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First to Summit
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climber Snow conditions were not good and in places the southeast ridge narrowed to a knife-edge, but they plodded on slowly and gained the South Summit by 9 a.m. The looping ridge ahead was weighed down with heavy snow cornices overhanging the frightfully steep East, or Kangshung Face. They took stock of how much oxygen was remaining, and then Hillary led a tricky and difficult path, avoiding the cornices on one side and steep slopes on the other. After an hour's steady going they came to a steep rocky step, some forty feet high. They had known of this in advance from aerial photographs, but did not know whether it could be surmounted. Luckily, Hillary found a crack into which he was able to partly jam his body and wriggle his way upwards. The obstacle is still called the Hillary Step today.

Tenzing followed up behind, and the pair continued their switchback progress along the summit ridge until finally they saw they had passed the last corner. Ahead of them lay only a snowy dome and the vast plateau of Tibet. 'A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top,' Hillary described later. breadlineHillary sought to shake hands with his partner, but a delighted Tenzing would have nothing but to fling his arms around his friend's shoulders, thumping him on the back. It was 11.30 a.m. and the highest point on earth had at last been trodden by man.

As mentioned, news of the triumph broke around the world on Coronation Day. The achievement was seen as a propitious omen for the forthcoming era of New Elizabethans. Hillary, Tenzing, and Hunt became popular international figures, and throughout the British Commonwealth housing estates and municipal buildings were named after them. Hunt and Hillary received knighthoods from the young queen. Tenzing, regrettably, was awarded the inferior British Empire Medal.

All those on the expedition found their lives and careers changed by Everest success. We can be grateful that Hunt's carefully chosen team was universally aware of its privilege and that all the members, in their own way, have sought to use their prestige in public service. scenic Hunt went on to become The Lord Hunt of Llanvair Warterdine, known for conspicuous work with young people, for the Pres and the Parole Board and as an international ambassador. Hillary, too, has held ambassadorial positions but is best known for his work with the Himalayan Trust, dedicated to improving the lot of the Sherpa community in Nepal. Most notable is his help in establishing the Khumjung School that has served for years in educating Sherpa children throughout the Khumbu. Tenzing founded the Indian Mountaineering Federation with an injunction from President Nehru to `train a thousand Tenzings'; throughout his life he remained a smiling and approachable unofficial ambassador for the Sherpa people. Money earned by the Everest film and the best-selling book of the expedition was put into the Mount Everest Foundation to assist future mountaineering projects and has since dispensed almost $750,000 in grants to over 900 expeditions.

As Lord Hunt has said, the success of his team on Everest was merely the continuation of the effort of all those who had gone before. Yet we can feel ourselves fortunate that in him and his team, the world was blessed with men to match the mountains they climbed.


Audrey Salkeld of Clevedon, England is one of the world's premier Everest historians and photo researchers. Her photo editing credits include Everest: The Ultimate Book of the Ultimate Mountain and Everest: The Best Writing and Pictures from Seventy Years of Human Endeavour.

Photos: (1) courtesy Ed Viesturs; (3) courtesy Robert Schauer.



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