May 29. Summit
"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 T made a little hole in the snow and put in 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 as 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."
This series of articles formed a companion to our exhibition From the Summit – Hillary’s Enduring Legacy, which ran from 19 April – 29 September 2013 in the Sainsbury Horrocks Pictorial Gallery.
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