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PART III: The Great Endeavor
Tenzing Norgay
May 09, 1955
PART III: In which Tenzing, ill after two attempts on Everest within a year, makes the most momentous decision of his life; and of his climb with Edmund Hillary; and of what transpired in those last few feet before the summit; and of his thoughts as he stood at last triumphant on the highest peak in the world
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May 09, 1955

Part Iii: The Great Endeavor

PART III: In which Tenzing, ill after two attempts on Everest within a year, makes the most momentous decision of his life; and of his climb with Edmund Hillary; and of what transpired in those last few feet before the summit; and of his thoughts as he stood at last triumphant on the highest peak in the world

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There has since been much talk and confusion about which was the first team and which was the second, and I shall try to make this as clear as I can. Bourdillon and Evans were obviously the first, as far as time is concerned. They would leave from Camp Eight on the South Col and climb as high as they could—all the way if possible; but there were about 3,300 feet between col and summit, no halfway camp was to be set up for them, and it would be a marvelous feat if they could go to the top and back in one day. They might be able to do it: no one knew. But they were not specifically expected to do it. Colonel Hunt called their try a "reconnaissance assault" and said he would be well satisfied if they could get to the south summit and have a close look at the last stretch beyond it.

Then, if they could go no farther, Hillary and I would have our turn. But for us another camp—the ninth—would be set up on the summit ridge, as high as man could carry it, and we would make our try from there, with a much greater advantage. So if Bourdillon and Evans were first in one way, we were first in another; in terms of what was expected of us. If we failed, it might, after reorganization, be possible to make still another attempt; but as far as present plans went ours would be the great effort. After the expedition was over there were stories in certain newspapers that I was upset because I did not have the first chance at the top. But this is wholly untrue. My chance was as much "first" as anyone's. If anything, Hillary and I would have the better opportunity. And it seemed to me that the plan was in all ways sound and sensible. You do not climb a mountain like Everest by trying to race ahead on your own, or by competing with your comrades. You do it slowly and carefully, by unselfish teamwork. Certainly I wanted to reach the top myself; it was the thing I had dreamed of all my life. But if the lot fell to someone else, I would take it like a man and not a crybaby. For that is the mountain way.

So Bourdillon and Evans went ahead and made their great effort. Colonel Hunt and the Sherpa Da Namgyal started up with them from the South Col, carrying the equipment for Camp Nine, which might later be used by Hillary and myself, and left it at a height of about 27,350 feet. Then these two descended, while Bourdillon and Evans went on. After many hours of climbing, using oxygen all the way, they reached Everest's south summit, only a few hundred feet below the final one. But there they had to turn back, because they would not have been able to go farther and still get back to the col before darkness. When they returned to Camp Eight they were done in, and also, of course, deeply disappointed that they had not been able to go all the way. But they had done a wonderful job of working out a route, and also had gone higher than men had ever been before.

May 29th.... On the 29th Lambert and I had descended in defeat from the col to the cwm. Down—down—down....

Now Hillary and I were at Camp Nine, at a height of 27,900 feet—the highest camp that had ever been made. We had chopped the tent site out of ice and rock, an exhausting task at that altitude, after a long struggle up to the southeast ridge with Lowe, Gregory and the Sherpa Ang Nyima. They had left us in the middle of the afternoon, with a quick "Goodby—good luck." And now the night was nearly over—a night of dozing and waking, dozing and waking—and a night of dying wind. "God is good to us," I thought. "Chomolungma is good to us."

At about 3:30 in the morning we began to stir. I got the stove going and boiled snow for lemon juice and coffee, and we ate a little of the food left over from the night before. There was almost no wind. When, a while later, we opened the tent flap, everything was clear and quiet in the early morning light. It was then that I pointed down and showed Hillary the little dot that was the Thyang-boche Monastery, 16,000 feet below. "God of my father and mother," I prayed in my heart, "be good to me now—today."

But the first thing that happened was a bad thing. Hillary's boots, lying all night outside his sleeping bag, had frozen, and now they were like two lumps of black iron. For a whole hour we had to hold them over the stove, pulling and kneading them, until the tent was full of the smell of scorched leather and we were both panting as if we were already climbing the peak. Hillary was very upset, both at the delay and at the danger to his feet. "I'm afraid I may get frostbitten," he said. But at last the boots were soft enough for him to put on, and then we prepared the rest of our gear. For this last day's climbing I was dressed in all sorts of clothes that came from many places. My boots were Swiss; my wind jacket and various other items had been issued by the British. But the socks I was wearing had been knitted by Ang Lahmu. My sweater had been given me by Mrs. Henderson of the Himalayan Club. My wool helmet was the old one that had been left to me by Earl Denman. And, most important of all, the red scarf around my neck was Raymond Lambert's. At the end of the fall expedition he had given it to me and smiled and said, "Here, maybe you can use it sometime." And ever since, I had known exactly what that use must be.

At 6:30, when we crawled from the tent, it was still clear and windless. We had pulled three pairs of gloves onto our hands—silk, wool and windproof; and now we fastened our crampons to our boots, and onto our backs slung the 30 pounds of oxygen apparatus that would be the whole load for each of us during the climb. Around my ax were four flags, tightly wrapped—the flags of the United Nations, Britain, India and Nepal. And in the pocket of my jacket was a small red and blue pencil. My daughter Nima had given it to me when we said goodby, and I had promised to put it "in the right place" for her.

"All ready?"

"Ah chah. Ready."

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