| Tenzing Norgay & Edmund Hillary. File picture
Darjeeling, May 25: Amid the celebrations to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Everest conquest, Edmund Hillary has touched a raw nerve in his summit partner Tenzing Norgay’s hometown by suggesting that he reached the peak first on May 29, 1953.
Neither Hillary — now Sir Edmund — nor Tenzing, who died in 1986, had ever gone public with who had been the first to the summit. But in a recent interview to a periodical, Hillary indicated he made it ahead of the sherpa.
“As for the controversy of who stepped on the summit first, we were a team. I led all along the way to the summit ridge, cutting steps and Tenzing was close behind when I moved up to the summit. So it was our feeling that we reached the summit almost together,” Hillary was quoted as saying.
The suggestion has triggered howls of protest. Describing the statement as “controversial”, convener of the Golden Jubilee Celebration Committee Bharat Prakash Rai said: “We condemn Hillary’s version. Had he said all this when Tenzing was alive, it would have been justified. Why did he choose to make the statement now'”
Tenzing’s son Jamling Tenzing Sherpa, who is sharing the stage with Hillary at all felicitations and had even retraced his father’s steps up the peak with Sir Edmund’s son Peter, told The Telegraph from Kathmandu: “I, too, am a bit surprised but this is not an important issue. There is no clear demarcation point at the summit of the Everest, and, more important, it was the team that succeeded. Had Tenzing not been there, Hillary would not have reached the summit, and, similarly, without Hillary’s help my father would not have reached the top.”
Jamling also pointed to an earlier interview where Hillary had spoken about how Tenzing had saved his life during their summit bid.
“My father had always evaded this question by saying that it was not important,” Jamling said, adding that speculation on such statements would only “foul the spirit of the golden jubilee celebrations”.
Nawang Gombu, the first to climb the Everest twice, in 1963 and 1965, and Tenzing’s first cousin, said he was “surprised” that Hillary made the statement now. “I remember Hillary had made a similar comment some three years ago. I had then expressed my reservations. The controversy had not surfaced when Tenzing was alive,” Gombu said.
The British team led by John Hunt had scaled the peak on May 29, 1953, at 11.30 am. After the first successful ascent, Queen Elizabeth II honoured Hunt and Hillary with knighthoods.