The Conquerors of Everest on Decency, Kindness and Simplicity
Jan Morris wrote in Time Magazine that by conquering Mount Everest, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay affirmed the power of humble determination and won for underdogs everywhere.
After first climb to the summit of Everest in 1954, the two became instant icons.
Hillary then championed the causes of the Sherpas building airstrips, schools and hospitals.
Tenzing put up a mountaineering school in India and was looked up as a hero by the Sherpa's and the underpriviledged.
But both paid their dues for success. Jan cites "I thought their brand of heroism-the heroism of example, the heroism of debts repaid and causes sustained--far more inspiring than the gung-ho kind. . . . Only because there became attached to the memory of the exploit, in the years that followed, a reputation for decency, kindness and stylish simplicity.
What mountains you climbed and what equipment you have are insignificant matters compared to this feat.
Here are excepts from the article "The Conquerors" as it appeared in Time
Magazine JUNE 14, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 23 SPECIAL ISSUE/TIME 100
The real point of mountain climbing, as of most hard sports, is that it
voluntarily tests the human spirit against the fiercest odds, not that it
achieves anything more substantial--or even wins the contest, for that
matter. For the most part, its heroism is of a subjective kind. It was the
fate of Hillary and Tenzing, though, to become very public heroes indeed,
and it was a measure of the men that over the years they truly grew into
the condition. Perhaps they thought that just being the first to climb a
hill was hardly qualification for immortality; perhaps they instinctively
realized destiny had another place for them. For they both became, in the
course of time, representatives not merely of their particular nations but
of half of humanity. Astronauts might justly claim that they were envoys of
all humanity; Hillary and Tenzing, in a less spectacular kind, came to
stand for the small nations of the world, the young ones, the tucked-away
and the up-and-coming.
Both, of course, were showered with worldly honors, and accepted them with
aplomb. Both became the most celebrated citizens of their respective
countries and went around the world on their behalf. But both devoted much
of their lives to the happiness of an archetypically unprivileged segment
of mankind: the Sherpas, Tenzing's people, true natives of the Everest
region. Tenzing, who died in 1986, became their charismatic champion and a
living model of their potential. Grand old Ed Hillary, who is still
robustly with us, has spent years in their country supervising the building
of airfields, schools and hospitals and making the Sherpas' existence
better known to the world. Thus the two of them rose above celebrity to
stand up for the unluckier third of humanity, who generally cannot spare
the time or energy, let alone the money, to mess around in mountains.
I liked these men very much when I first met them on the mountain nearly a
half-century ago, but I came to admire them far more in the years that
followed. I thought their brand of heroism--the heroism of example, the
heroism of debts repaid and causes sustained--far more inspiring than the
gung-ho kind. Did it really mean much to the human race when Everest was
conquered for the first time? Only because there became attached to the
memory of the exploit, in the years that followed, a reputation for
decency, kindness and stylish simplicity. Hillary and Tenzing fixed it when
they knocked the bastard off.
Jan Morris accompanied the 1953 British Everest Expedition. Her next book
will be about Abraham Lincoln.
BORN Tenzing, May 1914, in Solo Khumbu, Nepal; Hillary, July 20, 1919, in
Auckland, New Zealand 1935 Charles Warren makes an unsuccessful assault on
Everest-- and the acquaintance of Tenzing, his Sherpa porter; Warren later
introduces Tenzing to Hillary 1953 Hillary and Tenzing are the first to
reach the summit of Mount Everest 1954 Tenzing becomes head of the
Institute of Mountaineering in Darjeeling, India DIED Tenzing, on May 9,
1986, in Darjeeling