Everest - southeast ridge - 1953
Everest was climbed for the first time in 1953, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
First ascent of Everest ( 8848m )
29 May 1953
Climbed by Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay
Other members of the expedition: John Hunt, Charles Evans, George Band, Tom Bourdillon, Alfred Gregory, Wilfrid Noyce, Griffith Pugh, Tom Stobart, Michael Ward, Michael Westmacott, Charles Wylie, George Lowe
Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world and was the second of the world's fourteen 8000m peaks to be climbed. The successful ascent followed a series of attempts spread over 36 years. The first serious attempt was made in 1922, following a reconnaissance in 1921.
The ascent was made from Nepal, following a route through the Khumbu icefall into the mountain's Western Cwm, and then up to the South Col and up the southeast ridge. This approach to the mountain was reconnoitred for the first time by an expedition led by Bill Tilman in 1950 (earlier expeditions had approached Everest from Tibet, but the Tibetan route was closed in 1950 and for may years afterwards for political reasons).
The 1953 expedition was organised by Britain's Joint Himalaya Committee and led by Colonel John Hunt. The team was supported on the mountain by 36 Sherpas and was assisted by a large number of porters on the trek to base camp. Times correspondent James Morris (later Jan Morris) accompanied the expedition.
"We also took advantage of the long march to break ourselves in to heavy load-carrying and to accustom ourselves to wearing oxygen masks. We soon knew that John Coats, the designer of the masks, had done a first-class job. We found we could race uphill at full speed, panting hard, or sleep a whole night through wearing a mask, without feeling any restriction in breathing." - John Hunt and Michael Westmacott, describing the trek to base camp.
A number of mountains of around 6000m were climbed by members of the expedition as an acclimatisation exercise. Supplementary oxygen was used on some of these ascents in order to gain experience in using the apparatus.
The team then began the task of setting up a chain of camps through the Everest ice-fall and up the route to the South Col. Ropes were fixed through the ice-fall and on the face leading to the South Col. Camp 7 was established on the South Col (7900m) on 17 May.
A first attempt on the summit was made on 26 May by Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, climbing from Camp 7 using closed-circuit oxygen apparatus. They reached the South Summit (8750m) of Everest, but then turned back due to lack of time and difficulties with their oxygen apparatus.
On the same day, John Hunt and Da Namgyal positioned an equipment dump, later to be used to establish a camp, high on the southeast ridge at about 8330m.
A day of poor weather followed.
On 28 May, Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, George Lowe, Alfred Gregory and Ang Nima, climbed from South Col up to the dump, using open-circuit oxygen equipment and carrying more supplies. The team added the material from the dump to their loads and continued upwards. Most of the team were now carrying loads of between 50 and 63 pounds (Ang Nima was carrying rather less). They established a tent on a snow ledge at about 8500m. Gregory and Ang Nima then descended to the South Col, leaving Hillary and Tenzing to spend the night in the tent.
The next morning (29 May) , Hillary and Tenzing climbed to the South Summit, still using their oxygen apparatus. Snow conditions on this section seemed dangerous (Bourdillon and Evans had also noted soft snow on this section). They chose to continue, and reached the South Summit.
Then they continued up the ridge, overcoming on the way a rock bluff which has subsequently been dubbed the "Hillary Step." Hillary and Tenzing reached the summit if Mount Everest at 11.30am.
For an account of the developments in high-altitude physiology that underpinned the expedition ( and the mountaineering politics that accompanied the science) see Harriet Tuckey's book Everest – The First Ascent: The untold story of Griffith Pugh, the man who made it possible.
© Himalaya Masala 2013. All rights reserved.
More about this ascent
Everest in the Ascent Book
First ascent via Park’s Korean Route
First ascent via North Face Direct
First ascent via Northeast ridge integral
Everest, khumbu, Nepal
N 27° 59′ 17.88″ W 86° 55′ 31.0332″