Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary

Travel Inspiration Tenzing Norgay Profile

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Who Was the First Person to Climb Mount Everest

Mount Everest is not only famous for being the highest mountain on Earth but has also attracted many climbers who have achieved some amazing first records. As of December 2023, 6,664 people have reached the summit of Mount Everest and returned successfully.

But who was the first person to climb Mount Everest?

About Tenzing Norgay

Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary
Image Source: National Geographic
Although we are not entirely sure about the birth of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa due to conflicting reports as the Sherpas didn’t keep record of written birth records, his autobiography suggest that he was born in 1914 in Tengboche, Khumbu, in northeastern Nepal. He was the 11th among 13 children born to Gang La Mingma (father) and Dokmo Kinzom (mother), both Tibetans.

His childhood name was Namgyal Wangdi which he later changed to Tenzing Norgay which means “wealthy and fortunate follower of teachings”. His family sent him to Tengboche Monastery to make him a monk, but he left the monastery. In his teens he fled from his home twice, the first time he ended up in Kathmandu in Nepal and the second time in Darjeeling in India. It was here that Norgay found a welcoming Sherpa community and developed a desire to conquer the peaks of the Himalaya.

While most Sherpas were reluctant to scale the great peaks of the Himalaya, except as a means of earning a living, Tenzing didn’t just want to be a porter on Everest like most Sherpas at the time – he wanted to be a mountaineer. At the age of 19, he had the opportunity to join the 1935 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition headed by Eric Shipton, an English Himalayan mountaineer and well, the rest was history!

Climbing Mount Everest

In Darjeeling, where Tenzing Norgay had moved to, there was a large Sherpa community and so his introduction to mountaineering was inevitable. Tenzing Norgay first attempted climbing Everest when he was just 19 years old, as part of Eric Shipton’s 1935 expedition and he went on to become the greatest climbing Sherpa, even before he set foot on Everest’s summit, accompanying almost every major Himalayan expedition after being introduced to Shipton.

Over the years, he took part in several more failed attempts at climbing Everest, including one in 1947 which involved illegally entering Tibet and being forced to turn around due to a snowstorm and another Swiss expedition in 1952 where he and Raymond Lambert made it within 250 metres of the summit, the highest anyone had ever been, but had to turn back due to a shortage of equipment.

The next year, in 1953, Tenzing Norgay took park in the 9th British Expedition to Everest led by Colonel John Hunt. Tenzing Norgay was the leader of the team of sherpas on the expedition and it would be his 7th summit attempt. Hunt did not reach the summit, but his planning enabled New Zealand mountain climber and arctic explorer Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to successfully conquer the tallest mountain on earth for the first time in May 1953.

After reaching the summit of Everest, Tenzing won instant acclaim for his unprecedented achievement and quickly became a global ambassador for the Sherpa people. While Edmund Hillary and John Hunt received Knighthood, Tenzing Norgay only received the George medal for his contributions. Later King Tribhuvan of Nepal presented him Order of the Star of Nepal medal, while the Indian Government awarded him Padma Bhudsan – the third highest civilian award in India.

Life After Everest

After summitting Everest, Tenzing Norgay became the director of field training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling in India. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was founded on 4th November 1954 off the back of the momentum to mountaineering caused by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mount Everest to channel the excitement of the youths of the nation into the field of mountaineering. The location of the institute was selected because it is one of the most beautiful places in the Himalaya, not least because it is the hometown of Tenzing Norgay. It became the centre of excellence in the field of mountaineering in no time.

In 1955, Tenzing Norgay published his first autobiography ‘Tiger of the Snows” covering the first half of his life before fame with American ghost writer mountaineering journalist James Ramsey Ullman. Norgay is not afraid to tackle controversy and the overall picture portrays a deeply wise man who is able to judge the needs to both his fellow Sherpas and their western employees. ‘After Everest’ (1977), as told by Malcom Barnes, details of his travels after the Everest ascent and his directorship of the Field Training Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling.

In 1978, Tenzing Norgay founded a trekking company named Tenzing Norgay Adventures after himself which was later run by his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who himself reached the summit of Everest in 1996. Tenzing Norgay Adventures has been a pioneer of trekking in the Himalayas for the past 40 years and the goal in founding this company was to provide fellow adventurers with safe and extraordinary journeys to the Himalayas.

Tenzing Norgay died in Darjeeling on 9th May 1986 at the age of 71. Different sources list his cause of death as either a cerebral haemorrhage or bronchial condition.

Climb Everest Base Camp

Trekkers on their ascent to the Everest
While you need to be an advanced mountaineer with at least 1 6,000m summit under your belt altitude experience, technical climbing skills, an experienced support team, plenty of money and the right attitude, Kandoo Adventures offer a number of trips to the iconic Everest Base Camp including the classic Everest Base Camp trek and Island Peak trek which is an alternative route to your Everest Base Camp climb.

Mount Everest Base Camp is one of the most popular Nepal trekking destinations with adventurers from around the world drawn in by the thirst to follow in the footsteps of mountain legends Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. For many, reaching the basecamp of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is a rite of passage and it’s appealing as the hike requires no real mountaineering skills.

Kandoo Adventure’s trips to Everest Base Camp:

  • Everest Base Camp – a classic 15-day trek to Everest Base Camp
  • Ultimate Nepal – embark on the Everest Base Camp trek, immerse yourself in the culture of Kathmandu and look out for the elusive Bengal tiger in the Nepalese jungle at Chitwan
  • Everest Base Camp (trek only) – a 13-day trek with the same service and guides as the classic Everest Base Camp trek but without private airport transfers and hotels in Kathmandu
  • Everest Base Camp (overnight at EBC) – a 15-day trek to Everest Base Camp with overnight stay and walk to the foot of the Khumbu Icefall
  • Everest Base Camp and Island Peak – a challenging 21-day trek to Everest Base Camp and climb to Island Peak
  • Gokyo Lakes – a tough 18-day trek to Everest Base Camp, climb to Gokyo Ri and crossing of the Cho La pass
  • Three Passes – a challenging 21-day trek to Everest Base Camp visiting the Renjo La pass, Cho La pass and Kongma La pass