Tenzing Norgay: The First Sherpa to Summit Everest

Tenzing Norgay was a Nepali-Indian accomplished high-altitude mountaineer and leading Sherpa. The most famous Sherpa of the era, he was the first Sherpa and one of two people to summit Mount Everest (8848.86m) with Sir Edmund Hillary on 29th May 1953. Time Magazine named Tenzing Norgay one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Tenzing Norgay’s Bio

Tenzing Norgay was born in Khumbu, Solukhumbu District, Sagarmatha Zone, Nepal on 29th may 1914. 11th of 13th child, he was born and he grew up in Tengboche, Khumbu. His father, Ghang La Mingma, was a Tibetan yak herder, and his mother, Dokmo Kinzom, was Tibetan.

However, there are clashes between Tenzing’s birthplace and early life.

Norgay stated that his parents are Tibetans, but he was born in Nepal. Later, his son Jamling Tenzin Norgay’s book says Tenzing Norgay was born initially in Tibet and later came to Nepal as a child to work for a Sherpa family in Khumbu.

Furthermore, Tenzing Norgay’s exact birthdate is unknown, but it was confirmed in late May. After the successful Everest summit, Norgay began celebrating his birthday on 29th May.

His birth name was Namgyal Wangdi. However, it was later changed to Tenzing Norgay. His name means “wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion.” Moreover, Norgay was once sent to Tengboche Monastery in the Khumbu region to become a monk. Nevertheless, he felt that was not for him and decided to take himself off.

As a teenager, Norgay escaped from home twice. First, he went to Kathmandu and later to Darjeeling, India, eventually settling there at the age of 19. Darjeeling, at the time, was the gateway to most expeditions in the eastern Himalayas.


Swiss Expedition

At the age of 20, Tenzing was recruited by an English mountaineer, Eric Shipton, for the 1935 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. It is said that Norgay’s bright smile caught the eye of Shipton.

Before this, Norgay had already worked as a high-altitude porter in three official British attempts to climb Everest via the northern Tibetan side. On the 1936 British Mount Everest expedition, he worked with English mountaineer John Morris.

In 1947, along with Canadian mountaineer Earl Denman, and friend Ange Dawa Sherpa, the trio entered Tibet illegally to attempt the Everest summit. Nevertheless, the attempt was a colossal flop, with Denman admitting defeat following a strong storm (6,700 m).

That same year, Norgay was appointed the Sirdar for the Swiss expedition for the first time. With Norgay, one of the summit parties, the Swiss successfully summited Kedarnath (6,940 m) in the western Garhwal Himalaya.

In 1952, Tenzing Norgay was involved in two Swiss expeditions. First: led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant in spring, the first official attempt to Everest from the Nepalese side. This expedition led Raymond Lambert, a Swiss mountaineer, and Norgay to record a height of 8,595m on the southeast ridge, the highest of at the time, around 250m short of the summit. For the first time, Norgay was considered a full expedition member, which he remembered as the most incredible honor ever paid to Norgay. This expedition also forged a lasting friendship between Norgay and Raymond Lambert.

Again in autumn, Norgay, Lambert, and team autumn came together for the expedition by Gabriel Chevalley. Unfortunately, the Swiss team was forced to return back, reaching an altitude of 8,100 by lousy weather.

1953 British Mount Everest Expedition (First men to set foot on the world’s tallest peak)

Edmund Hilllary and Tenzing Norgay

In 1953, Norgay was one of the British Mount Everest expedition team members led by John Hunt. Edmund Hillary, a member of Hunt’s expedition, was saved from a fall into a crevasse. The effort made Hillary consider Norgay the best climbing partner for the summit attempt.

The 1953 British Mount Everest expedition was a massive team with 400 people, including 362 porters and 20 Sherpa guides. Not to mention the 10,000 pounds of baggage. Hunt organized two assaults on two climbers: first: Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, and second: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

In March 1953, they set up a base camp. By April, A series of advanced camps were created. On 15th April, Camp II was set at 5,900 m. On 22nd April, Camp III was established at the head of the Icefall at 6,200 m and the Advance Base at 6,400 m on 1 May.

On 3rd May, Camp V at 22,000 feet (6,700 m) was established, and the following day, the Camp VI (7,000 m). On 17th May, Camp VII at 7,300 m was based.

The first two climbers: Bourdillon and Evans, attempted to Summit on 26th May. The duo reached South Summit 100 m (300 ft) down from the final summit at 1 pm but was forced to descend, defeated by problems with the closed-circuit oxygen sets and lack of time.

On 27th May, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay began the assault on the summit. On 29th May 1953 at 6:30 am, the duo left Camp IX and reached the South Summit by 9 am. At 11;30, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reached the Everest summit through the South Col route.


Norgay’s first award was the Himalayan Club’s Tiger Medal after his third Everest expedition as a porter for high-altitude work.

After the successful 1953 Everest Expedition, he was awarded George Medal and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal. Moreover, King Tribhuvan of Nepal presented him with the Order of the Star of Nepal.

In his honor, the Nepal government proposed naming a 7,916-m peak in Nepal – Tenzing Peak.

On 15th July 2015, the highest-known icy mountain, 11,000 ft on the surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, was named after Tenzing Norgay.

In 1959, Norgay received the Padma Bhushan from the Government of Nepal.

Was Tenzing Norgay Married? Personal Life

Tenzing Norgay was married thrice in his lifetime.

In 1935, Norgay married Dawa Phuti. The couple had three children: a son Nima and two daughters: Pem Pem & Nima. Their first one, Nima Dorje, died at the age of four.

In the early 1940s, the family moved to the princely state of Chitral, with Norgay working as a batman to Major Chapman. In 1944, Dawa Phuti died and was buried in Chitral. Later, Norgay returned to Darjeeling with his two daughters during the Indian partition of 1947.

Meanwhile, daughter Pem Pem is married and has a son, Tashi Tenzing, who climbed Everest. Similarly, Nima matched a Filipino graphic designer, Noli Galang.

In 1947, Norgay married Ang Lahmu, a cousin of Dawa Phuti. Norgay had no children with Ang, but she was an adoptive mother to their daughters and raised them with love.

Before the death of his second wife, Ang Lahmu, in 1964, Norgay married Dakku, as Sherpa custom allows polygyny. Norgay and Dakku shared four children, three sons: Norbu, Jamling, and Dhamey, and a daughter, Deki.

Jamling Tenzing Norgay followed in his father’s footsteps and summited Mount Everest in 1996. Further, Jamling and Peter Hillary, the son of Edmund Hillary, climbed Everest in 2002 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their father’s ascent.

Deki is married to Clark Trainor, an American Lawyer.

Everest Conqueror Tenzing Norgay Dies 71

Tenzing Norgay

On 9th May 1986, Tenzing Norgay died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India. He had been ill for two years.

The mountaineer lived in a three-story villa and survived by his wife, six children, and 25 dogs.

Other Works

In 1954, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was established, with Tenzing Norgay being its first Director of Field Training.

In 1975, Norgay guided the first American tourist into Bhutan for a tour with the permission of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The American team first met Norgay in India and was later brought up together by a traveling agency named Mountain Travel.

What’s More? Norgay founded a Tenzing Norgay Adventure in 1978, now run by his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay.

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Who Stepped First On Everest?

Hillary and Tenzing celebrated their victory over the top of the world as a team effort for the whole expedition. However, there was never-ending speculation going on about who stepped first on Everest. The leader of the expedition, Hunt, announced, “They reached it together as a team.”

Eventually, Norgay Tenzing concluded the prominent speculation via his 1955 (ghost-written) autobiography “Man of Everest” that Edmund Hillary was the first.

Sir Edmund Hillary took the famous photo of Tenzing Norgay posing with his ice axe on summit point. However, Hillary’s ascent went unrecorded since Norgay had never used a camera. Nevertheless, the other account says Hillary declined an offer from Norgay to take pictures.


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