The Greatest Moments on Everest: 2. Hillary and Tenzing Summit

With the 2012 climbing season underway, we look back at some of the most incredible moments to take place on the world's tallest mountain over the last 150 years

Edmund Hillary

New Zealand bill featuring Edmund Hillary via Shutterstock     Photo: Jonathan Noden-Wilkinson

Even the most casual armchair mountaineer will recognize the names of Edmund Hillary, the beekeeper from New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa, who become the first humans to set foot on Everest’s summit, around noon on May 29, 1953. Hillary and expedition leader John Hunt were knighted before they even left the mountain. Norgay was given the George Medal, England’s second-highest decoration for civilian bravery. But history is capricious, and luck a career-maker. Two days earlier, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, a pair of British climbers who were part of Hillary’s team, made it to within 300 feet of the summit—millimeters by Everest standards—staring at their objective from a perch on the ridge but too low on oxygen to make it. Many, including Hillary himself, acknowledged that, had the two men not broken trail and stashed spare cylinders of O2 along the way, the summit might have eluded them all. In the end, one pair became internationally and instantaneously famous; the other faded to a footnote.

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