Khumbu is a small region near Mount Everest, which the Tibetans and Sherpas call Chomolungma (Holy Mother or the goddess of the summit), and no doubt is part of the reason his career unfolded as it did.
In 1935, Norgay received his first opportunity to join an Everest expedition when he was employed by Eric Shipton, after two of his friends failed their medical test.
This was one of the British’s early Mount Everest reconnaissance expeditions on the northern Tibetan side, in which he was chosen to be a high-altitude porter.
In the following years, he took part in various other climbs across the Indian subcontinent, proving his skills as a mountaineer and connecting him with famous mountaineers who would go on to choose him as their Sherpa.
Over a decade later, Norgay participated in an unsuccessful summit attempt of Everest, foiled by a storm at 6,700 metres.
In 1947, Norgay became a sirdar (leader) of a Swiss expedition for the first time, reaching the main summit of Kedarnath in the western Himalaya. He was also sirdar to Eric Shipton’s team on Everest in 1951 and on Cho Oyu in 1952.
But the moment that would change his life came just one year later. In 1953, he was one of the 400-strong team that took to Everest one again in an attempt to reach the world’s highest summit.
On May 29, he became one of two to successfully go where no man had gone before and come out alive.
During the trip Tenzing saved Hillary from a near-fatal fall into a crevasse, thanks to his quick thinking and using his ice-axe to secure a rope. It was for this reason that Edmund Hillary chose Norgay as his climbing companion on numerous future expeditions.
During their 15 minutes on the peak, Hillary took the famous photo of Norgay posing with said ice-axe, but Hillary’s ascent went unrecorded due to the fact that Norgay was unfamiliar with cameras and technology.
Thanks to their world-class efforts, Edmund Hillary and John Hunt (the expedition’s leader), were knighted by the Queen.
Norgay received a medal for his efforts because the Indian Prime Minister refused to allow him to be knighted, but in July 10 Downing Street announced that following consultation with the governments of India and Nepal, the Queen had approved awarding him the George Medal.
The Himalayan Club also awarded him its Tiger Medal for high-altitude work and he received a long list of other international honours over the coming years.
Not long after his successful expedition, Norgay became the director of field training for the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling and founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures to encourage like-minded adventurers to pursue their passion.
His journey was truly astonishing, and Time Magazine named him one of the most influential people of the 20th century – something that cannot be argued with.
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