[Editor’s note: Everyone remembers that a Kiwi, Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to climb Mt. Everest, but how many remember that at his side, most likely leading the way, was his erstwhile guide – Tenzing Norgay, better known as ‘Sherpa Tenzing‘? Ian.]
The 1953 British Mount Everest expedition was the ninth mountaineering expedition to attempt the first ascent of Mount Everest, and the first confirmed to have succeeded when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit on Friday, 29 May 1953. Led by Colonel John Hunt, it was organised and financed by the Joint Himalayan Committee. News of the expedition’s success reached London in time to be released on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, 2 June.
Identified as the highest mountain in the world during the 1850s, Everest became a subject of interest during the Golden age of alpinism, although its height made it questionable if it could ever be climbed. In 1885, Clinton Thomas Dent‘s Above the Snow Line suggested that an ascent might be possible. Practical considerations (and World War I) prevented significant approaches until the 1920s. George Mallory is quoted as having said he wanted to climb Everest “Because it’s there”, a phrase that has been called “the most famous three words in mountaineering”. Mallory famously disappeared on Everest during the 1924 British Mount Everest expedition and his fate remained a mystery for 75 years.
Most early attempts on Everest were made from the north (Tibetan) side, but the Chinese Revolution of 1949, and the subsequent annexation of Tibet led to the closure of that route. Climbers began to look at an approach from the Nepalese side. The 1952 Swiss Mount Everest Expedition, climbing from Nepal, reached an elevation of about 8,595 m (28,199 ft) on the southeast ridge, setting a new climbing altitude record.