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Mount Everest Expedition 1953

Mount Everest Expedition 1953

Along with Edmund Hillary and other climbers, Eric Shipton saw the Western Cwm and the south side of Everest for the first time on the 1951 Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. At last, here was a route to the summit of Everest. However, the British no longer had a monopoly on the mountain, and in 1952 the Nepali authorities gave the Swiss permission to climb Everest. Raymond Lambert made two attempts in both the spring and the autumn and, with Tenzing Norgay at his side, reached the highest point on the mountain to date. The summit, however, remained elusive.

The dramatic ice formations of the Icefall were just one of the many obstacles that had to be overcome in climbing Mount Everest, which can be seen behind in the distance. Photo: Edmund Hillary, 1953

In 1953, under the leadership of John Hunt, the British were given permission to climb Mount Everest. Hunt brilliantly orchestrated the necessary equipment and scientific preparations and, through his belief in teamwork, brought together a band of men who together would attempt this lofty peak. From Kathmandu the team set off for Bhagaon with several tonnes of equipment. After 17 days trekking they reached Thyangboche in Solu Khumbu.

On arrival, Hunt sent small teams off to acclimatize and prepare for the ordeal of climbing Everest. Base Camp was established on April 12, 1953 and thereafter the Khumbu Icefall became an important feature of life in climbing Mount Everest. Ever since, the Icefall has been renowned as one of the most treacherous parts on the attempt of Everest. An ever-shifting river of ice, with huge crevasses and frozen blocks of ice and rock, this monster of nature had to be overcome.

Meandering through the Khumbu Icefall, Sherpas carrying heavy loads appear as busy ants intent on reaching Camp II. Photo: George Lowe, 1953

Establishing a route through the Icefall took several days. Thereafter it had to be kept open for a constant succession of men and equipment. The team established nine camps from the Khumbu Glacier, through the Icefall, up the Western Cwm and on to the South Col of Everest. For several weeks Sherpas busily moved supplies ever further up the mountain. By May 21, 1953 Wilfred Noyce and Annullu had reached the South Col, a symbolic and crucial objective. The final objective, however, was the summit. On May 26, 1953, the first assault party comprising Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans set off for the south summit, using closed-circuit oxygen equipment. At the south summit they realized that they would not be able to reach the summit owing to lack of time. Wearily, they returned to Camp XIII.

On May 28, the second assault party comprising Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made their bid. Together they set off, establishing Camp IX at 27,900 feet (8503 m) before spending a bitterly cold and desolate night trying to sleep. At 4 a.m., they finally rose and began preparing themselves for the day ahead. Using open-circuit oxygen equipment they departed at 6.30 a.m. Climbing steadily, they reached the south summit at 9 a.m. Onward and upwards into the unknown they persevered. As Hillary stated: "I continued hacking steps along the ridge and then up a few more to the right ... to my great delight I realized we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us". It was 11.30 a.m. on May 29, 1953. Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary had reached the highest point on the earth.

The second assault party: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay check their oxygen equipment before setting off from Camp IV. Note the summit flags wrapped around Tenzing's ice-axe. Photo: George Band, 1953

Tenzing Norgay on the summit of Mount Everest at 11.30 a.m. Tenzing waves his ice-axe bearing the flags of Great Britain, Nepal, the United Nations, and India.  Photo: Edmund Hillary, May 29, 1953

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