On This Day: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first to climb Mount Everest

File photo dated 26/05/1953 of the first conquerors of Everest, Edmund Hillary (left) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (right), with expedition leader Colonel John Hunt (centre) in Katmandu, Nepal, after descending from the peak.

May 29, 1953
: New Zealand adventurer Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first men known to climb Mount Everest 60 years ago today.

The pair hugged as they reached the 29,029ft summit - Earth’s tallest peak - after a gruelling climb up the southern face in Nepal.

Hillary, 33, took several photographs of the scenery while Tenzing, 39, buried some sweets and biscuits in the snow as a Buddhist offering.

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But they could only spend 15 minutes at the top of the world because they were low on oxygen, which helped them cope with the perilously thin air.

“We kept a constant watch on our supply and, even when we were on top, we were very worried about whether we’d have enough to get down again,” Hillary told British Pathé News when his expedition party returned to London.

He then grinned broadly as he added with an undeniably antipodean accent: “But fortunately we did.”

However, Hillary also revealed how he nearly died during the journey and owed his life to Tenzing, who sat beside him at the press conference.

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“I was leading down the icefall and when I was crossing a crevasse, a large lump of ice came by where I was standing and sent me down the crevasse.

“Tenzing and I had a rope between us the whole time and he pulled me up so I didn’t go far.”

The previous year, Tenzing had joined a Swiss expedition that was forced to stop just 813ft shy of the seemingly unreachable summit.

British explorers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared in 1924 during another attempt to conquer the mountain named after surveyor Sir George Everest.

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The 1953 British team leader Colonel John Hunt said Hillary and Tenzing owed their success to previous pioneers and huge advances in breathing equipment.

Indeed, the first ascent without the use of supplemental oxygen was not achieved until 1975 when Italian Reinhold Messner and Austrian Peter Habeler realised the feat.

Since 1953, more than 3,000 people have reached the summit of Everest - mostly using breathing equipment – and around 200 are expected to attempt it this summer.