The Auckland Museum has been publishing the last 19 days of Hillary's diary to cover the final push to the summit. I read it completely and had such a difficult time navigating through the thing due to all the redundant advertising and navigation issues that I didn't want others to have to wade through it. I've included the diary entries below. I've also included a Google Earth map that you can download. [A free Google Earth file of this route is available: Get the map.]
I was first hooked on Everest several years ago when a buddy announced that he was going to climb Kilamanjaro with a few of his friends. One of his group had it in his mind to climb all of the highest peaks on the globe and is slogging through them one by one.
Last year the guy's Everest expedition was stymied by freak weather so he didn't make it to the summit, and it's uncertain whether or not he'll make another very costly attempt.
Perhaps you'd like to know a few "secrets" about Everest I've uncovered that they certainly don't make very public and probably stir a lot less controversy than it deserves.
Everest's REAL height was fudgedFor years all the books and explorers thought that a neighboring Himalayan peak, Kangchenjunga, was the tallest. That misconception was fostered by both Nepal's and Tibet's distrust of the imperialistic Great Britian, the only entity who would/could/was doing such survey's.
Both countries claimed ownership of the mountain and neither of them would let those British even close to their borders. Even though the global survey began in 1802, at great rigor and inconvenience to the surveyors, it wasn't until the survey team took their measurements from adjoining mountains in 1852 and used trigonometry that peak "x" was accidentally found to be higher.
Even then the bureaucrats still wanted to take another two years to do the "ciphering" of the numbers before they admitted peak "x" was 29,002 feet, beating Kangchenjunga's measly 28,156.
And finally, to top it all off, people later found out that the REAL calculation had been truly 29,000 feet but the misguided, timid souls fudged the additional two feet of accuracy; ostensibly, because "nobody would believe the round number and would think we cheated."
Everest was the name of the bureaucratNow before you go blaming poor old Mr. Everest, you need to hear the story. The mountain has had real local names for thousands of years. There apparently was even at least one old Chinese map who had it labeled Qomolangma as early as 1719. And, not to be out done, the Nepalese government tried to assert their ownership by officially calling it Sagarmāthā.
But remember, by then the British surveyors were fairly pissed over having to schlepp their half-ton survey equipment all around to neighboring countries because of Nepal's and Tibet's politicians and weren't in any mood to choose from any of the locally accepted names.
By then the new Surveyor General, Waugh, was calling it "Peak XV (15)" and rationalized it thusly:
"I was taught by my respected chief and predecessor, Colonel Sir George Everest, to assign to every geographical object its true local or native appellation. But here is a mountain, most probably the highest in the world, without any local name that we can discover, whose native appellation, if it has any, will not very likely be ascertained before we are allowed to penetrate into Nepal. In the meantime the privilege as well as the duty devolves on me to assign...a name whereby it may be known among citizens and geographers and become a household word among civilized nations."
Attempting to negate the arrogance, George Everest himself opposed the name because "Everest" could not be written or pronounced by "the native(s) of India". None-the-less the pontifical bureaucrats did it anyway.
[This is certainly no different than what the British did to Uluru in Australia. The Ayer's Peak moniker was, in retrospect, the epitome of arrogance; but, it stood until the native peoples made a ruckus – and had gained political clout.]
Hillary wasn't alone, nor even the leaderThe man, who later found that he had been knighted even before he returned home, didn't even claim to be. He was one of a whole company of men in the ninth British expedition to the mountain led by fellow Britain John Hunt.
There were thirteen "mountaineers," including two doctors and a cameraman, twenty Sherpa's and 362 porters. In total there were over 400 men and ten thousand pounds of baggage.
And remember this was the NINTH British expedition to the mountain not to mention the French and Swiss and others. Tenzing Norgay, the lead Sherpa, was even by then already making his sixth attempt at the mountain!
Hunt's method was to select two official climbing pairs which would be supported by all the remainder of the mountaineers. Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans were the lead climbing pair and had things gone smoothly could have been the first on the top.
As it was, they came within 100 meters (330 ft) of the summit on 26 May 1953, but chose to turn back (no small feat in itself being tempted with 'summit fever') when they ran into oxygen problems. However, their work in route finding and breaking trail and their caches of extra oxygen were of great aid to the following pair – Hillary and Norgay.
After the final summit on May 29th, the two tired climbers were met on the trail by Lowe, who had climbed up to meet them with hot soup.
Pervasive British 'Petty Bigotry'Only a complete bigot could believe the expedition had a chance of success without the porters and sherpas and we have absolutely no evidence that any of the mountaineers felt so.
That, however, is not to be said of British politicians and government. Arriving in Kathmandu, they were hosted by the British ambassador, Christopher Summerhayes who arranged for sleeping billets for all of the mountaineers including the lead Sherpa Norgay.
All the other sherpas were told to sleep on the floor of the embassy garage; they urinated in front of the embassy the following day in protest at the lack of respect they had been given.
Following the summit, Hillary and Hunt were immediately knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. However, she waited to "consult with the governments of India and Nepal" before awarding Norgay the George Medal, a lesser honor. Commentators saw that as a reflection of the "petty bigotry" of the British establishment at the time.
Hillary lied about who was firstCompletely the antithesis of the British bureaucrats I've just exposed, the New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary was the epitome of self-effacement. As modest as the day is long, through his life he continually asserted that both he and his Sherpa companion, Tenzing Norgay, had summited the mountain together at the same time.
They reached the 29,028 foot (8,848 meter) level together at 11:30 am – "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top."
Only after the world's sensibilities had changed enough to begin seeking out information from the mere Sherpa did Norgay get the opportunity to reveal the truth. Hillary, he said freely in his talks, had taken the first step atop Mt. Chomolungma.
We all realize however, as did Sir Edmund, that Tenzing wasn't first because his social class and role was a Sherpa. He was tied off to Hillary and climbers in such instances follow in a straight line after one another for safety and ease of climbing. Perhaps Hillary was the better climber – he certainly never said so, nor acted like it, the rest of his life.
I agree with Hillary; being tied as a unit they both summited at the same time.
There's no photographic evidence Hillary was thereAs incredible as it sounds, when Armstrong and Aldrin photographed their landing on the moon and "forgot" to photograph Armstrong it was history repeating itself – Deja Vu all over again.
Hillary had the camera and took many photographs of the mountain, the valley, the route downward and even an iconic one of Tenzing and his flag-adorned ice-axe in the fifteen minutes they spent at the top of the world; but, there were none of him. And unlike, as there would be later in space, there was no highly-polished helmet visor to at least reveal his reflection.
According to Tenzing's autobiography (Man of Everest), after his photo was taken Hillary had actually declined reciprocity. "I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture," Norgay wrote, "but for some reason he shook his head; he did not want it."
After Tenzing had broken their mutual non-disclosure about who was first, Sir Edmund did write of the final ascent in greater detail. It was Hillary who worked out the way for a climber to wedge himself forty feet up what is known as the "Hillary Step." After doing it for the first time, exhausted he said:
"I continued on, cutting steadily and surmounting bump after bump and cornice after cornice looking eagerly for the summit. It seemed impossible to pick it and time was running out. Finally I cut around the back of an extra large lump and then on a tight rope from Tenzing I climbed up a gentle snow ridge to its top. Immediately it was obvious that we had reached our objective. It was 11.30 a.m. and we were on top of Everest!"
Tenzing left chocolates in the snow as an offering and Hillary left a cross that he had been given by John Hunt.
Learn A Little MoreAs I mentioned, the Hillary diary entries that I found were so difficult to navigate and read on the Auckland Museum site that I decided to include just the entries here for others to use. I've included a link to the original page however, where you'll find not only the transcription but a scan of Hillary's original diary as well as a voice recording of an actor reading the diary. Cheers!
The Diary of Sir Edmund Hillary
May 10th – III to IV to III[Hillary's Entry.]
A smashing morning. 4 Sahibs and 18 Sherpas left at 7.45. Took numerous photos – trail breaking easy. Everyone feeling first class. Put in lot of flags. Soon became very hot indeed and last hour was dreadful grind. Arrived at IV by 11.0. Had some work on primuses and left at 12.10, arrived at III at 1.10. John stayed at IV with 4 Sherpas for IV to V carry. Mike also stayed with him – I don’t think he is going at all well. George in excellent form: continued on to V (2 hours) with 4 Sherpas. Had good reception with George on radio from V but nothing from II or Base.
Commenced snowing heavily at 2pm and still going strong at 6.30pm. John reports very heavy snow at IV. Looks like a terrible grind tomorrow up to IV.
May 11-12th – III to IV to III[Hillary's Entry.]
Quite a plod with laden Sherpas. George and Ang Nima moved a camp from V to VI. Arrived back at III in very heavy snow storm to find Griff Pugh arrived. Had a foot or more of snow in a couple of hours (11th). Mike Westmacott is unable to get far above V.
May 13th – III to IV to III[Hillary's Entry.]
A very tough day. Plugged up Cwm in up to 18 inches of snow. Took 4½ hours up to IV. Returned in further snow – a really tough day. Less snow up head of Cwm and George did reconnaissance above VI to VII. Greg, Charles, Tom arrived up to III. John hastening IV to V. Sherpas packing V- VI
May 14th[Hillary's Entry.]
Sherpas had rest day. Tom B and Charles Evans, Wilf Noyce and I came up Cwm to Camp IV and stayed. Discussed plans with John.
George worked on route below Camp VI.
May 15th – IV to VII to V[Hillary's Entry.]
Wilf Noyce and I left IV and went to V where Mike Westmacott lying in bad condition. Sent him down. We took three laden Sherpas, Da Tenzing, Ang Namgyal and Pasang Puta and went on up to Camp VI to greet George Lowe and Ang Nima who were having a rest day. I went on up to Camp VII with 3 Sherpas and established Camp VII with a tent, cooker and food. Returned down to Camp V and spent night there with Charles Evans. Both took a green sleeping pill.
V-VI 1.50 ; VI to VII 1.50. Heavy trail breaking.
May 16th[Hillary's Entry.]
Awoke with shocking headache as result of pills. Charles the same. Descended to Camp IV. George Lowe and Wilf Noyce started from VI for VII but after halfway returned. George had taken sleeping pills with disastrous effect. Mike Ward and Charles at V.
May 17th[Hillary's Entry.]
Self at IV.
Party of Sherpas led by Charles Evans and Mike Ward set off from V. Charles was ill and returned. Remainder continued on up to VI where changed loads. Wilf and George had gone on up to VII and did a short reconnaissance above. Sherpas packed loads up to VII. Wilf then returned with Sherpas and Mike Ward stayed with George and Da Tenzing.”
May 18th[Hillary's Entry.]
Self at IV.
George, Mike and Da Tenzing went for a short distance above seven and then returned to Camp. Apparently windy and cold but it seemed to us at IV that there was a certain lack of drive. Tom B took up a lift of Sherpas to Camp VII and seemed to be going well.
May 19th[Hillary's Entry.]
Self at IV.
We watched Camp VII with great eagerness but no sign of activity. A strong wind blowing but this eased about 11am. John very depressed at lack of progress. George Band took lift of Sherpas to VII and returned reporting George Lowe as indicating it was too windy and cold to start.
May 20th – Attack starts.[Hillary's Entry.]
Self at IV.
Wilf Noyce with nine Sherpas went from V to VII with loads for the South Col. George, Mike and Da Tenzing only made a short sortie above VII and then returned to Camp IV not having got anywhere near the traverse.
Charles Wylie went to Camp V with another 9 Sherpas laden with South Col loads.
May 21st – IV to VII[Hillary's Entry.]
We watched eagerly from IV but to our disappointment only two figures started from Camp VII. Wilf Noyce and Analu on oxygen climbed up the Lhotse glacier, crossed the traverse and reached the South Col after some 4 ½ hours going – a fine effort. 2 ½ hours on the return. Wilf fixed a nylon line on the slopes leading down to the South Col.
Charles Wylie and his team went up to the Camp VII thus all the Sherpas were together.
We had discussed the unfortunate likelihood of no-one going on the next day and finally decided that Tenzing and I should scream up as a booster party to make sure that the Sherpas got to the South Col. We left at 12.15 on oxygen and arrived at VII at 4.30. Tenzing was invaluable and he and Charles organised all the loads in the evening ready for an early start. With 17 people in camp cooking facilities were inadequate and food and water insufficient. ”
May 22 – VII to S Col and IV[Hillary's Entry.]
Cooking started 5am but only a cup of tea of tea was produced by the time we departed at 8.30am. Tenzing and I were on oxygen as was Charles Wylie. Tenzing and I led kicking and cutting steps. Made height quite well to top of Lhotse glacier but Sherpas were already pretty tired. The traverse took a lot of work preparing the route and the Sherpas became slower and slower. Some were lying down and obviously all very tired. Two who were in some distress Tenzing and I each took an LA cylinder (11 lbs) off their 30 lb loads. We continued making the trail and finally breasted the Lhotse ridge. Meanwhile one of the Sherpas had given up and they had taken on his load – Charles Wylie taking a 20 lb cylinder of O2. We descended to the desolate windswept South Col and dumped our loads beside the wrecks of the Swiss tents. What a place! The South Summit looks absolutely terrific from here.
Three of the hardier Sherpas led by Dawa Tondup arrived and got rid of their loads and we all returned up the slope. Tenzing and I left our excess oxygen on the col. We passed rest of Sherpas on way to col and Charles Wylie with solid load. We then plugged down across traverse picking up exhausted Sherpa on way. Ground down to Camp VII and had brief rest and drink. Then rest of us continued on down to Camp IV. A tremendous and successful day. We had put 13 loads of approx. 30 lbs on the South Col. At Camp V we passed John Hunt, Tom B, Charles Evans, Da Namgyal and Balu on their way for the first attempt on the summit.”
May 23[Hillary's Entry.]
Self at IV.
John, Tom and Charles plus Sherpas climbed to VII.”
May 24[Hillary's Entry.]
Self at IV
John and party left VII and went very slowly indeed to South Col. Conditions were very bad and it took them seven hours for the trip. We realised that their arduous trip would make an attack the next day impracticable. George Lowe, Greg and eight Sherpas went off to V with South Col loads.”
May 25[Hillary's Entry.]
Six Sherpas with loads for Camp VII departed early. Tenzing and I on oxygen left at 9.15 and reached Camp VII at 12.30 – 3¼ hrs going. George and Greg with eight Sherpas went from V to VII. A beautiful afternoon at VII for a change and I made up oxygen all afternoon and made up loads. “
May 26th[Hillary's Entry.]
George, Greg, Tenzing and I plus eight Sherpas (five to South Col and three Ridge men – Ang Nima, Pemba and Ang Pemba) set off for South Col. I led all way and Tenzing and I went pretty quickly. Things were going alright so I went on ahead. At 9.39 saw our first view of two ropes of two on ridge above the couloir (John away at 7 am with Da Namgyal. John on 4 litres and Da Namgyal on 4 litres. Tom and Charles a lot of trouble with closed circuit and finally away at 7.50.
Got great thrill from watching progress. Tom and Charles surged ahead but John soon stopped and dumped loads about 150ft above Swiss ridge camp – dump at about 27,350ft. Tenzing and I reached South Col in 2 ¾ hours. Saw John and Da Namgyal descending and went and met them and assisted them back to camp. John was very exhausted. The other boys duly arrived but three ridge Sherpas trailed the field by miles. Five South Col types had gone exceptionally well. Da Tenzing, Dawa Tondup (2nd time), Topke (2nd time), Ang Norbu (2nd time) Annullu (2nd time). They returned too VII at 1 pm.
Tom and Charles disappeared over South Summit – what an achievement. At 3.30 pm Tom and Charles appeared out of the mist and seemed very tired and exhausted. Tom rather disappointed at not having gone on but Charles convinced that if they had they wouldn’t have returned. They both painted gloomy pictures of the summit ridge.
It was blowing furiously and extremely miserable on the Col.”
May 27[Hillary's Entry.]
One of the worst nights I have ever experienced. Very strong wind, very cold -25°C and very uncomfortable. T & I and George and Greg were in pyramid on oxygen. John, Tom and Charles in Meade and three Sherpas in small dome. A very windy morning indeed and couldn’t get warm. Tom and Charles were completely exhausted. They finally decided to get away. Ang Temba had been sick all night so he too was to go down. John after discussion (rather pointed) decided to descend. It was a pathetic sight to see the bunch climb the slope above camp. Tom was on his knees on numerous occasions and we had to give him an oxygen bottle. John too was very tired and the determined Charles seemed the only rational member of the party. They finally disappeared and had a most difficult descent to VII where fortunately Mike Ward was in residence and was able to give them help.
May 28 – IX[Hillary's Entry.]
A fine but windy morning -25°C. First blow was that Pemba was sick leaving us only one Sherpa – Ang Nima. We decided we’d have to carry up the camp ourselves. George took 3 LAs on frame weighing about 41 lbs. Greg had RAF set plus primus and food – about 40. Ang Nima had 3 LAs – 4 lbs. Tenzing had 2 LAs and all personal and so did I – at least 49-50 lbs.
George, Greg and Ang Nima departed at 8.45 and made a lot of height up couloir by the time Tenzing and I left at 10am. Our loads slowed us down but we were going well. The couloir was hard wind blown snow and had to be cut for many hundreds of feet. George was going very well and did most of this cutting. All the Sahibs were on 4 litres and Ang Nima on 2 litres. Tenzing and I caught up to the others on the ridge by the Swiss tent 27,200 approx. Another 150 ft up we came to the dump made by John and Da Namgyal of tent, fuel and food and oxygen.
After discussion we decided to push on carrying all the gear. I took on the tent making my load over 60 lbs. George and Greg made theirs up to at least 50 and Ang Nima and Tenzing were over 45 lbs. continued on up the ridge, George doing most of leading and plugging. Ridge steep but little snow over rocks with upward sloping strata gave easy going. Continued for some time but no sign of camping site. Oxygen was running low and we had to switch over onto some of assault supplies.
Position getting a bit desperate when Tenzing did a lead out over deep unstable snow to the left and finally to a somewhat more flattish spot beneath a rock bluff. We decided to camp here at approx. 27,900ft. gave others some oxygen and sent them down. It was 2.30pm. T & I took off O2 and set to work making campsite – a frightful job. Chopped out frozen rubble with iceaxes and tried to level area. By 5pm had cleared a site large enough for tent but on two levels. Decided it would have to do so pitched tent on it. Had no effective means of tying tent down so hitched some ropes and O2 bottles sunk in snow and hoped for the best.
At 6pm moved into the tent. Tenzing had his lilo along bottom level overhanging slope. I sat on top level with my feet on bottom and was able to brace the whole tent against the quarter hourly huge gusts of wind. The primus worked like a charm and we consumed large amounts of very sweet lemon water, soup and coffee and ate with relish sardines on biscuits, a tin of apricots, dates, biscuits on jam.
I had made an inventory of our oxygen supplies necessarily low due to the reduced lift and found that we only had 1 3/4 LAs (2000 litres) left for the assault. By relying on the two 1/3 full bottles left by Tom and Charles about 500 ft below South Summit I thought we could make an attack using about 3 litres a minute (I had adjustments for this and fortunately Tenzing’s set on 4 litres was really only a true 3 litres).
We also had a little excess O2 in three nearly empty bottles and this would give us about 4 hours sleeping O2. Although the thermometer registered -27 °C it was not unpleasantly cold as the wind was confined to casual strong gusts.
I spread the oxygen into two t hour periods and although I was sitting up I dozed reasonably well. Between O2 sessions we brewed up and had lemon juice and lemon juice and biscuits.
It was very noticeable that though we had no O2 from 2.30 until about 9pm that we were only slightly breathless and could work quite hard.
May 29 – Summit[Hillary's Entry.]
At 4am the weather looked perfect and the view superb. Tenzing pointed out Thyangboche. We commenced making drinks and food and thawing out frozen boots over the primus. I got the O2 sets into the tent and tested them out.
At 6.30am we moved off and taking turns plugged up the ridge above camp. The ridge narrowed considerably and the breakable crust made plugging tedious and balance difficult. We soon reached the two O2 bottles and were greatly relieved to find about 100 lbs pressure in each. The narrow ridge led up to the very impressive steep snow face running to the South Summit. The other boys had ascended the rocks on the left and then descended the snow on return, their tracks were only faintly visible and we liked neither route. We discussed the matter and I decided for the snow.
We commenced plugging up in foot deep steps with a thin wind crust on top and precious little belay for the iceaxe. It was altogether most unsatisfactory and whenever I felt feelings of fear regarding it I’d say to myself, Forget it. This is Everest and you’ve got to take a few risks. Tenzing expressed his extreme dislike but made no suggestions regarding turning back. Taking turns we made slow speed up this vast slope. After several hundred feet the angle eased a little and the slope was broken by more rock outcrops and the tension eased.
At 9.00am we cramponed up onto the fine peak of the South Summit. We looked with some eagerness on the ridge ahead as this was the crux of the climb. Both Tom and Charles had expressed comments on the difficulties of the ridge ahead and I was not feeling particularly hopeful. The sight ahead was impressive but not disheartening. On the right long cornices like fingers hung over the Kangshung. Form these cornices a steep slope ran down to the top of the rocks which dropped 8,000 ft to the West Cwm. I thought I saw a middle route by cutting steps along the snow above the rocks and sufficiently far down to be out of danger from the cornices.
Our first ¾ bottle was finished so we discarded them and set off with a light 11 lb apparatus, one full bottle and 3 litres a minute.
We dropped off the South Summit and keeping low on the left I commenced cutting steps in excellent firm frozen snow. It was first class going and as I was feeling very well we made steady progress. Some of the cornice bumps proved tricky but I was able to turn them by dropping right down onto the rocks and scrambling by. Tenzing had me on a tight rope all the time and we moved throughout one at a time. After an hour or so we came to a vertical rock step in the ridge. This appeared quite a problem. However the step was bounded on its right by a vertical snow cliff and I was able to jam myself between the rock and snow. With considerable effort I was able to work my way up this 40 foot crack and finally got over the top. I was rather surprised and pleased that I was capable of effort at this height. I brought T up with difficulty. I noticed he was proving a little sluggish but an excellent and safe companion for all that. I really felt now that we were going to get to the top and that nothing could stop us. I kept frequent watch on our oxygen consumption and was encouraged to find it at a steady rate.
I continued on cutting steadily surmounting bump after bump and cornice after cornice looking eagerly for the summit. It seemed impossible to pick it and time was running out. Finally I cut around the back of an extra large hump and then on a tight rope to its top. Immediately it was obvious that we had reached our objective [It was 11.30am]. We were on top of Everest! To the North an impressive corniced ridge ran down to the East Rongbuk. We could see nothing of the old North West route but were looking down on the North Col and Changtse.
The West Ridge dropped away in broad sweeps and we had a great view of the Khumbu and Pumori far below us. Makalu, Kangchenjunga and Lhotse were all dominant to the East looking considerably less impressive than I had ever seen them. I noticed that the Barun approaches to Makalu looked very difficult if not impossible – a 1,000ft rock cliff.
Tenzing and I shook hands and he so far forgot himself as to embrace me. It was quite a moment! We took off our O2 and for ten minutes I photographed T holding flags, the various ridges of Everest and the general view. I left a crucifix on top for John Hunt and it made a little hole in the snow and put in it some food offerings, lollies and biscuits and chocolate. We ate a Kendal Mint Cake and then put back on our O2. I was a little worried by the time factor so after 15 min on top we turned back at 11.45am.
The steps along the ridge made progress relatively easy and the only problem was the rock step which demanded another jamming session. At 12.45 we were back on the South Summit both now rather fatigued. Wasting no time (our O2 was getting low) we set off down the great slope still in considerable trepidation about its safeness. This was quite a mental strain and a s I was coming down first I repacked every step with great care. Tenzing was a tower of strength and his very fine ability to keep a tight rope most encouraging.
After what seemed a lifetime the angle eased off and we were soon leading down onto the narrow snow ridge and finally to the dump of O2 bottles. We loaded these on and then rather tired wended our way down our tracks and collapsed into our Camp at 2pm.
Our original bottles were now exhausted. They had given us 4 ¾ hours running and allowing 800 litres in these very full bottles our consumption rate had been 2 5/6 litres per minute
At the ridge camp we had a brew of lemon and sugar and then packed up all our gear and connected up our last bottles 1/3 full. At 3 pm we left the ridge camp and although we were tired made good time down the ridge to the Swiss Camp and the couloir. The snow in the couloir was firm and we had to recut all the steps. We kicked down the lower portions and then cramponed very wearily down to meet George who met us with soup just above camp. My comment was “Well we knocked the bastard off.”
Wilf Noyce and Pasang Puta had come up the same day and it was good to see their fresh faces. Had a long talk and then to bed on O2.”