John Hunt’s team had pushed a route to the South Col and at that point, John chose two climbing teams to make the summit attempt. They were Bourdillon and Evans, to use the new oxygen rebreathing system and climb from the south col. They would be followed by Tenzing and Hillary using the standard oxygen system and climbing from a high camp above the south col.
On their summit bid, Tom and Charles climbed higher than anyone ever had before but the length of the technical climb of the long knife-edged summit ridge led them to doubt it was possible.
Three days later it was time for Ed and Tenzing to make an ascent before the climbing weather season closed in.
They ascended the South East ridge and established a tent on a tiny ledge to spend the night of the 28th of May. After an uncomfortable night, they ascended the ridge to the south summit of Everest where they looked up at a section of unbelievably steep terrain.
Rising towards the summit is a knife-edge ridge that boasts a 4km vertical drop on the right side all the way down to Tibet.
This knife-edged ridge culminated in a steep 12 metre rock step that is now called the Hillary Step after Ed’s bold ascent. This really was the crux of the climb of Everest, once Ed and Tenzing reached the top they knew that they could reach the summit.
They didn’t waste any time after this achievement and trudged up towards the rounded dome above. Ed chopped steps with a long glacier ice axe and then step by step they reached the summit.
“It was 11.30 a.m. on 29th May 1953. In typical Anglo-Saxon fashion, I stretched out my arm for a handshake, but this was not enough for Tenzing who threw his arms around my shoulders in a mighty hug and I hugged him back in return. With a feeling of mild surprise I realised that Tenzing was perhaps more excited at our success than I was. But time was short! I turned off my oxygen and removed my mask. Immediately my face was prickled sharply with ice splinters carried in the brisk wind. I removed my camera from the protection of my down jacket, stepped a little down the slope and photographed Tenzing on the summit with his ice axe upraised and the flags flapping in the breeze – the United Nations flag, the Indian flag, the Nepalese flag and the Union Jack.”
“Tenzing didn’t have a camera and, to tell the truth, the thought didn’t enter my mind to try to organise a picture of myself on top of the mountain. I felt a more urgent need to have photographic evidence that we had reached the summit, so quickly took shots down every major ridge. The view was most spectacular”
Edmund Hillary from his book View from the Summit.
For Ed and Tenzing this climb was not about the glory of the accomplishment – because at the time they didn’t realise the magnitude of their achievement – it was about pushing the boundaries of what was possible.
Peter and Alexander Hillary
Himalayan Trust NZ