May 29th never fails to be an exciting day for me. Not only is it my birthday, but, more importantly, it always falls around the last day of school which also means the first day of summer vacation! Likewise, this day in May has proved to be an exciting day for many others throughout history. In 1848, Wisconsin entered the Union as the 30th state; in 1917, John F. Kennedy was born; in 1988, Reagan arrived in Moscow for summit talks; in 2003, Bob Hope celebrated his 100th birthday; and in 2005, Danica Patrick became the first woman to lead the Indy 500. However, one of the most interesting events that happened on this day was in the Great Himalayas 62 years ago.
On May 29, 1953 at 11:30 am, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first expeditioners to reach the top of the world’s tallest mountain–Mount Everest. Named Chomo Lungma, or “Mother Goddess of the Land,” by the Tibetans and more commonly known as Mount Everest, named after the 19th century British surveyor Sir George Everest, this monstrous landform rises to a height of normal cruising altitudes for most jetliners. Along with high altitudes, other factors–below freezing temperatures, low oxygen levels, unpredictable weather, treacherous terrain–pose life-or-death problems for any potential climber. Despite these extremely dangerous conditions, many experienced climbers yearn for adventure and satisfaction in climbing the world’s tallest mountain. A British expedition of 1921 became the first recorded attempt to do so; however, they did not ascend very far because a violent storm forced the crew to abort their excursion. During the next 30 years, Everest saw at least ten other major undetakings and two solo attempts. It was not until 1953 that a British expedition resulted in the success of a New Zealander and a Nepalese sherpa. For many, the 29,000 feet climb seemed impossible; for Hillary and Norgay, achievable.
This successful British trip was spurred into action after the close success of a Swiss expedition where two climbers ascended 28,210 feet. Unlike the first British mission in 1921, this time the British came equipped with a plethora of supplies, 350 porters, and 20 Sherpas to accompany the ten man crew of climbers. The leader of the expedition, Sir John Hunt, approached the journey with strategy and logic. The basic plan was to hike up the mountain as a group, and late into the journey, after the leader evaluated the performance of all the climbers, a summit pair was designated. This pair then climbed the final stretch of the journey to the summit. One summit crew made it only 330 feet from the top before having to turn back due to exhaustion and lack of oxygen–a decision both later regretted. Three days later, Tenzing and Hillary set out after the previous crew. Hunt intentionally put the New Zealander and the Sherpa together; he wanted to recognize the invaluable assistance of the Sherpas on the expedition, and Tenzing was one of the most qualified climbers. After scaling up the last rocky section of the ridge, the pair finally reached the highest point on Earth on May 29, 1953, marking one of the greatest feats in history. The two shook hands and stayed at the summit for only twelve minutes before descending back to camp. Neither one of them believed that anyone else would attempt the same journey; however, they were drastically wrong as the treacherous climb up Mount Everest has now become one of the most compelling expeditions for the most adventurous and bold climbers.