This Moment In History: Edmund Hillary Celebrates First Successful Everest Summit Bid

KATHMANDU, NEPAL—In what has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements in the 20th century, Edmund Hillary was the first man to conquer Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, setting foot on its summit last Friday at 11:30 AM.  Known as Chomolungma to the indigenous Sherpa people who have lived for centuries within its shadow, Hillary catapulted himself to hero status by navigating the final treacherous climb to the summit, which has since been named the Hillary Step in his honor.

“It’s hard to imagine the suffering Hillary was going through as he neared 29,000 feet,” said Colonel John Hunt, who engineered the climb. “His lungs would be screaming for air. His eyes would be blinded by the sun. His muscles would be fatigued, his body buffeted by bitter cold and howling wind.  At that altitude, hallucinations and confusion take over. Hypoxia would have weakened his body to the point of shutting down.  It’s not called the Death Zone for nothing.”

“Just his jacket and climbing ax would have felt like a ton of bricks,” he added.

Also witnessing Hillary’s triumphant climb was Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who carried the team’s supplies and was the second man to reach Everest’s summit.

Hunt reported that the men celebrated Hillary’s accomplishment when they reached the summit.  Hillary opened some champagne and took a moment to sit and relax with some fresh fruit and charcuterie while Norgay enjoyed his small ration of nuts.

When asked why these men would attempt such a dangerous undertaking, Hunt said Hillary would only repeat famed Everest mountaineer George Mallory’s response to that same query: “Because it’s there”.  Norgay was motivated by payment of sixty Nepalese rupees.

Hillary’s descent from Everest coincided with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, from whom he would later receive a knighthood along with an appointment to the Order of the Garter.  Hillary was also appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Norgay did not return our calls for comment on Hillary’s historic feat.