In many respects the first official summit of Everest would not have been possible without the help of Tenzing Norgay. He saved Edmund Hillary’s life and guided him on their assent to the top of the world. This article is about the second man to summit Mt. Everest, Tenzing Norgay.
Tenzing was born on May 29th, 1914 in Tengboche, Khumbu, which is just below Mt. Everest. However, there are alternate accounts of his origin. One such account is that he was born in Tse Chu, which is in the Kama Valley of Tibet. He identified his parents as Tibetan but said he was born in Nepal.
His parents named him Namgyal Wangdi, but on the advice of the head lama at Rongbuk Monastery, it was changed to Tenzing Norgay. His name translates as wealthy/ fortunate religious disciple. Norgay’s parents had 13 children, but most did not survive childhood. Norgay was 11th born.
He was sent to a monastery to become a monk, but decided he wanted to climb mountains. As a teenager he moved to Darjeeling, India for work as a porter because Darjeeling was the starting point for climbs at that time.
Eric Shipton, in 1935, hired Norgay as a high-altitude porter on his British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. This was his first opportunity as a professional porter. He was then hired as a porter on 2 other British attempts to summit Everest before 1940.
In the 1940’s he was hired as a personal assistant to a Major in the Indian army. He worked and lived in Chitral, which is now part of Pakistan, but once part of India. He married and had 2 daughters in Chitral, but after his wife’s death and Pakistan’s invasion of India he left with his daughters.
After his escape from Pakistan, he was hired by Earl Denman help him summit Everest in 1947. Their attempt at the summit was prevented by bad weather.
Edouard Dunant and Gabriel Chevalley hired Norgay in the spring and autumn of 1952. Both expeditions failed to reach the summit, but the first expedition reached 28,200 feet and opened a new climbing route. The second expedition was stopped by bad weather.
In 1953 John Hunt hired Norgay on his 400-man expedition to climb Mt. Everest. The expedition included 362 porters, 20 guides, and 10,000 pounds of baggage. Norgay met Edmund Hillary on this expedition.
While climbing up Everest, Hillary fell into a crevasse, but was saved when Norgay secured Hillary’s rope to an ice axe and dug it into the snow. Norgay became Hillary’s climbing partner because of his fast thinking and quick action.
Tensing and Hillary were halted on the South Col for 2 days because of bad weather. On the first sight of clear weather, they made their first attempt at the summit. Carrying 30-pound packs they maneuvered over the Hillary Step and onto the highest point on earth, 29,028 feet.
They spent 15 minutes on the summit before returning to base camp. Their decent was a little tricky due to their tracks being covered by drifting snow.
Before they made it down the mountain, they were famous worldwide. Norgay received the George Medal from Queen Elizabeth II, while Hunt and Hillary were knighted.
Norgay became the 1st director of Field Training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in 1954.
Tenzing negotiated and arranged for the first American tourist party to enter Bhutan in 1975.
Norgay founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures in 1978. The company is run by his son today.
Tenzing Norgay married his 1st wife’s cousin after his wife’s death. They did not have any children, which was a factor in his decision to take a 3rd wife. He had 3 sons and 1 daughter with his 3rd wife.
Tenzing Norgay died on May 9, 1986, from a cerebral hemerage. He was 71 years old.