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"Thuji chey, Chomolungma. I am grateful...."
We had now been on top almost 15 minutes. It was time to go. Needing my ax for the descent, I could not leave it there with the flags; so I untied the string that held them, spread the flags across the summit, and buried the ends of the string as deeply as I could in the snow.
Before starting down we looked around once more. Had Mallory and Irvine reached the top before they died? Could there be any sign of them? We looked, but we could see nothing. Still they were in my thoughts, and I am sure in Hillary's too. All those who had gone before us were in my thoughts—sahibs and Sherpas, English and Swiss—all the great climbers, the brave men, who for 33 years had dreamed and challenged, fought and failed on this mountain, and whose efforts and knowledge and experience had made our victory possible. Our companions below were in my thoughts, for without them, too—without their help and sacrifice—we could never have been where we were that day. And closest of all was one figure, one companion: Lambert. He was so near, so real to me, that he did not seem to be in my thoughts at all, but actually standing there beside me. Any moment now I would turn and see his big bear face grinning at me. I would hear his voice saying, "Ca va bien, Tenzing. Ca va bien!"
Well, at least his red scarf was there. I pulled it more tightly around my throat. "When I get back home," I told myself, "I will send it to him." And I did.
Since the climbing of Everest all sorts of questions have been put to me, and not all of them have been political. From the people of the East there have been many that have to do with religion and the supernatural. "Was the Lord Buddha on the top?" I have been asked. Or, "Did you see the Lord Siva?" From many sides, among the devout and orthodox, there has been great pressure upon me to say that I had some vision or revelation. But here again—even though it may be disappointing to many—I can tell only the truth; and this is no, that on the top of Everest I did not see anything supernatural or feel anything superhuman. What I felt was a great closeness to God, and that was enough for me. In my deepest heart I thanked God. And as we turned to leave the summit I prayed to Him for something very real and very practical: that, having given us our victory, he would get us down off the mountain alive.
We turned on our oxygen sets. We started off. And though we were anxious to get down as quickly as possible, we went slowly and carefully—down past the snow humps; down the rocky cliff which we negotiated now with little difficulty; down the steep snow slide below the south summit which, even more than on the way up, was dangerous and terrifying. We picked up the two oxygen bottles that had been left by Bourdillon and Evans, and at about 2 o'clock we reached the high tent, where we stopped and rested again and I heated some sweet lemon juice over the stove. This was the first drink we had had for a long time, and it was like new life pouring down into our bodies. Then we went on again, until at last we could see the tents on the col and little moving dots around them. And then down onto the easier snow, just above the col, where George Lowe, in the lead of those below, came up to meet us. He threw his arms around us, gave us hot coffee to drink, and then, with the help of the others, led us down to the camp. And finally we crept into our sleeping bags—Hillary in one tent with Lowe and Noyce and I in another with Pasang. I lay still, with my "night oxygen," and tried to sleep. I felt ah chah—O.K. But tired. It was hard to think or feel anything.
"The real happiness," I thought, "will come later."