Everest Conqueror Tenzing Norgay Dies
Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who joined Sir Edmund Hillary to make the first successful asssault on Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak, died today of a chronic lung problem. He was 72.
Hillary said the death of the man who joined him in 1953 for the first ascent to the top of the Himalayan mountain was “an unexpected shock.”
“I feel Tenzing had a remarkable life. He was very successful in every field,” said Hillary, now New Zealand’s high commissioner, or ambassador, to India.
“Tenzing wanted to reach the summit, and that made him a formidable companion at the time of ascent,” Hillary said.
The one question Tenzing consistently refused to answer was probably the one he was asked the most: who stepped on top of Everest first, Tenzing or Hillary.
“This is teamwork. Actually, we climbed together,” he said. “Whatever Hillary say, I don’t care, but I say, teamwork. There shouldn’t be controversy there.”
Hillary was knighted for the conquest of Everest, and Tenzing’s life was also forever changed. He became one of the few Sherpas to rise above porter status to become a full-fledged climber. Awards and the attention of world leaders followed.
Tenzing died in the Himalayan mountain resort of Darjeeling in India’s West Bengal State where he worked as an adviser to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
He lived in a three-story Darjeeling villa with his third wife, several of his six children and 25 dogs.
Indian President Zail Singh and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, expressing sorrow over the death, lauded Tenzing as the “tiger of the snows.”
Tenzing was one of the 13 children born to a peasant couple in a village in Nepal. But he left home as a boy, migrated to Darjeeling across the border and became a citizen of India.
“I tried to climb Everest six times before Hillary and I did it,” he once said.
Tenzing, who earned the name “Tiger Sherpa,” was a member of a small tribe with no written language and a now-forgotten history. Sherpas are believed to be descended from Tibetans, whose mountainous country was seized by China in the 1950s.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.