Tenzing Norgay

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Tenzing Norgay
Tenzing Norgay in Sweden (1967)
Personal information
Birth name Namgyal Wangdi
Main discipline Mountaineer
Born (1914-05-29)29 May 1914
Khumbu, Solukhumbu District, Sagarmatha Zone, Nepal
Died 9 May 1986(1986-05-09) (aged 71)
Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
Nationality Nepalese
Starting age 19 years
Starting discipline Porter
Notable ascents First ascent of Mount Everest, 1953
Famous Partnerships Edmund Hillary
Spouse Dawa Phuti (m. ? - 1944 )
Ang Lahmu (m. ? - ? )
Dakku (m. ? - ? )
Children Nima Dorje, Pem Pem, Nima, Jamling, Norbu, Deki & Dhamey

Tenzing Norgay OSN GM (/ˈtɛnsɪŋ ˈnɔrɡ/; 29 May 1914 – 9 May 1986), born Namgyal Wangdi and often referred to as Sherpa Tenzing, was a Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer.[1][2] Among the most famous mountain climbers in history, he was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which he accomplished with Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953.[3] TIME named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Early life[edit]

There are conflicting accounts of Norgay's early life. The account he gave in his autobiography, accepted for several years, is that he was a Sherpa born and raised in Tengboche, Khumbu, in northeastern Nepal.[4] However, it has also been suggested that he was born in Tibet, at Tse Chu in the Kama Valley, and spent his early childhood in Kharta, nearby to the north; according this alternate account, Tenzing went to Nepal as a child to work for a Sherpa family in Khumbu.[2][5][6][7][8]

Khumbu lies near Mount Everest, which the Tibetans and Sherpas call Chomolungma, which in Standard Tibetan means "Holy Mother", or the goddess of the summit.[9] Norgay was a Nepalese Buddhist; Nepalese Buddhism is the traditional religion of the Sherpas and Tibetans.

His exact date of birth is unknown, but he knew it was in late May by the weather and the crops. After his ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953, he decided to celebrate his birthday on that day thereafter. His year of birth, according to the Tibetan Calendar, was the Year of the Rabbit, making it likely that he was born in 1914.[4]

Norgay was originally called "Namgyal Wangdi", but as a child his name was changed on the advice of the head lama and founder of the famous Rongbuk Monastery, Ngawang Tenzin Norbu.[10] "Tensing Norgay" translates as "wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion". His father, a yak herder, was Ghang La Mingma (d. 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.[4]

Norgay ran away from home twice in his teens, first to Kathmandu and later Darjeeling, India, at that time the starting point for most expeditions in eastern Himalaya. He was once sent to Tengboche Monastery to become a monk, but he decided that was not for him and departed.[11] At the age of 19, he eventually settled in the Sherpa community in Too Song Bhusti in Darjeeling.


Tenzing Norgay's statue

Norgay got his first opportunity to join an Everest expedition when he was employed by Eric Shipton, leader of the 1935 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. As a 20-year-old his chance came when two of the others failed their medical test. As a friend of Ang Tharkay (a Sherpa sardar who had been on the 1933 British Mount Everest expedition), Norgay was quickly pushed forward, and his attractive smile caught the eye of Shipton, who decided to take him on.

Norgay participated as a high-altitude porter in three official British attempts to climb Everest from the northern Tibetan side in the 1930s.[4] On the 1936 expedition, he worked with John Morris. He also took part in other climbs in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. For a time in the early 1940s Norgay lived in the Princely State of Chitral (that later became a part of Pakistan on partition of India) as batman to a Major Chapman. Norgay's first wife died during his tenure there and was buried there. He returned to Darjeeling with his two daughters during the Indian partition of 1947, and managed to cross India by train without a ticket and without being challenged by wearing one of Major Chapman's old uniforms.[4]

In 1947, Norgay participated in an unsuccessful summit attempt of Everest. Canadian-born Earl Denman, Ange Dawa Sherpa, and Norgay entered Tibet illegally to attempt the mountain; the attempt ended when a strong storm at 22,000 ft (6,700 m) pounded them. Denman admitted defeat, and all three turned around and safely returned.[4] In 1947, Norgay became a sirdar of a Swiss expedition for the first time, following a magnificent performance in the rescue of Sirdar Wangdi Norbu, who had fallen and been seriously injured. The same year he climbed Kedarnath[which?] in the western Garhwal Himalaya – completing the first ascent of the peak.[citation needed]

1952 Swiss Mount Everest expedition[edit]

In 1952, he took part in the two Swiss expeditions led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant (spring) and Gabriel Chevalley (autumn), the first serious attempts to climb Everest from the southern (Nepalese) side, after two previous US and British reconnaissance expeditions in 1950 and 1951. Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgay were able to reach a height of about 8,595 metres (28,199 ft) on the southeast ridge, setting a new climbing altitude record.[12] The expedition opened up a new route on Everest that was successfully climbed the next year. Tenzing Norgay and Raymond Lambert reached on 28 May the then-record height of 8,600 metres (28,200 ft),[13] and this expedition, during which Tenzing was for the first time considered a full expedition member ("the greatest honour that had ever been paid me"[4]) forged a lasting friendship between Tenzing Norgay and his Swiss friends, in particular Raymond Lambert. During the autumn expedition, the team was stopped by bad weather after reaching an altitude of 8,100 metres (26,575 ft).[citation needed]

Success on Mount Everest[edit]

In 1953, Norgay took part in John Hunt's expedition, the latter's seventh expedition to Everest. A member of the team was Edmund Hillary, who had a near-miss following a fall into a crevasse but was saved from hitting the bottom by Norgay's prompt action in securing the rope using his ice axe, which led Hillary to consider him the climbing partner of choice for any future summit attempt.[14]

The Hunt expedition totalled over 400 people, including 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides, and 10,000 lbs of baggage,[15] and like many such expeditions, was a team effort.

The expedition set up base camp in March 1953. Working slowly, they set up their penultimate camp at the South Col, at 25,900 feet (7,890 m). On 26 May, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans attempted the climb, but turned back when Evans' oxygen system failed. The pair had reached the South Summit, coming within 300 vertical feet (91 m) of the summit.[16] Hunt then directed Norgay and Hillary to go for the summit.

Snow and wind held the pair up at the South Col for two days. They set out on 28 May with a support trio comprising Ang Nyima, Alfred Gregory, and George Lowe. Norgay and Hillary pitched a tent at 27,900 feet (8,500 m) on 28 May while their support group returned down the mountain. On the following morning Hillary discovered that his boots had frozen solid outside the tent. He spent two hours warming them before he and Tenzing attempted the final ascent, wearing 30-pound (14 kg) packs.[17] The last part of the ascent comprised a 40-foot (12 m) rock face later named the "Hillary Step". Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and the ice, and Norgay followed.[18] From there, the following effort was relatively simple. They reached Everest's 29,028 ft (8,848 m) summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m.[19] As Hillary put it, "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top."[20]

Sir Edmund Hillary greets Tenzing Norgay, circa 1971

They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit. Hillary took the famous photo of Norgay posing with his ice-axe, but since Norgay had never used a camera, Hillary's ascent went unrecorded. However, according to Norgay's autobiography Man of Everest,[4] when Norgay offered to take Hillary's photograph Hillary declined – "I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture. But for some reason he shook his head; he did not want it".[21][22] Additional photos were taken looking down the mountain, in order to re-assure that they had made it to the top and to document that the ascent was not faked.[23] The two had to take care on the descent after discovering that drifting snow had covered their tracks, complicating the task of retracing their steps. The first person they met was Lowe, who had climbed up to meet them with hot soup.

Afterwards, Norgay was met with great adulation in Nepal and India. Hillary and Hunt were knighted by Queen Elizabeth II,[24] while Norgay received the George Medal for his efforts on the expedition.[10][25] It has been suggested that Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused permission for Norgay to be knighted.[10]

Norgay 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?" Colonel Hunt, the expedition leader, declared, "They reached it together, as a team."[citation needed]

After Everest[edit]

Tenzing Norgay became the first Director of Field Training of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, when it was set up in 1954.

May (you) climb from peak to peak

In January 1975, with permission of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Norgay served as sirdar (guide) for the first American tourist party allowed into the country.[26][27] Brought together by a company then called Mountain Travel (now called Mountain Travel-Sobek), the group first met Norgay in India before beginning the trek. The official trek began in Paro, northern Bhutan and included a visit to Tiger's Nest (Paro Taktsang), the ancient Buddhist monastery, before returning to India via Nepal and Sikkim. Norgay even introduced his group to the King of Sikkim (the last king of Sikkim, as Sikkim is now a part of India) and brought them to his[who?] home in India for a farewell celebration.[citation needed]

In 1978, Norgay founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures,[28] a company providing trekking adventures in the Himalayas. As of 2003, the company was run by his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay, who himself reached the summit of Everest in 1996.[citation needed]


In 1938, after Norgay's third Everest expedition as a porter, the Himalayan Club awarded him its Tiger Medal for high-altitude work.[10]

On 7 June 1952, it was announced that the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II wished to recognize Norgay's achievements, and on 1 July 10 Downing Street, announced that following consultation with the governments of India and Nepal the Queen had approved awarding him the George Medal.[29][30] He also received, along with the rest of the Everest party, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal.[citation needed]

In 1953, King Tribhuvan of Nepal presented him with the Order of the Star of Nepal, 1st Class (Supradipta-Manyabara-Nepal-Tara).[31][32]

In 1959, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award of India.[33]

Norgay also received several other decorations through his career.[which?][citation needed]

In May 2013, Norgay's grandson, Tashi Tenzing, said he believed his grandfather should have been knighted, not just given "a bloody medal".[34][35]

In September 2013, the Government of Nepal proposed naming a 7,916 metres (25,971 ft) mountain in Nepal Tenzing Peak in Norgay's honour.[36]

In July 2015, a preliminary informal name, "Norgay Montes", was introduced for first discovered 11,000-foot mountain ranges on the dwarf planet Pluto.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

House Tenzing Norgay lived in in Darjeeling, during his last years

Norgay was married three times. His first wife, Dawa Phuti, died young in 1944. They had a son, Nima Dorje, who died at the age of four, and two daughters: Pem Pem, whose son Tashi Tenzing climbed Everest, and Nima, who married a Filipino graphic designer, Noli Galang.

Norgay's second wife was Ang Lahmu, a cousin of his first wife. They had no children, but she was a foster mother to his daughters.

His third wife was Dakku, whom he married while his second wife was still alive, as allowed by Sherpa custom (see polygyny). They had three sons (Norbu, Jamling and Dhamey), and one daughter, Deki. Jamling would join Peter Hillary, Edmund Hillary's son, in climbing Everest in 2003 on the 50th anniversary of their fathers' climb.

Other relatives include Norgay's nephews Nawang Gombu and Topgay, who took part in the 1953 Everest expedition; his grandson Tenzing Norgay Trainor, who is an actor appearing in Disney Channel's Liv and Maddie; and a great grandson, Tashi Tenzing, who lives in Sydney, Australia.[4][37]


Tenzing Norgay memorial

Norgay died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, in 1986, aged 71. His remains were cremated in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, his favorite haunt. His widow died in 1992.[citation needed]


Art, entertainment, and media[edit]


  • In 2011, Amar Chitra Katha of India published a children's comic book about Tenzing Norgay [38]
  • Gardner E. Lewis wrote a humorous poem called "Poem - Neither Hilláryous Norgay" (1965), about the pair and their achievement.[39]

Screen and stage[edit]


  • In the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry, Synopsys has created the annual Tenzing Norgay Interoperability Achievement Award, honouring EDA providers who collaborate on interoperable design flows that benefit the user community.[40]


  • One of the buildings at Everest Court, Mottingham in Kent, England is named after him.
  • In January 2008, Lukla Airport was renamed Tenzing-Hillary Airport in honour of the pair and their achievement.[41]
  • Norgay Montes is used as preliminary informal name of a mountain range on the surface of Pluto.[42]


  1. ^ "Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest - Sherpa Tenzing Norgay Nepalese Mountaineer- Information on Tenzing Norgay". tenzingasianholidays.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  2. ^ a b Douglas, Ed (24 December 2000). "Secret past of the man who conquered Everest". The Observer. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Morris, Jan (1999-06-14). "The Conquerors HILLARY & TENZING". TIME. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Norgay, Tenzing & Ullman, James Ramsey (1955). Man of Everest.  also published as The Tiger of the Snows
  5. ^ "Tenzing Norgay". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50064.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Webster, Ed (2000). Snow in the Kingdom : my storm years on Everest. Eldorado Springs, Colorado: Mountain Imagery. ISBN 9780965319911. 
  7. ^ Rai, Hemlata (30 May 2003). "The Fortunate Son" (PDF). Nepali Times. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Das, Sujoy (6 April 2014). "Sixty years of the dream conquest". The Telegraph, Calcutta. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  9. ^ Norgay's son (1998). Everest (IMAX ed.). 
  10. ^ a b c d Hansen, Peter H. (2004). "Tenzing Norgay [Sherpa Tenzing] (1914–1986)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press). Retrieved January 18, 2008.  doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50064
  11. ^ Ortner, Sherry B. (2001). Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering. Princeton University Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-691-07448-8. 
  12. ^ "Tenzing Norgay GM". Imaging Everest. The Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  13. ^ The Himalayan Database. n.d. p. ???. 
  14. ^ "Sir Edmund Hillary". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  15. ^ "Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing reach the top | World news". theguardian.com. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  16. ^ "Reaching The Top" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 13 January 2008. 
  17. ^ Hillary, Edmund. High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest. 
  18. ^ Ascent: Two Lives Explored (The Autobiographies of Sir Edmund and Peter Hillary). 
  19. ^ "Environment & Nature News - Everest not as tall as thought - 10/10/2005". Abc.net.au. 2005-10-10. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  20. ^ "NOVA Online | Everest | First to Summit (2)". Pbs.org. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  21. ^ "Asia-Pacific | Obituary: Sir Edmund Hillary". BBC News. 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  22. ^ Norgay left chocolates in the snow as an offering, and Hillary left a cross that he had been given.
  23. ^ "The Photographs". Imagingeverest.rgs.org. 1953-05-29. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  24. ^ The London Gazette: no. 39886. p. 3273. 12 June 1953. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  25. ^ Vallely, Paul (10 May 1986). "Man of the mountains Tenzing dies". The Times. 
  26. ^ Giles, Kea (2010-04-04). "Dragonfly Wars: "Branding Bhutan" — or the story of a "Trek through Time"". Keagiles.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  27. ^ "Trek through Time". Daily Camera (Boulder, CO). June 28, 1982. pp. 1C, 3C. 
  28. ^ "Welcome to the site of Tenzing Norgay Adventures". Tenzing-norgay.com. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  29. ^ "George Medal for Tensing — Award Approved by the Queen". The Times (52663) (London). July 2, 1953. p. 6. 
  30. ^ Hansen (2004): "In Britain the queen gave Tenzing the George Medal, a comparatively obscure but high civilian award for gallantry"
  31. ^ "Tenzing Norgay photograph". Achievement.org. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  32. ^ "orders". Royalark.net. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  33. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Tenzing 'should have been knighted'". 3 News NZ. 30 May 2013. 
  35. ^ "Everest anniversary: Tenzing Norgay's grandson calls for 'gesture' from Britain". The Guardian. 29 May 2013. 
  36. ^ "Mount Everest: Hillary and Tenzing to have peaks named after them". The Guardian. 6 September 2013. 
  37. ^ Norgay, Tenzing & Barnes, Malcolm (1978). After Everest. 
  38. ^ "Tenzing Norgay - Amar Chitra Katha". Retrieved 2015-01-04. 
  39. ^ Cole, William, ed. (1965). The Fireside Book Of Humorous Poetry. Hamish Hamilton. p. 388. 
  40. ^ "Tenzing Norgay Interoperability Achievement Award". Synopsys.com. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  41. ^ "Introducing Tenzing Hillary Airport - Travel Blog". World Hum. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  42. ^ "Geology on ice: Scientists unveil video of frozen mountains and plains on Pluto". LA Times. 2015-07-17. Retrieved 2015-07-17. 


  • Tony Astill, Mount Everest The Reconnaissance 1935 (2005)
  • George Band, Everest Exposed (2005), an account of the 1953 expedition
  • Tashi Tenzing and Judy Tenzing, Tenzing Norgay and Sherpas of Everest (2003)
  • Ed Webster, Snow in the Kingdom (2000)
  • Ed Douglas, Tenzing: Hero of Everest (2003)
  • Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Touching My Father's Soul (2002)

External links[edit]