"For that day's work we should have baksheesh."
"Or at least a bowl of chang."
"With some chang we could toast ourselves.... Tashi delai! Here's how!"
"Tashi delai to you. To all of us."
"Sherpas zindabad! Long live the Sherpas!"
That was the way it went day after day. We had come up through Solo Khumbu, past Namche Bazar and Thyang-boche, and, after several practice climbs to get everyone in good condition, we set up our base camp on the Khumbu Glacier. From there, following the Swiss route as closely as we could, we worked our way up the Icefall, past the great crevasse into the Western Cwm, and on up the cwm to the Lhotse Face. The climbers took turns going ahead and doing the harder work. As we got higher and the air grew thinner, some did better and others not so well. And after he had watched everyone carefully, Colonel Hunt made his selections of who would do the highest climbing.
Before the expedition started I had been promised my chance at the top if I were in good physical condition, and a few days before, in an examination by the doctors, I had been found more fit than anyone. So I was to have the chance, as I had hoped and prayed. The three others chosen for the two summit attempts were Dr. Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon, who would climb as one team, and Hillary, who would be my partner in the second. If neither succeeded, still a third team would be organized; but this would involve much difficulty and reorganization, and everyone hoped it would not be necessary.
From now on I was teamed with Hillary the whole time. We were not supposed to do the heaviest work and so wear ourselves out, but only to get ourselves in the best condition; and while the others did the work up ahead on the Lhotse Face, we kept going up and down between base camp and the Western Cwm, carrying light loads, practicing with the oxygen, and helping the younger novice Sherpas on the steep route through the Icefall. How many times we went back and forth I can hardly count, but once, I remember, we went all the way from the base to Camp Four and back again in one day, and we certainly could not have done that if we had not been going strong. Hillary was a wonderful climber—especially on snow and ice, with which he had had much practice in New Zealand—and had great strength and endurance. Like many men of action, and especially the British, he did not talk much, but he was nevertheless a fine cheerful companion; and he was popular with the Sherpas, because in things like food and equipment he always shared whatever he had. I suppose we made a funny-looking team, he and I, with Hillary about 6 feet 3 inches tall and myself some seven inches shorter. But we were not worrying about that. What was important was that, as we climbed together and became used to each other, we were becoming a strong and confident pair.
Meanwhile the others, led by Hillary's fellow New Zealander, George Lowe, were breaking the steep trail up the Lhotse Face toward the South Col. Like the Swiss in the previous autumn, they set up two camps—Six and Seven—on the way, and after these had been stocked with supplies, Wilfrid Noyce and the Sherpa Annullu made the first climb up to the col itself. Here Camp Eight was established, near the ruins of the old Swiss tents, and the fight for the summit was ready to begin.
According to the plan, Bourdillon and Evans were to go up to the col first, together with Colonel Hunt and several Sherpas, who would be their supporting team. Then a day later, while they were making their try for the top, Hillary and I would go to the col, helped by Lowe, Alfred Gregory and another group of Sherpas; and if Bourdillon and Evans had not reached the goal we would then make our effort.