to have trouble, my throat was dried up and aching with thirst, and some of the time, in the steep snow, we were so tired that we had to crawl on all fours. Once Lambert turned and said something, but I could not understand him. Then, a while later, he spoke again; under his goggles and thick wind-cream he was grinning; and this time I understood him all right.
"Ca va bien!" he was saying.
"Ca va bien!" I answered back.
It was not true. It was not going well, and we both knew it. But that was how things were between us. When things were good it was ca va bien! And when they weren't it was ca va bien just the same.
At a time like this you think of many things. I thought of Darjeeling, of home, of Ang Lahmu and the girls. I thought of Dittert and his second team of climbers now coming up below us, and that if we didn't get to the top, perhaps they would do better. I thought, No, we ourselves will get there — and can do it! But if we do it, can we get down again? I thought of Mallory and Irvine, and how they had disappeared for ever, on the other side of the mountain, at just about the height we must be at now.... Then I stopped thinking. My brain went numb. I was just a machine that moved and stopped, moved and stopped, moved and stopped.
Then we stopped and did not move again. Lambert stood motion less, hunched in the wind and driving snow, and I knew he was working things out. I tried to work them out too, but it was even harder to
think than to breathe. I looked down. We had come — how far? About 650 vertical feet, Lambert reckoned later; and it had taken us five hours. I looked up. And there was the south summit about 500 more feet above us. Not the summit. Just the south summit. And beyond it...
I believe in God. I believe that in men's hardest moments He some times tells them what to do, and that He did it then for Lambert and me. We could have gone farther. We could perhaps have gone to the top. But we could not have got down again. To go on would be to die.... And we did not go on. We stopped and turned back.... We had reached an altitude of about 28,250 feet — the nearest men had ever come to the top of Everest, the highest anyone had ever climbed in the world. But it was still not enough. We had given all we had, and it was no enough. We turned without speaking. We descended without speaking. Down the long ridge, past the high camp, along the ridge again, along the snow-slope. Slowly —slowly. Down — down — down....
That was all for Lambert and me. The next day, with Aubert and Flory, we went down from the col to the Western Cwm, while the second team of four Swiss and five Sherpas, under Dittert, went up past us to try their luck. At first they did better than we, getting from the cwm to the col in a single day's climbing; but there their luck left them. Altitude sickness struck both sahibs and Sherpas. The wind grew stronger and the cold deeper. And after three days and nights they had to come down, without having been able even to start an ascent of the summit ridge.
Well, it had been a great effort.
And I had made a great friend.
Everest with the Swiss: Autumn 1952
"But is autumn," Ang Lahmu said.
"Yes, it is autumn."
"You have never gone before at this time of year."
"No, never before."
"Then why are you going now?"
"Because we must try again," I said, "We must try everything."
For many years there had been talk of going to Everest in the autumn. During the winter, of course, it could not be dreamed of. In the summer there were the storms and avalanches of the monsoon. But in the autumn it was at least a possibility, and there were those who
thought the weather might be even better than in the spring. The idea was never tried out, though, until in 1952, by the Swiss. They could not wait until the next spring, because for them there would be no next spring: for 1953 the Nepali Government had promised Everest to the British. So if the Swiss were to have another chance it must be now — again in 1952 — while they alone had permission to go to the mountain. Back at home that summer they talked things over and made their decision. Yes, they would try again....
Only two sahibs from the spring expedition were able to come back — Dr. Gabriel Chevalley, who was now the leader, and Raymond Lambert....
(...) From the cwm we climbed to Camp Six. From there to Seven. Then on November the 19th we went on towards the col. The going here was not terribly steep, for at Camp Seven we were already high on the Lhotse face, and the rest of the route was mostly a diagonal traverse across to the top of the Geneva Spur and the col beyond it. But our progress was slow, because we were now breaking fresh trail, and several times the porters had to wait while Lambert, Reiss, and I went j ahead to cut steps and string ropes. We had started off at about nine in the morning. At four-thirty in the afternoon we gained the high point of the climb at the top of the spur, and a little while later reached the col itself — for the second time in one year. It was getting dark, and the J cold and wind were indescribable. For what seemed like hours more we staggered round, trying to set up our camp near the still-visible remains of the spring one; and when at last two tents were up the seven Sherpas piled into them and disappeared. There was no use trying to argue with them. Lambert, Reiss, and I had had the benefit of oxygen on the climb. They had not, and they were done in. So the two sahibs and I worked away at the other three tents until we had them up and secured. Then it was our turn for shelter and rest. Almost all our food was frozen like stone, but I managed to heat up some chocolate and pass it round. Then came another night at the last limit of the earth.
Above the cwm we had been using a double thickness of tents, on6 inside another, but up here even this hardly helped; and the two tents rubbing together in the dry, icy wind filled the tiny sleeping space with sparks of electricity that crackled round our heads. Lambert had a small thermometer, and it went down to thirty below zero. He estimated late1" that the wind had been about sixty miles an hour — not only in gusts,
but in a steady gale. It was hard even for him to say, "Ca va bien!" Then at last morning came, and the gale was still blowing; but nevertheless we made ready to move on. We had to move, or else freeze to death. For breakfast we succeeded in making a little tea; that was all. Then we started off. The other Sherpas wanted to go down, not up, and one could scarcely blame them; but only one of them — Goundin — was actually ill, and the others finally agreed to try to go higher. With the two extra camps on the Lhotse face, the col camp was now Number Eight. On their backs they carried the equipment for the small Camp Nine that we hoped to set up on the summit ridge.
But on their backs was where Camp Nine stayed. It was already eleven-thirty before we were organized to leave. It took us almost another hour just to cross the col and begin the ascent of the snow-slope that leads up to the ridge. Flattened against a wall of ice were the remains of an eagle, and, though we were scarcely flying, it was all we could do to keep from being flattened out ourselves. Using our oxygen, Lambert, Reiss, and I went a little ahead of the others. Six months before, even with bad oxygen apparatus, the Bear and I had had little trouble with this part of the climb. But now, though the apparatus was good, it was of little help. The wind was too much. The cold was too much. Under our three pairs of gloves our fingers had lost all feeling. Our lips, then our noses, then our whole faces, began turning blue. Behind us the line of struggling Sherpas had almost ceased to move at all. There was only one sane — one even possible — thing to do. That was to turn back,
and we knew it. But for Lambert and me it was a terrible decision. For this was our second try; it had become the hope of our lives that we could climb Everest together; and if we turned back now, who could tell if we would ever have another chance? Left to ourselves, we might have tried to go on. I do not say that we would have — or could have. Only that we might have; the desire was so strong. But there were the staggering Sherpas behind us. There was Reiss beside us, grimly shaking his head. We stopped, and for a few moments stood where we were, crouched over like animals against the fierceness of the wind. If it had not been so cold that the tears would have frozen before they left the eyes I think that I might have wept. I could not look at Lambert, and he did not look at me. Silently we turned and started down.
The Swiss later chose a word for what had happened to us. They said we had been "purged" from the mountain. And in that purging —, once we had turned back — there was never the slightest hope that we. could get back up again....
In this story, everywhere, I have been honest, and I will continue to be so. In all honesty, then, I would rather have gone back to Everest with the Swiss. In spite of the way some people have tried to twist things, this does not mean that I dislike the British. I have climbed more with the British than with any other people, and been happy with them: and some of them — men such as Mr. Gibson, Major Osmaston, Major White, Mr. Tilman, Mr. Smythe, Lieutenant Marsh — I have counted among my close and dear friends. But it is still true that the English in general are more reserved and formal than the men of most other countries whom I have known; and especially is this so, I think, with people not of their own race. Perhaps this is because they have so long been rulers in the East, or perhaps it is only something in their own nature. But it is a thing which we Sherpas have had much chance to observe, since we have climbed, in recent years, with men of so many nations. With the Swiss and the French I had been treated as a comrade, an equal, in a way that is not possible for the British. They are kind men; they are brave; they are fair and just, always. But always, too, there is a line between them and the outsider, between sahib and employee, and to such Easterners as we Sherpas, who have experienced the world of 'no line,' this can be a difficulty and a problem.
Yes, that is true, I thought. But how important is it? You have been happy with the British before, and you can be happy again. And, besides, you would not be going to a reception or tea-party, but back to Everest.... Everest — your life, your dream.... What will happen if you wait for the French or the Swiss? How will you feel if the British climb it and you are not with them? For you, no less than for them, it may be now or never.
You think. Your head spins. You make up your mind, change it, make it up again. I am almost thirty-nine, I thought. I am getting near the end of my 'critical years'. How much longer will I be able to climb high? Or am I already unable, after the strain and sickness I have just been through? I have been to Everest how often? Six times, including Denman. This would be the seventh, and, as with most people, that is held a lucky number among Sherpas. In our dice games, as in the chilinangas', seven is good. A group of seven is considered good for an undertaking, and seven children as the best number in a family. My mother had seven sons. This would be my seventh trip to Everest....
But I was worried about my health. After a little while at home I was no longer ill, but still weak and under-weight, and what would another big expedition — the third in only a little more than a year — do to me? Like the Swiss, the British wanted me both as sirdar and as a climber, and I had already decided that the combination was too much. But how else could I go? I thought about it all so much that I could hardly sleep at night. If it kept up much longer this way I would be ill all over again. So one day I left Toong Soong Busti, went to Mrs. Henderson, and said simply. "Yes, I will go." What I could not tell her — what I find it hard to say even now in the right words — is that I would go because I had to go.
Saying yes to Mrs. Henderson was one thing, but with my wife Ang Lahmu it was another. "You are too weak," she argued. "You will get ill again, or you will slip on the ice and fall and kill yourself."
"No, I will look out for myself," I told her. "Just like I always have."
"You take too many risks." . ,
"I am paid for climbing. They don't pay me for play. I must do what I am paid for."
"You are a daredevil," Ang Lahmu said. "You care nothing about roe or the children, or what happens to us if you die."
"Of course I care, woman. But this is my work — my life. Can't
you understand that? You are in charge of the household here, and I don't interfere with that; but when it is a question of Everest no one interferes with me."
"But you are mad. You will kill yourself on this mountain. You will die."
"All right, I will die." By this time I was getting angry. "If I die I would rather do it on Everest than in your hut!"
I suppose all husbands and wives sometimes talk like that to each other. We got angry, made up, then got angry again. But at last Ang Lahmu saw that I was determined, and she said, "All right; you win."
(...) Meanwhile I was trying hard to get myself back into good condition. As I had done for many years past, before big expeditions, I got up early in the morning, filled a knapsack with stones, and took long walks up and down the hills round the town. I did not smoke or drink, and kept away from parties, which I usually enjoy. And all the time I was thinking, planning, hoping about what would happen on this, my seventh trip to Everest, "This is the time you must do it," I kept telling myself. "You must do it or die." ... And then: "Yes, that is all very well, but you cannot do it alone. There must be some one to go with you. On a great mountain you do not leave your companions and go to the top alone. And even if you did and came back alive, no one would believe you.... This time there will be no Lambert. Who will there be? There will be somebody, and we will go to the top together. We will get there. We must get there. I must get to the top or die...."
For the seventh time
Sherpas working, Sherpas talking. Part in our own language, part in Nepali, with a little English....
"Ready to go now?"
"Ah chah. O.K."
"But husier — be careful. It's a bara sapur — long trip." And off we go. Up the glacier. Along the moraines.
"Still ah chah?"
"No, not ah chah. Toi ye! Damn it (always with a big spit)! My load is crooked."
"Kai chai na. It doesn't matter."
"Toi ye (with a spit)! It does matter. I must stop —Kuche kuche. Please."
"Ap ke ukam. Have it your own way. Here, I'll help you.... Is it ah chah now?"
"Yes, ah chah. Thuji chey. Thank you."
"Let's get going, then. But husier It gets steep here."
"Too steep. Toi ye !
Then more spitting. More climbing. More glacier and moraine, and at last the next camp.
"Shabash Well done! We've done it."
"For that day's work we should have baksheesh."
"Or at least a bowl of chang."
"With some chang we could toast ourselves... Tashi delai!
"Tashi delai to you! To all of us!"
"Sherpas zindabad! Long live the Sherpas!"
(...) There is no point, I think, in my going into all the details of the next few weeks. Colonel Hunt has already done that in his fine book. A route up the icefall was found — again different from those of the earlier expeditions, because the ice was still always changing. Flags on tall poles were set up to mark the way. Steps were cut, ropes fixed, the ladder and timber bridges put in place across the crevasses, and long lines of Sherpas carried the loads up to Camp Two, in the icefall, and Camp Three, at the foot of the cwm. The weather was as usual for the middle of spring, generally clear in the morning with cloud and some snow in the afternoon. But there were no really bad storms, nor the terrible wind and cold that we had had in the past autumn. The schedule was arranged so that different teams took turns at the hardest work, and also that every one should come down regularly from the higher camps — not only to the base, but even farther down the glacier to a place called Lobuje, where there was a stream and some vegetation and the men could regain their strength quickly in the lower altitude. I think that much of the success of the expedition lay in the fact that there was time to do such things, while the Swiss had always been forced to hurry on.
Meanwhile Colonel Hunt had been working out his plan for the upper part of the mountain, and one day at base camp he announced how it would be. Before the expedition started I had been promised my chance at the top if I were in good physical condition, and a few days before, in an examination by the doctors, I had been found fitter than
anyone. So I was to have the chance, as I had hoped and prayed. The three others chosen for the two summit attempts were Dr. Evans and Bourdillon, who would climb as one team, and Hillary, who would be my partner in the second....
(...) So on May the 23rd the Bourdillon-Evans party started up from the cwm. And on the 25th we followed after them —Hillary and myself, Lowe and Gregory, with eight of the best Sherpas. On the Lhotse face we met those who had set up the South Col camp on their way down, and they wished us luck; but no one knew if we would ever have a chance at the summit, for on the next day the others would be making their try. Round the halt of my ice-axe I had wound four flags. Two of them — of Britain and the United Nations — had been brought by the expedition. One — of Nepal — had been presented to us in Kathmandu. And the fourth was the Indian flag that Robi Mitra had given me in Darjeeling. "Is it all right if I take it too?" I had asked Colonel Hunt a few days before. And he had said, "Yes, that's a fine idea." So there I was with my four flags, but where they would end up no one could tell. Bourdillon and Evans also had flags with them, and they were now high above us on the mountain.
(...) We waited — looked up. Waited — looked up. And then at last, in the middle of the afternoon, we saw two figures coming down the snow-slope towards the camp. They have not done it, I thought. It is still too early for them to have got to the top and back. As before, with Hunt and Da Namgyal, we hurried out to meet them, and they too were so tired they could hardly speak or move. No, they told us, they had not reached the top. They had reached the south summit, only a few hundred feet below it, and the highest point to which men had ever climbed. But that had been the limit for them. Like Lambert and myself the year before, they might have been able to go on all the way, but surely would never have returned alive. Night would have come. Death would have come. And they had known it and turned back. Now in their tent we made them warm and gave them lemon-juice and tea. They were so thirsty that each of them drank about two quarts of liquid, and for a while we simply let them rest. But later, when some of their strength had returned, I asked them all sorts of questions about what they had done and seen, and how the route was, and what the problems were. "Tenzing, I'm confident you and Hillary will do it," said Evans. "But it's hard going, and will take four or five hours from
the high camp. It's dangerous too — very steep and with cornices — and you must be careful. But if the weather's good you'll do it. You won't have to come back again next year."
(...) Ten of us spent the night on the col, huddled together in the three sleeping-tents. It was the plan that we start off early the next morning, but in the darkness the wind grew even stronger than usual, and when light came it was roaring like a thousand tigers. It was hope less even to think of going up. All we could do was wait and hope the storm would blow itself out, and luckily we had enough food to last for at least one extra day....
(...) Then came the second night, and the weather was still bad. We lay close together in our sleeping-bags, breathing the "night oxygen," and the sahibs took pills to help them sleep. I lay in the darkness, listening to the wind, and I thought. It must stop. It must stop, so that tomorrow we can go up. I have been seven times to Everest. I love Everest. But seven times is enough. From here we must go to the top. It must be this time. It must be now....
The dream comes true
May the 28th.... It had been on the 28th that Lambert and I had made our final effort, struggling up as far as we could above our high camp on the ridge. Now we were a day's climb lower: a day later. A year later.
When it first grew light it was still blowing, but by eight o'clock the wind had dropped. We looked at each other and nodded. We would make our try.
(...) We crossed the frozen rocks of the col. Then we went up the snow-slope beyond, and up a long couloir, or gully, leading towards the south-east ridge. As had been planned, the fine steps cut by the others made the going easier for us, and by the time they reached the foot of the ridge — about noon — we had caught up with them. A little above us here, and off to one side, were some bare poles and a few shreds of canvas that had once been the highest camp for Lambert and me; and they brought back many memories. Then slowly we passed by and went on up the ridge. It was quite steep, but not too narrow, with rock that sloped upward and gave a good foothold, if you were careful about the loose snow that lay over it. About 150 feet above the old Swiss tent we came to the highest point that Colonel Hunt and Da Namgyal had reached two days before, and there in the snow were the tent, food, and
oxygen-tanks which they had left for us. These now we had to add to our own loads, and from there on we were carrying weights of up to sixty pounds.
The ridge grew steeper, and our pace was now very slow. Then the snow became thicker, covering the rocks deeply, and it was necessary to cut steps again. Most of the time Lowe did this, leading the way with his swinging axe, while the rest of us followed. But by two in the afternoon all of us, with our great loads, were beginning to get tired, and it was agreed that we must soon find a camping-place. I remembered a spot that Lambert and I had noticed the year before — in fact, that we had decided would be our highest camp-site if we had another chance at the top — but it was still hidden above us, and on the stretch between there was no place that could possibly have held a tent. So on we went, with myself now leading — first still along the ridge, then off to the left, across steep snow, towards the place I was looking for.
"Hey, where are you leading us to?" asked Lowe and Gregory. "We have to go down."
"It can't be far now," I said. "Only five minutes."
But still we climbed; still we didn't get there. And I kept saying, "Only five minutes.... Only five minutes."
"Yes, but how many five minutes are there?" Ang Nyima asked in disgust.
Then at last we got there. It was a partly level spot in the snow, down a little from the exposed ridge and in the shelter of a rocky cliff, and there we dropped our loads. With a quick "Good-bye — good luck" Lowe, Gregory, and Ang Nyima started down the col, and Hillary and I were left alone. It was then the middle of the afternoon and we were at a height of about 27,900 feet. The summit of Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, at which we had looked up every day during the long expedition, was now below us. Over to the south-east Makalu was below us. Everything we could see for hundreds of miles was below us, except only the top of Kangchenjunga, far to the east — and the white ridge climbing on above us into the sky.
We started pitching the highest camp that had ever been made. And it 'took us almost until it was dark. First we chopped away at the ice to try to make our sleeping place a little more level. Then we struggled with frozen ropes and canvas, and tied the ropes round oxygen-cylinders to hold them down. Everything took five times as long as it would have in
Tenzing and Hillary in the couloir leading from the South Col onto the Southeast ridge
a place where there was enough air to breathe; but at last we got the tent up, and when we crawled in it it was not too bad. There was only a light wind, and inside it was not too cold to take off our gloves. Hillary checked the oxygen-sets, while I got our little stove going and made warm coffee and lemon-juice. Our thirst was terrible, and we drank them down like two camels. Later we had some soup, sardines, biscuits, and tinned fruit, but the fruit was frozen so hard we had first to thaw it out over the stove.
We had managed to flatten out the rocks and ice under the tent, but not all at one level. Half the floor was about a foot higher than the other half, and now Hillary spread his sleeping-bag on the upper half, and I put mine on the lower. When we were in them each of us rolled over close against the canvas, so that the weight of our bodies would help hold it in place. Mostly the wind was. still not too bad, but some times great gusts would come out of nowhere, and the tent would seem ready to fly away. Lying in the dark, we talked of our plans for the next day. Then, breathing the "night-oxygen," we tried to sleep. Even in our eiderdown bags we both wore all our clothes and I kept on my Swiss reindeer-boots. At night most climbers take off their boots, because
they believe this helps the circulation in the feet; but a high altitudes I myself prefer to keep them on. Hillary, on the other hand, took his off and laid them next to his sleeping-bag.
The hours passed, I dozed and woke, dozed and woke. And each time I woke I listened. By midnight there was no wind at all. God is good to us, I thought. Chomolungma is good to us. The only sound was that of our own breathing as we sucked at our oxygen.
May the 29th.... On the 29th Lambert and I had descended in defeat from the col to the cwm. Down — down— down....
At about three-thirty in the morning we began to stir. I got the stove going and boiled snow for lemon-juice and coffee, and we ate a little of the food left over from the night before. There was still no wind. When, a little while later, we opened the tent-flap everything was clear and quiet in the early-morning light. It was then that I pointed down and showed Hillary the tiny dot that was the Thyangboche Monastery, 16,000 feet below. "God of my father and mother," I prayed in my heart, "be good to me now — to day."
(...) At six-thirty, when we crawled from the tent, it was still clear and windless. We had pulled three pairs of gloves on to our hands — silk, wool, and windproof — and now we fastened our crampons to our boots, and on to our backs slung the forty pounds of oxygen apparatus that would be the whole load for each of us during the climb. Round my axe were still the four flags, tightly wrapped....
"Ah chah. Ready."
And off we went. :
Hillary's boots were still stiff, and his feet cold, so he asked me to take the lead. And for a while that is how we went on the rope — up from the camp-site to the south-east ridge, and then on along the ridge towards the south summit. Sometimes we found the footprints of Bourdillon and Evans and were able to use them; but mostly they had been wiped away by the winds of the two days before, and I had to kick or chop our own steps. After a while we came to a place I recognized — the point where Lambert and I had stopped and turned back. I pointed it out to Hillary, and tried to explain through my oxygen mask, and as we moved on I thought of how different it was these two times — of the wind and the cold then and the bright sunshine now — and how lucky we were on this day of our great effort. By now Hillary's
feet were feeling better, so we changed places on the rope; and we kept doing this from then on, with first one of us leading the way and then the other, in order to share the work of kicking and chopping. As we drew near the south summit we came upon something we had been looking for — two bottles of oxygen that had been left for us by Bourdillon and Evans. We scraped the ice off the dials, and were happy to see that they were still quite full. For this meant that they could be used later for our downward trip to the col, and meanwhile we could breathe in a bigger amount of what we were carrying with us.
We left the two bottles where they were and climbed on. Until now the climbing — if not the weather — had been much the same as I remembered from the year before — along the steep, broken ridge, with a rock precipice on the left and snow cornices hiding another precipice on the right. But now, just below the south summit, the ridge broadened out into a sort of snow-face, so that the steepness was not so much to the sides as straight behind us, and we were climbing up an almost vertical white wall. The worst part of it was that the snow was not firm, but kept sliding down, sliding down — and we with it — until I thought, Next time it will keep sliding, and we will go all the way to the bottom of the mountain. For me this was the one really bad place on the whole climb, because it was not only a matter of what you your self did, but what the snow under you did, and this you could not control. It was one of the most dangerous places I had ever been on a mountain. Even now, when I think of it, I can still feel as I felt then, and the hair almost stands up on the back of my hands.
At last we got up it, though, and at nine o'clock we were on the south summit. This was the highest point that Bourdillon and Evans had reached, and for ten minutes we rested there, looking up at what was still ahead. There was not much farther to go — only about 300 feet of ridge — but it was narrower and steeper than it had been below, and, though not impossible-looking, would certainly not be easy. On the left, as before, was the precipice falling away to the Western Cwm, 8,000 feet below, where we could now see the-tiny dots that were the tents of Camp Four. And on the right were still the snow cornices, hanging out over a 10,000-foot drop to the Kangshung Glacier. It we were to get to the top it would have to be along a narrow, twisting line between precipice and cornices — never too far to the left, never too far to the right, or it would be the end of us.
One thing we had eagerly been waiting for happened on the south summit. Almost at the same moment we each came to the end of the first of our two bottles of oxygen, and now we were able to dump them here, which reduced the weight we were carrying from forty to only twenty pounds. Also, as we left the south summit, another good thing happened. We found that the snow beyond it was firm and sound. This could make all the difference on the stretch that we still had to go.
"Everything all right?"
"Ah chah. All right."
From the south summit we first had to go down a little. Then up, up, up. All the time the danger was that the snow would slip, or that we would get too far out on a cornice that would then break away; so we moved just one at a time, taking turns at going ahead, while the second one wrapped the rope round his axe and fixed the axe in the snow as an anchor. The weather was still fine. We were not too tired. But every so often, as had happened all the way, we would have trouble breathing, and have to stop and clear away the ice that kept forming in the tubes of our oxygen-sets....
Anyhow, after each short stop we kept going, twisting always higher along the ridge between the cornices and the precipices. And at last we came to what might be the last big obstacle below the top. This was a cliff of rock rising straight up out of the ridge and blocking it off, and we had already known about it from aerial photographs and from seeing it through binoculars from Thyangboche. Now it was a question of how to get over or round it, and we could find only one possible way. This was along a steep, narrow gap between one side of the rock and the inner side of an adjoining cornice, and Hillary, now going first, worked his way up it, slowly and carefully, to a sort of platform above. While climbing he had to press backward with his feet against the cornice, and I belayed him from below as strongly as I could, for there was great danger of the ice giving way. Luckily, however, it did not. Hillary got up safely to the top of the rock, and then held the rope while I came after.
(...) On top of the rock-cliff we rest again. Certainly, after the climb up the gap, we are both a bit breathless, but after some slow pulls at the oxygen I am feeling fine. I look up; the top is very close now; and my heart thumps with excitement and joy. Then we are on our way again. Climbing again. There are still the cornices on our right and the precipice on our left, but the ridge is now less steep. It is only a row of
snowy humps, one beyond the other, one higher than the other. But we are still afraid of the cornices, and, instead of following the ridge all the way, cut over to the left, where there is now a long snow-slope above the precipice. About a hundred feet below the top we come to the highest bare rocks. There is enough almost level space here for two tents, and I wonder if men will ever camp in this place, so near the summit of the earth. I pick up two small stones and put them in my pocket to bring back to the world below. Then the rocks too are beneath us. We are back among the snowy humps. They are curving off to the right, and each time we pass one I wonder, Is the next the last one? Is the next the last? Finally we reach a place where we can see past the humps, and beyond them is the great open sky and brown plains. We are looking down the far side of the mountain upon Tibet. Ahead of us now is only one more hump — the last hump. It is not a pinnacle. The way to it is an easy snow-slope, wide enough for two men to go side by side. About thirty feet away we stop for a minute and look up. Then we go on....
I have thought much about what I will say now — of how Hillary and I reached the summit of Everest. Later, when we came down from the mountain, there was much foolish talk about who got there first. Some said it was I, some Hillary. Some that only one of us got there — or neither. Still others, that one of us had to drag the other up. All this was nonsense. And in Kathmandu, to put a stop to such talk, Hillary and I signed a statement in which we said "we reached the summit almost together." We hoped this would be the end of it. But it was not the end. People kept on asking questions and making up stories. They pointed to the "almost" and said, "What does that mean?" Mountaineers under stand that there is no sense to such a question; that when two men are on the same rope they are together, and that is all there is to it. But other people did not understand. 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. And all over the world I am asked, "Who got there first? Who got there first?"
Again I say, "It 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 long thought, that the answer should be given. As will be clear, it is not for my own sake that I give it. Nor is it for Hillary's. It is for
the sake of Everest — the prestige of Everest — and for the generations who will come after us. "Why," they will say, "should there be a mystery to this thing? Is there something to be ashamed of? To be hidden? Why can we not know the truth?"... Very well: now they will know the truth. Everest is too great, too precious, for anything but the truth.
A little below the summit Hillary and I stopped. We looked up. Then we went on. 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 six feet between us. I was not thinking of "first" and "second." I did not say to myself, "There is a golden apple up there. I will push Hillary aside and run for it." We went on slowly, steadily. And then we were there. Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him. ;
So there it is — the answer to the "great mystery." And if, after all the talk and argument, the answer seems quiet and simple I can only say that that is as it should be. Many of my own people, I know, will be disappointed at it. They have given a great and false importance to the idea that it must be I who was "first". These people have been good and wonderful to me, and I owe them much. But I owe more to Everest — and to the truth. If it is a discredit to me that I was a step behind Hillary, then I must live with that discredit. But I do not think it was that. Nor do I think that, in the end, it will bring discredit on me that I tell the story. Over and over again I have asked myself, "What will future generations think of us if we allow the facts of our achievement to stay shrouded in mystery? Will they not feet ashamed of us — two comrades in life and death — who have something to hide from the world?' And each time I asked it the answer was the same: "Only the truth is good enough for the future. Only the truth is good enough for Everest.
Now the truth is told. And I am ready to be judged by it.
We stepped up. We were there. The dream had come true....
What we did first was what all climbers do when they reach the top of their mountain. We shook hands. But this was not enough for Everest. I waved my arms in the air, and then threw them round Hillary, and we thumped each other on the back until, even with the oxygen, we were almost breathless. Then we looked round. It was eleven-thirty in the morning, the sun was shining, and the sky was the deepest blue I have ever seen. Only a gentle breeze was blowing, coming from the direction of Tibet, and the plume of snow that always blows from
Everest's summit was very small. Looking down the far side of the mountain, I could see all the familiar land-marks from the earlier expeditions — the Rongbuk Monastery, the town of Shekar Dzong, the Kharta Valley, the Rongbuk and East Rongbuk Glaciers, the North Col, the place near the north-east ridge where we had made Camp Six in 1938. Then, turning, I looked down the long way we ourselves had come — past the south summit, the long ridge, the South Col; on to the Western Cwm, the icefall, the Khumbu Glacier; all the way down to Thyangboche, and on to the valleys and hills of my homeland.
Beyond them, and around us on every side, were the great Himalayas, stretching away through Nepal and Tibet. For the closer peaks — giants like Lhotse, Nuptse, and Makalu — you now had to look sharply down ward to see their summits. And, farther away, the whole sweep of the greatest range on earth — even Kangchenjunga itself — seemed only like little bumps under the spreading sky. It was such a sight as I had never seen before and would never see again — wild, wonderful, and terrible. But terror was not what I felt. I loved the mountains too well for that. I loved Everest too well. At that great moment for which I had wait ed all my life my mountain did not seem to me a lifeless thing of rock and ice, but warm and friendly and living. She was a mother hen, and the other mountains were chicks under her wings. I too, I felt, had only to spread my own wings to cover and shelter the brood that I loved.
We turned off our oxygen. Even there on top of the world it was possible to live without it, so long as we were not exerting ourselves. We cleared away the ice that had formed on our masks, and I popped a bit of sweet into my mouth. Then we replaced the masks. But we did not turn on the oxygen again until we were ready to leave the top. Hillary took out his camera, which he had been carrying under his clothing to keep it from freezing, and I unwound the four flags from around my axe. They were tied together on a string, which was fastened to the blade of the axe, and now I held the axe up, and Hillary took my Picture. Actually he took three, and I think it was lucky, in those difficult conditions, that one came out so well. The order of the flags from top to bottom was United Nations, British, Nepalese, Indian; and the same sort of people who have made trouble in other ways have tried to find political meaning in this too. All I can say is that on Everest I was not thinking about politics. If I had been, I suppose I would have put the Indian or Nepalese flag highest, though that in itself would have
been a bad problem for me. As it is, I am glad that the U.N. flag was on top. For I like to think that our victory was not only for ourselves — not only for our own nations — but for all men everywhere.
I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture. But for some reason he shook his head; he did not want it. Instead he began taking more pictures himself, around and down on all sides of the peak, and meanwhile I did another thing that had to be done on the top of our mountain. From my pocket I took the package of sweets I had been carrying, I took the little red-and-blue pencil that my daughter, Nima, had given me. And, scraping a hollow in the snow, I laid them there. Seeing what I was doing, Hillary handed me a small cloth cat, black and with white eyes, that Hunt had given him as a mascot, and I put this beside them. In his story of our climb Hillary says it was a crucifix that Hunt gave him, and that he left on top; but if this was so I did not see it. He gave me only the cloth cat. All I laid in the snow was the cat, the pencil, and the sweets. "At home," I thought, "we offer sweets to those who are near and dear to us. Everest has always been dear to me, and now it is near too." As I covered up the offerings I said a silent prayer. And I gave my thanks. Seven times I had come to the mountain of my dream, and on this, the seventh, with God's help, the dream had come true.
"Thuji chey, Chomolungma. I am grateful...."
We had now been on top almost fifteen minutes. It was time to go. Needing my axe for the descent, I could not leave it there with the flags; so I united the string that held them, spread the flags across the summit, and buried the ends of the string as deeply as I could in the snow. A few days later planes of the Indian Air Force flew round the peak, taking photographs, but the fliers reported they could see nothing that had been left there. Perhaps they were too far off. Or perhaps the wind had blown the flags away. I do not know.
Before starting down we looked round once more. Had Mallory and Irvine reached the top before they died? Could there be any sign of them? We looked, but we could see nothing. Still they were in my thoughts, and, I am sure, in Hillary's too. All those who had gone before us were in my thoughts — sahibs and Sherpas, English and Swiss — all the great climbers, the brave men, who for thirty-three years had dreamed and challenged, fought and failed, on this mountain, and whose efforts and knowledge and experience had made our victory possible. Our companions below were in my thoughts, for without
them too — without their help and sacrifice — we could never have been where we were that day. And closest of all was one figure, one companion — Lambert. He was so near, so real to me, that he did not seem to be in my thoughts at all, but actually standing there beside me. Any moment now I would turn and see his big bear face grinning at me. I would hear his voice saying, "Ca va bien, Tenzing! Ca va bien!"
Well, at least his red scarf was there. I pulled it more tightly round my throat. "When I get back home," I told myself, "I will send it to him." And I did.
Since the climbing of Everest all sorts of questions have been put to me and not all of them have been political. From the people of the East there have been many that have to do with religion and the supernatural. "Was the Lord Buddha on the top?" I have been asked. Or "Did you see the Lord Siva?'-' From many sides, among the devout and orthodox, there has been great pressure upon me to say that I had some vision or revelation. But here, again — even though it may be disappointing to many — I can tell only the truth; and this is no, that on the top of Everest I did not see anything supernatural or feel anything superhuman. What I felt was a great closeness to God, and that was enough for me. In my deepest heart I thanked God. And as we turned to leave the summit I prayed to Him for something very real and very practical — that, having given us our victory. He would get us down off the mountain alive.
(...) Do I myself want to climb again? The answer here is: On other, smaller mountains — yes. On Everest — no. On such a peak, as on any of the true Himalayan giants, to be both a high climber and a sirdar, with the two different responsibilities, is too much for one man, and there will be no more such ordeals in my life. In the past it was different. In 1953 I felt that I must either get to the top of Everest or die, and the victory was well worth the struggle. But now that victory has been granted I cannot feel the same way again, either about Everest or about any mountain equally formidable. I am now forty, which is not so old but neither is it so young — and I do not long for any more "tops of the world" to conquer. Most certainly, though, I want to return to the mountains again, for the mountains are my home and my life. I want to go back many times — on small expeditions, for good climbs with good companions. Most of all, I want to do some more good climbing with my dear friend Raymond Lambert.
Besides climbing, I should like to travel. When this book is published there I hope to visit the United States. I hope to go back to England and Switzerland, where I have had such wonderful welcomes, and also to see many places where I have never been before. From my travels so far I feel that I have learned a great deal, and not only about cities and airlines and geography. I have learned that the world is big, and that you cannot see all of it from one little comer; that there is good and bad in all of it; that because people are different from yourself it does not necessarily mean that you are right and they are wrong. It has often been said that Westerners are more materialistic than Easterners, but could it not be that they are also more honest? In my own experience, at least with officials and tradesmen, this was very much the case. Also, we of the East often pride ourselves on our hospitality; but the reception I received in London almost made me blush when I com pared it with what the British climbers were given when they returned to Kathmandu. By these two small examples I do not mean that I am against my own people. On the contrary, I am proud to be both an Indian and a Nepali. But I think that much harm has been done by narrow prejudice and nationalism, that Everest itself has been harmed, and that my own people are at least partly to blame. The world is too small, Everest too great, for anything but tolerance and understanding: that is the most important of all things I have learned from my climbing and my travelling. Whatever the difficulties that arose about Everest, they are as nothing beside the common cause and the common victory, and to my English companions — to Hunt and Hillary and to the others and all their countrymen — I reach out my hand across half the world.
Since the climbing of Everest my own people have been good to me. Every one has been good to me. But, as for all men, I suppose, there have been good and bad, rewards and problems, all mixed up together. Sometimes the crowds around me have been so thick, the pressures so great, that I have thought gloomily that a normal life is no longer possible; that my only chance for happiness is to go off with my family to some solitary place where we can live in peace. But this would be a defeat and a retreat, and I pray it will not be necessary, If only people will leave me alone politically things will be all right. If only they will not push and pull at me for their own purposes: asking why I speak this or that language, why I wear Indian or Nepali or Western clothing, why the flags were in one order instead of another
July 1953: welcome in Switzerland
when I held them up on the top of Everest. It is not so much for my own sake that I feel this as for the sake of Everest itself. For it is too great, too precious, for such smallness. What I hope for most for the future is that I be allowed to live my life honourably, and not disgrace Everest. Future generations will ask, "What sort of men were they who first climbed to the top of the world?" And I want the answer to be one of which I would not be ashamed.
For it is just this, I think, that is the real importance of Everest: that it is the top not merely of one country or another, but of the whole earth. It was climbed by men both of the East and the West. It belongs to us all. And that is what I want also for myself: that I should belong to all, be a brother to all men everywhere, and not merely a member of some group or race or creed. As I have said at the beginning of my story, I am a lucky man. I have had a dream, and it has come true. All I can now ask of God is that I may be worthy of what has been granted me.
Tiger of the Snows: The Autobiography of Tending of Everes