Tenzing Norgay

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geographers and explorers

Tenzing Norgay ( 29 May(?) 1914 – 9 May 1986), often referred to as Sherpa Tenzing, was a Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer. He and Edmund Hillary were the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953.

Early life

Tenzing came from a peasant family from Khumbu in Nepal, very near Mount Everest, which the Sherpas call Chomolungma. At the time he climbed Everest it was generally believed that he was born there, but in the 1990s it emerged that he was actually born and spent part of his early life in the Kharta Valley region in Tibet to the east of Mount Everest, but this had been kept secret for political reasons.

He was originally called "Namgyal Wangdi", but as a child his name was changed on advice from the head lama and founder of the famous Rongbuk Monastery - Ngawang Tenzin Norbu. Tenzing Norgay translates as "wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion". His father, a yak herder, was Ghang La Mingma (who died in 1949) and his mother was Dokmo Kinzom (who lived to see him climb Everest); he was the 11th of 13 children, most of whom died young.

His exact date of birth is uncertain, but he knew it was late May from the weather and the crops. Later, he decided to treat 29 May as his birthday, as this was the date he climbed Everest.

He ran away to Kathmandu twice as a boy, and, at age 19, eventually settled in the Sherpa community in Too Song Bhusti in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India.


He took part as a high-altitude porter in three official British attempts to climb Everest from the northern Tibetan side in the 1930s.

Tenzing also took part in other climbs in various parts of the Indian subcontinent, and for a time in the early 1940s he lived in what is now Pakistan; he said that the most difficult climb he ever took part in was on Nanda Devi East, where a number of people were killed.

In 1947, he took part in an unsuccessful summit attempt. An eccentric Englishman Earl Denman, Ange Dawa Sherpa, and himself entered Tibet illegally to attempt the mountain; the attempt ended when a strong storm at 22,000 ft pounded them. Denman admitted defeat and all three turned around and safely returned.

In 1952, he took part in two Swiss expeditions led by Raymond Lambert, the first serious attempts to climb Everest from the southern Nepalese side, during which he and Lambert reached the then record height of 8,599 m (28,215 ft).

Success on Mount Everest

In 1953, he took part in John Hunt's expedition, his own seventh expedition to Everest, in which he and Hillary became the first to reach the summit. Afterwards he was met with adulation in India and Nepal, and even literally worshipped by some people who believed he must be an incarnation of Buddha or Shiva.

Tenzing and Hillary were the first people to conclusively set their feet on the summit of Mount Everest, but journalists were persistently repeating the question which of the two men had the right to the glory of being the first one, and who was merely the second, the follower.

Tenzing stressed the unity of such teams and of their achievements, shrugged off the allegation of being ever pulled by anyone, but disclosed that Hillary was the first to put his foot on the summit. He concluded: "If it is a shame to be the second man on Mount Everest, then I will have to live with this shame."

Another interesting aside of this ascent was that all the photos that existed of the mountaineers on the top showed only Tenzing. When asked why there were no photos featuring Hillary, Sir Edmund replied "Tenzing didnt know how to operate the camera and the Everest top was no place to start teaching him how to use it"

Family life

Tenzing was married three times. His first wife, Dawa Phuti, died young in 1944. With her he had a son, Nima Dorje, who died at the age of four, and two daughters: Pem Pem, who had a son Tashi Tenzing who climbed Everest, and Nima, who married a Filipino graphic designer, Noli Galang. His second wife was Ang Lahmu, a cousin of his first wife. They had no children, but she acted as stepmother to his daughters. His third wife was Dakku, whom he married while his second wife was still alive, as allowed by Sherpa custom, and with her he had his sons Jamling and Norbu. Other relatives include his nephews, Nawang Gombu and Topgay, who took part in the 1953 Everest expedition.

After Everest

Tenzing later became director of field training for the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. In 1978, he founded a company, Tenzing Norgay Adventures, that offers trekking in the Himalaya. As of 2003, the company was run by his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who himself reached the summit of Everest in 1996. Tenzing died in Darjeeling (now Darjiling), West Bengal, India in 1986.

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