The Bottom Line: "Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes And I won't be surprised if it's a dream" ~Bettis, Carpenter
I enjoy an occasional trip to the top of Mt. Everest, through others eyes only of course. My latest expedition was with Hillary and Norgay in Hilliary & Tenzing: Climbing to the top of the World. This was a documentary piece outlining the 1953 ascent, and more importantly, descent from the summit of Everest and is purported to be the first recorded successful summit in history. There are some, from the Mallory/Irvine camp that question this as truth.
Overall the documentary was interesting, if short. It held a good deal of real footage from the climb as well as interviews with Edmund Hillary, Charles Wylie, George Lowe, and members of Tenzing’s family. As this film was released in 2003, Tenzing Norgay had passed away May, 1986. However he kept extensive journals, or so it is said. I wonder about this because it has been reported he neither learned to read or write but could speak several languages fluently. Perhaps he dictated his thoughts to one of his many children and they documented the information for him.
Other interesting work on the film was the first lonely climbers, back in the 20’s, when they first attempted to conquer this mountain. Their gear, consisting of tweed jackets, knee pants, and sturdy shoes, were quite different from the gear used today. Even Hilliary’s team, in 1953, used oxygen and down outerwear, sleeping bags and weatherproof tents. I doubt those early climbers got very far, Everest is no walk in the park.
The documentary also covered the early years of Tenzing Norgay and his desire to climb the mountain. After completing the climb, he came under some political controversy, as is usually the case, when several countries wanted to claim his as their conquering son. Norgay had attempted a summit several times, the last in 1952 with a Swiss group, that ended 800’ from the top. They had been climbing for 5 hours and had only covered 650’ total. He had 7 expeditions in all, but the 1953 was his most remarkable. Not bad for an unschooled farm boy just a few years prior to that.
Hillary & Norgay remained life-long friends and met many times after the ascent. Hillary co-founded a grant to further education systems in Nepal as well as hospitals and visited there often.
Strangely enough, the only photos of this successful summit were of Tenzing Norgay, taken by Hillary. Norgay had never used a camera and Hillary said the summit was no place to conduct a class. However, I wonder, how hard could it be to show him how to point and shoot? There has always been much controversy as well about who actually first reach the top. Both men state they did it as a team although Norgay, in his quiet and respectful way, states Hillary summated first, which leaves me to believe Norgay actually did but was man enough to give Hillary the glory.
Edmund Hillary died in January, 2008, of heart disease. After his climb to the top of the world in 1953, he never made another successful summit anywhere. His next climb attempt resulted in a life threatening situation and he was never able to climb again. Norgay, as long as his legs would carry him, continued to climb until practically his death, although the mountains weren’t nearly as brutal.
The question of whether or not George Mallory and Andrew Irvine reached the actual summit in 1924 was never resolved. Both men never returned from the climb and it was 75 years before Mallory’s body was found. Speculations were made since some materials he had brought to leave on the summit were not found with his body which was preserved in almost pristine condition. Irvine has never been found.
Both Mallory and Hillary held with the statement that the only true summit was when you returned to base camp alive, so had Mallory actually reached the top it wouldn’t have counted, according to his own theory. Statistics in 2007 were that 2972 climbers had summited, with 208 deaths in the process. The most horrific was 1996, when 15 met their death in one year, 8 in one day alone.
I really enjoyed the live footage, which included sound bites, and the interviews both at the time and later in the men’s lives. Like I said, this will be the only way I will ever reach that summit and I fully respect each person that attempts, whether they are successful or not. This film carried no rating, no awards.
My thanks to Mona [ladyconsumer] for this prompt addition to the database :)
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