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The Sherpas of Everest Series: Tenzing Norgay Sherpa

One Flew Over  by Clay Hall 

            At midday on May 29, 1953 a roped pair of climbers reached the 29,028 foot crown of Mount Everest and, spending fifteen minutes on the hypobaric summit, became the first men to scale the highest peak on planet Earth. The conquest of Everest released an avalanche of media and political attention never before seen in mountaineering history. The nationalist politics of that postwar, post-colonial period overshadowed any international celebration as England, India, and Nepal vied to take the lion’s share of credit for the achievement. In the emotionally charged and politically delicate aftermath there was a story that remained largely untold. The saga of Tenzing Norgay, an indomitable Sherpa from the most humble of beginnings who had looked towards the summit of Everest his entire life. A man whose life and culture were so interwoven with the history of climbing on Mount Everest that the final triumph could scarcely be understood without knowing the story of Tenzing and his people.

"Raymond Lambert and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay sitting together" Everest 1952 photosă collection AGEC Hoffstetter

            Named Namgyal Wangdi at his birth in 1914, the Sherpa baby was the 11th of 13 children born to humble Buddhist parents who lived in the Solo Khumbu Valley, only a day’s trek from Mount Everest. The Sherpa people had traveled westward over the forbidding high passes from the Tibetan plateau some 400 years previous, possessing little more than a few yaks and the Tibetan calendar. The Buddhist religion was held close to the heart by the descendant Sherpas and as a small child Namgyal was taken to the Rongbuk Monastery in Tibet. Brought before a lama who consulted his holy books, it was proclaimed that Namgyal was the reincarnation of a wealthy man who had recently died in the Solo Khumbu Valley. Insisting that his name be changed to Tenzing Norgay (“Wealthy Fortunate Follower of Religion”) the lama predicted great things for the child.

            Tenzing spent his youngest years as most Sherpa boys, running errands for his family, helping with the chores. Enthralled with the stories recounted by the local Sherpas who had ventured over the passes to work as coolies in the tea plantations of Darjeeling, he would often daydream of far-flung places and adventures while tending his father's herd of yaks in the high Himalayan pastures.

            By Tenzing’s tenth year his Sherpa clan had a well-deserved reputation as reliable and hardworking high altitude porters for their participation in three major reconnaissance expeditions into Tibet and the Everest region. In 1921 they had been instrumental in The Royal Geographical Society’s probe through Sikkim to Everest and in the 1922 Everest attempt led by General Charles Granville Bruce the Sherpa tribe had lost seven loyal porters in an avalanche below the North Col. In 1924 more Sherpas returned to the Solo Khumbu Valley recounting stories about the “chilinga” (white men). These veteran porters wore strange clothing and huge boots and spoke of two men named Irvine and Mallory and a mountain named Everest. Tenzing never forgot those names, nor the lost ‘mountain men’ of his own community.

            The young Tenzing knew nothing of this mountain called Everest, but soon found out that it was the same mountain as Chomolungma. Tenzing did know something about Chomolungma. While grazing his father's yaks he had seen it many times rising high above the nearer peaks, exalting the final rays of daylight with its crystal pennant of wind-blown snow. His mother, like all Sherpa mothers, had told him about Chomolungma; in the Sherpa tongue it was said to mean “The Mountain So High No Bird Can Fly Over It.”

            Following the 1924 expedition of Irvine and Mallory the Dalai Lama refused all permit requests for Chomolungma, while Tenzing grew ever more restless and bored in the Khumbu valley. Finally in 1933, upon hearing that there was another expedition being organized for the Tibetan side of Everest, the teenage Sherpa ran away to Darjeeling with nothing but a single blanket and his hope of going along on the expedition.

            The 1933 British expedition, under the leadership of Hugh Ruttledge, marched out of Darjeeling without the young Tenzing, leaving him to find work tending cows and repairing recent earthquake damage in the city. A miserable Tenzing toiled away in Darjeeling for the next two years until early 1935 when his luck changed and he was married to a Sherpa woman named Dawa Phuti. Shortly thereafter, the seasoned team of Bill Tilman and Eric Shipton arrived in town to organize another expedition to the Everest region of Tibet. Tenzing again interviewed with the British and was nearly left behind again until a last minute need for two more porters led Shipton to tap Tenzing for a job.

            The British expedition of ’35 was to be an exploratory endeavor and not a serious summit attempt.  Arriving at Everest base camp the climbers came across the frozen body of Maurice Wilson who had attempted a numinous solo ascent of the mountain the year before. The Tilman party buried his body in a crevasse, salvaging only his diary. While in basecamp Tenzing received a visit from his father who had heard of the expedition and ventured over the Nangpa La to visit his son, who was getting his first lessons in mountaineering technique: learning to cut steps, use a rope and route-find on a glacier. Tenzing was experiencing the hard work and heavy loads of a Sherpa porter and the strange foods and equipment of the British climbers. Though the weather was generally cooperative throughout the expedition, they stuck to their plans and never made a serious summit attempt, content to climb only as far as the North Col. The party did manage to climb many satellite peaks around Everest and study the mountain from every possible angle. Tenzing also discovered that, while at the end of the expedition the other Sherpas were happy to collect their pay and return home, he was disappointed that it had been merely an exploratory mission and that they had not taken advantage of the fine weather to venture higher onto the mountain.

            That summer Tenzing’s first son was born and in the fall of ’35 Tenzing was hired on to an expedition to Kabru near Kanchenjunga in Northern Sikkim. He spent the winter supporting his family with odd jobs around Darjeeling and anticipating next spring’s expedition season.

            In the spring of ’36 Tenzing was again invited to return to Everest with the British under the leadership of Hugh Ruttledge. It was the largest expedition yet launched at Everest and the team had high hopes. In Darjeeling they hired 60 porters and set off on the long march through Tibet in two huge companies two days apart. Arriving in base camp they found the winds blowing from the east bringing in a daily deluge of snow. After a tremendous effort by the Sherpas in snow up to chest depth a camp was established on the North Col, but it was to no avail. Ruttledge wisely called off the expedition. The monsoons had arrived early and they were not to be argued with. It was a hard and disappointing lesson for Tenzing but he was learning to love his job and had much hope for the future.

            In the fall of that year after returning from a Shipton expedition to the Nanda Devi region Tenzing occupied himself with the guiding of tourists on hikes and walks in the Darjeeling region, always hoping to see his beloved Chomolungma a hundred miles distant and always longing to return to attempt the summit.

            After a year passed without any major expeditions for Tenzing the spring of 1938 looked very promising when H. W. Tilman appeared in Darjeeling with a small but talented team for the seventh British expedition to Mount Everest. Tenzing was off again on the march through Sikkim and into Tibet, past the Rongbuk Monastery and up to base camp and again Tenzing’s father made the trek over the Nangpa La from Nepal to visit his son. Sadly, this was the last time that Tenzing would see his father, who died in 1949.

            The Tilman expedition began by attacking the North Col from both sides via each arm of the upper Rongbuk Glacier. They were soon forced to abandon the route from the Main Rongbuk after an avalanche swept up six men (including Tenzing). Luckily, no one was injured. After much work Tenzing made his third ascent to the North Col where Camp IV was established. The next day climbers Tilman, Shipton, Lloyd and Smith, along with nine Sherpas, began climbing along the North Ridge to establish Camp V at around 25,800’. On the way up two Sherpas collapsed from the altitude and heavy loads and had to descend while the others continued on to Camp V. Reaching Camp V a long discussion ensued as to how to retrieve the abandoned gear of these two Sherpas. Tenzing took the responsibility upon himself and returned alone to retrieve the tents and fuel from the ridge. Still using hobnail boots in those early days, Tenzing at one point nearly slipped to his demise, but fortunately arrested his fall and made it back to Camp V just before dark. When the expedition was over Tenzing was rewarded twenty rupees for this effort.

            It was on this expedition that Tilman had started his system of rewarding Sherpas with ‘Tiger Medals’ for efforts at high altitude as well as keeping them from carrying heavy loads until they were actually on the mountain and the lowland porters had departed. The Sherpas were very fond of the quiet Tilman and had nicknamed him “Balu” (The Bear) because of his physical stature. It had been a breakthrough expedition for both Tenzing and the Sherpa people. Due to Tilman’s great trust in the Sherpas and their great respect for him, a small group of them were persuaded to go much higher on the mountain than was usual. These earliest of high altitude Sherpas were very religious and often superstitious souls and it was sometimes difficult to get them to move higher up the mountain. For hundreds of years the Holy Lamas had preached that the high mountains were the abode of demons and monsters and that all who ventured there would be lost.

            Things were different for Tenzing. This was the highest that Tenzing had ever been and he felt very strong and longed to go higher, but the entire expedition had fought with the fierce demon of weather. In the final days the British made two summit attempts but were turned back by the deep snow and brutal cold. It would be a long time before anyone returned to the challenge of Everest. For the next nine years the world’s highest mountain was to take a back seat in Tenzing’s life as well as the concerns of the British. WWII loomed in the future.

            Tenzing was a proud and capable man even though he lacked many of the skills taken for granted by educated men, but this period in his life demonstrated that things were not easy for a Sherpa, especially in the hard times created by the war. In 1938 he and his wife Dawa Phuti had a daughter they named Pem Pem, but while Tenzing was away working in Chitral for the distinguished Chitral Scouts of the Indian Army he lost his four-year-old son Nima Dorje. Often it was necessary for a Sherpa husband to be away from his family for extended periods, but after Nima’s death Tenzing decided to gather his family and return with them to Chitral. He had one more daughter with his wife Dawa Phuti whom they named Nima. But the Indian climate was hard on Dawa Phuti and tragically, she died in 1944 after a long sickness.

            Concerned for the welfare of his two daughters, Tenzing returned to Darjeeling where he was soon married to a Sherpa woman named Ang Lahmu. The continuing war began to generate it's own economy in Darjeeling, and only two weeks after their marriage Tenzing found work and he was off again to Tibet with a Lieutenant Colonel H. Taylor, on leave from the U.S. Army with permission to enter Tibet for a two month adventure on horseback.

            The eventual end of WWII brought renewed hardship and confusion to India. Tea plantations were shutting down and there was much poverty and unemployment. With the British military and government withdrawn, and no tourists or expeditions to replace them, India’s independence was stifling for Tenzing. So when in the spring of 1947 an eccentric Canadian named Earl Denman showed up in Darjeeling with a wild plan, a bored and desperate Tenzing took a chance on him.

            Denman was a self-styled explorer from Canada who had been living in Africa when he had come up with his grand scheme for climbing Everest. His plan was actually 'no plan at all': just go and give it a try by the seat of his pants. Traveling to Darjeeling with the barest of essentials Denman was introduced to Tenzing through a friend. Tenzing listened to Denman talk and was impressed by the man’s enthusiasm and determination, even though he knew that it was a crazy idea. Denman did not have the money to pay him appropriately and if something was to happen to him there would be no compensation for his family as on the well-heeled British expeditions. Beyond this, not only did Denman not have a permit to enter Tibet, he had signed a paper promising to not even go near the border. Still, it had been a long time since Tenzing had been to Everest and he could not resist the lure of the adventure, so in the last week of March Tenzing and his good Sherpa friend Ang Dawa left with Denman for Tibet.

            Reaching the Tibetan Plateau with Denman in disguise as a local they lived from hand to mouth constantly on the lookout for authorities. Traveling incognito and on occasion with the caravans of nomads the trio was able to quickly reach the Rongbuk Monastery by April 8 where they could finally rest. There, towering above them at the head of the Rongbuk Valley was Chomolungma. It had been nine years since Tenzing glimpsed the mountain up close and he felt a surge of adrenaline despite the knowing of the impossibility of what they had undertaken. Using the Rongbuk monastery as a base camp they quickly moved up the glacier carrying immense loads, making single carries and setting up the next camp. Without the expensive clothing and equipment of the British expeditions the elements began to quickly drain them of strength and desire. A miserable but loyal Tenzing stayed beside Denman, all the time thinking of the poor Maurice Wilson, until just below the North Col when Denman also realized the hopeless nature of their situation and they began a rapid retreat. Five weeks after their departure they were back home in Darjeeling, the bizarre trip had been like a crazy dream for Tenzing. Denman left Tenzing a woolen balaclava and what was left of his meager equipment and departed for Africa.

            The day that he returned home from the wild adventure with Denman, Tenzing was hired onto a small Swiss expedition to the Northern Garwhal. Following this expedition and a mess of bureaucratic hassles getting back home through the disheveled postwar Asia, Tenzing found that things in his own country had improved little and spent another hard winter scraping by with his family in Darjeeling. But things were soon to take a turn.

            In response to the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 the country of Nepal (formerly closed even more tightly than Tibet) now began to slowly open its doors to the West. Logistically, this turn of events meant that the puzzle of climbing Everest was thrown back to the 1920’s when the Royal Geographical Society had sent Howard-Bury and Younghusband into Tibet to find a route to the mountain's base.

            Tenzing was invited by H.W. Tilman on the first exploration by Westerners of Katmandu and the interior of Nepal. Tenzing had not been to Katmandu since 1929 when he had run away for a few weeks at age 13. He was surprised to see that there was now electricity and even a few cars that had been carried over the passes on Sherpas’ backs piece by piece. Tenzing had hoped to continue on to his home of Solo Khumbu, but instead the expedition turned west toward the Lang Dang Himalaya, where the French would have their bittersweet 8,000m success on Annapurna the following spring.

            Over the next two years Tenzing was involved in three tragic expeditions in the Himalaya. The first was with a small British party on Nanga Parbat. Due to recurring bureaucratic hassles the group did not get established near the mountain until late November. Pushing on with enormous effort despite the onset of winter conditions, the day before Christmas two Brits disappeared. Following a desperate search in whiteout conditions and deep snow they were given up as lost, probably swallowed up in their sleep by the contracting glacier. Nanga Parbat had now claimed two more lives for a total of thirty-one (including Alfred Mummery during the first attempt in 1895).

            While Shipton led the first southern attempt on Everest from Nepal in the spring of 1951 Tenzing was involved in another tragedy with the French on Nanda Devi. The French team had hoped to climb Nanda Devi and then traverse the jagged and corniced ridge across to Nanda Devi East. The ridge was more than two miles long and continually above 23,000’. Two climbers, Duplat and Vignes, approached the summit of Nanda Devi but were never seen again. In a valiant rescue effort Tenzing and climber Louis Dubost made an alpine style ascent (the second overall) of the East summit to search for the climbers, but to no avail.

            The third tragedy came in the fall of ’51 in the Kanchenjunga region. It was a very small expedition led by a Swiss man named George Frey. After a number of successes on smaller peaks in the area they decided to try their luck on 19,000’ Kang Peak. Near 17,000’ Frey slipped and, unroped, fell to his death.

            It was a Sherpa belief that the late thirties were a critical period in the life of a man, when fate was likely to come calling. This idea was beginning to cause some anxiety for the 38 year old Tenzing. Three expeditions in a row he had experienced tragedy. He had two more “critical years” and he was beginning to worry. He had done quite a bit of traveling and had climbed on many beautiful mountains but one ultimate summit was still missing. Chomolungma. He began to wonder if his luck would change or perhaps he would never get to the summit of his dreams.

            Prior to the year 1951 Everest had always been considered a “British” mountain, but in 1952 that was to change as the Nepalis had granted a permit to the Swiss for an attempt. In early spring Tenzing received a letter from the Swiss asking him to be Sirdar on their expedition. Tenzing was overjoyed to accept. It had been five years since his bizarre trip with Denman and fourteen since he had climbed high on the mountain to earn his Tiger Medal with Tilman. In addition, it had been eighteen years since Tenzing had journeyed through the Solo Khumbu Valley to his boyhood stomping grounds. Not only was Tenzing going back to Everest, he was going home.

            This first Swiss expedition to Mount Everest was headed by E. Wyss-Dunant and consisted of the finest Swiss mountaineers of the time: Jean Jaques Asper, Raymond Lambert, Rene Dittert, Rene Aubert, Gabriel Chevalley, Leon Flory, Ernst Hofstetter, and Andre Roch. The group left Katmandu on March 29 as scheduled and after sixteen days of marching they made the 180 miles to Namche Bazar. Waiting for him in Namche Bazar was Tenzing’s venerable mother who had made the journey from Thamey to see her son for the first time in 18 years. A Sherpa celebration ensued and the Nepali porters returned home while more Sherpa porters were hired on (including Tenzing’s youngest sister and a niece). On April 22 the team established a base camp at 16,500’ on the Khumbu Glacier. They divided into two teams in order to push a route through the massive teetering blocks of the Icefall. At the head of the Icefall they came to the massive crevasse that had stopped the British the year before. After two days of reconnaissance and some tricky climbing by the talented Jean Jaques Asper, the youngest member of the expedition, the Swiss became the first in history to enter the massive bowl of the Western Cwm.

            Two and one-half tons of gear were brought up to Camp III in 45 pound loads. From there the tireless Sherpas worked the supplies up to Camp V at 22,600’ below the sweeping walls of Lhotse. The organization of the loads and the porters was hectic for Tenzing but his Sherpa team performed well and the weather was generally cooperative. On the 15th of May Lambert, Tenzing, Dittert and Roch set out to push a line up the virgin Geneva Spur. After much reconnoitering and step chopping they established a supply dump halfway up the 3,000’ spur and on 25 May after a false start the day before due to blizzards Lambert, Tenzing, Flory, and Aubert set out for the South Col with six Sherpas. At the supply dump midway they added more gear to their packs and continued higher. After eight hours of climbing three Sherpas insisted that they must go down and the remaining members split their loads evenly. At ten hours the sun began to set and they realized that they would not make the Col that day. They endured an icy bivouac on a small shelf hacked from the steep slope of the spur and the next morning reached the frozen and wind blasted South Col.        

            Reaching the South Col the Swiss began to set up camp while Tenzing descended to meet the other Sherpas and help with the loads. Upon reaching the bivouac ledge he found all three porters refusing to go higher on the mountain. Incensed, Tenzing argued and swore until the three Sherpas picked up their loads and continued to the Col with Tenzing on their heels. When the group reached the Col the three Sherpas set up their tent and collapsed inside while Tenzing made two more trips down to the bivy to bring up loads.

            Now high on the mountain, Tenzing served a dual role within the expedition. As Sirdar he was responsible for making sure that the Sherpas performed their duties and that the proper equipment was available where needed on the mountain. In addition, he was now also climbing with the Swiss as a full expedition member.      

            The following day the three Sherpas on the Col absolutely refused to climb higher on the mountain, even when promised special rewards. Crying and full of foreboding, they pleaded with Tenzing to go down with them. Tenzing refused, and with the three Swiss climbers, Lambert, Florey and Aubert set off up the southeast ridge with heavy loads to establish Camp VII. The distraught Sherpas descended.

            Throughout that day the climbers ascended to 27,500’ on the SE ridge. They had intended only to haul gear up and establish a cache higher on the ridge and then return to the Col, but the weather was perfect. The sky was a dome of deep blue and the preceding night’s wind had steadily decreased. During the expedition Tenzing had been teaming with the Swiss climber Raymond Lambert. Though the only language the two had in common was a halting English, Tenzing and Lambert had become close friends, sharing a rope and tent since the Icefall. After much discussion Aubert and Florey selflessly descended, leaving Tenzing and Lambert sitting outside their tent in the mild weather with no stove or sleeping bags (selfless, no?). In the fading light Tenzing pointed to the summit of Everest and said to Lambert “Tomorrow -- you and me.” That night the men ate a little cheese and Tenzing melted what water he could in a tin can over a candle. The smiling friends kept from freezing to death by continually slapping and rubbing one another as the full balance of the night pivoted atop the roof of their fragile tent.

            The dawn came clear and cold and the pair started slowly up the ridge, hindered by their malfunctioning oxygen gear. Eventually they tossed aside the dead weight of the oxygen apparatus and continued on. After five hours of suffocating work, sometimes crawling on hands and knees, they had gained only 650 feet. They could see the South Summit only 500 feet further but they knew that their progress was too slow and the weather was again worsening. The altitude, the bivy and the now-driving snow were taking it’s toll on the two men. At 28,250’ the climbers stopped to make eye contact, they didn’t need to speak. Reluctantly but wisely they turned and descended. Over the next two days they returned to the Western Cwm and another summit attempt was organized, but the new team was chased off of the South Col by blizzards. The monsoons had arrived. The expedition was over.

            Tenzing came away from the defeat with a good attitude. Their near success and his love of the Swiss along with his new friendship with Lambert gave him much hope for the future. And what of the future? Next year’s permit for Everest belonged to the British, and they had wisely spent this season training on Cho Oyu. If the Swiss wanted to be the first to summit Everest then they were left with one option, an unprecedented post-monsoon attempt that autumn.

            The Swiss expedition quickly regrouped over the summer and in mid September the members again found themselves in Nepal, at this time still in the throes of the monsoon. Setting out, the group was plagued by horrible weather. Many porters fell sick (with two dying) and others simply quit, forcing the team to send ahead for porters from Solo Khumbu. At the end of September Tenzing arrived in Namche Bazar under a clear blue sky and, celebrating the end of the monsoon with the Swiss, Tenzing was once again able to see his mother and family. From here they sent the remaining Nepali porters home and replaced them with local Sherpas. The team would soon be pitching base camp at the toe of the Khumbu Ice Fall.

            While there were fewer climbers on this expedition they were much better prepared for the Icefall this time, having brought logs and timber up from Namche Bazar and a long wooden ladder for the monstrous crack that guarded the Western Cwm. The group made short work of the Icefall, quickly entered the Western Cwm, and by the end of October they were established in Camp V at the foot of the Lohtse Face. With the continually clear skies the nights were much colder than in the Spring and there was a constant howling wind in the formerly quiet cwm. The Swiss team was realizing that is was a race against the evaporating winter days and the bitter cold. Fixing the route up the Geneva Spur, they met with misfortune when a small ice avalanche struck the Sherpa Mingma Dorje. During the rescue efforts a roped team of three Sherpas fell 600 feet, luckily suffering only minor injuries. The three Sherpas who had been wounded were moved to Base Camp while Mingma Dorje was buried in the moraine between Camps IV and V. The Swiss asked Tenzing to speak with his Sherpas and if the Sherpas wished, then the expedition would be called off. After much discussion throughout the night the Sherpas decided to continue on, but up a new and less direct route to the right of the Spur with less objective hazard.

            By mid November they had installed two more camps below the South Col on the Lhotse Face. The relentless wind and bitter cold had reduced morale and by this time most of the Sherpas wanted only to get back down to the shelter and warmth of their Solo Khumbu Valley. On November 19 Tenzing, Reiss and seven Sherpas (including Tenzing’s seventeen year old nephew Topgay) under the leadership of Lambert, reached the Col for the second time that year. That night the thermometer bottomed out at -30 and the winds blew at a steady 60 mph (creating a wind chill of -120 degrees Fahrenheit). In the morning they launched an august attempt to move higher up the mountain and establish Camp IX. Finally getting underway at 11:30, after much coaxing of the Sherpas by Tenzing, it took the group an entire hour simply to cross the Col in the hammering wind. Even with three pairs of gloves and their improved oxygen units their hands went numb and their lips turned blue. Heading up the initial slopes the group came to a virtual standstill, fighting for each inch. For Lambert and Norgay all of the hard work and suffering of the last year had caused them to think of Everest as “their” summit. More than anything the two friends had wanted to climb to the summit of Everest together, but sadly they realized that it would be a suicide pact to continue. The group turned and began their retreat. It had been Tenzing’s fervent dream to share the summit with his friend Lambert, but Chomolungma would not allow it. Returning to Katmandu Tenzing came down with malaria and the Swiss flew him to a hospital in Northern India where he spent ten days in bed.

            While the gaunt Tenzing lay in his hospital bed alternating between delirium and disillusionment a letter arrived from Major Charles Wylie in England. The British wanted him on their upcoming Everest expedition as both the Sirdar and a climber. He was still too weak and worn out to even consider the invitation. Two trips to Everest in one year, between the backbreaking work and the treacherous high altitudes it was a wonder that he was still alive. He laid the letter aside and fell into a fitful sleep. By the time the Sherpa was well enough to leave the hospital and return home the British expedition would be only months away.

            Finally back at his home in Darjeeling, Tenzing managed to recover enough strength to fully contemplate his latest defeat on Everest. Still feeling very weak, Tenzing agonized through those early months of 1953. The aging Sherpa did not know what to do. He was so disappointed that he and his partner Lambert had not summited Everest together that he considered staying home out of loyalty to his friend and the Swiss. He had plenty of reason. Who could criticize him for staying home? He was already a hero among Himalayan mountaineers and Sherpas alike from his six previous attempts on Everest and many other Himalayan expeditions. No person had attempted this highest of mountains more times than he, but three Everest expeditions in little more than a year? Moreover, the British also wanted him to perform the double role of Sirdar and climber, which was what had worn him out and contributed to his weakened condition. Tenzing’s wife Ang Lahmu was dead set against his going back to Everest and Tenzing himself was worried that he might not have the strength to perform his dual duties. He searched his own soul and sought the advice of friends. He argued with his wife. He was 39 years old and at the very end of his “critical years” when the Sherpas believed that a man’s fate is decided.

            Finally Tenzing came to a great resolution of spirit and his old confidence and determination returned. He could not pass up this chance at realizing the dream that he had worked towards all of his life. He felt a terrible sense of frustration at his failure with the Swiss and it steeled his will to go back and climb Everest at all costs, if only because he had become so impatient with his own fate. He went to visit his friend Mrs. Henderson at the Darjeeling Alpine Club and told her “yes” he would go. It was not so easy to tell his wife however, and they fought and argued back and forth until finally old Ang Lahmu relented.

            Tenzing spoke with a trusted friend in Darjeeling and made arrangements for a fund to be set up for his growing family in the event he did not return from Everest. He resumed his old habit of filling his rucksack with rocks and hiking up and down the hills of Darjeeling. For the seventh time, Tenzing was going back to Everest.

Part 2 is here

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