On Top Of The World, Decades Later

Half a century ago, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first men to climb Mount Everest. It was the culmination of one of the great adventures of modern time.

Celebrations have been taking place in Katmandu, and CBS News correspondentTom Fenton took a look back at the extraordinary accomplishment.


Some men go through life choosing the path of least resistance. A few seek the greatest challenge. Everest, the roof of the world, was the glittering goal for two courageous men.

Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal blazed the trail to the top and lived to tell the tale. It was a huge accomplishment with none of the gear used by modern climbers. Some of Hillary's team climbed with their bare hands.

"Tenzing and I always agreed, that we had done it once, we had done it first, we had proved that it was possible to do it," said Hillary.

Queen Elizabeth received the news on her coronation day, and gave Sir Hillary a knighthood. A modest man, he felt he did not deserve it.

Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, never got the recognition he deserved, and he died an embittered man in 1986. His son Jamling says both men went through a lot to reach the peak of Everest.

For the 50th anniversary, Hillary returned to Nepal. There, his is a local hero for having devoted the rest of his life to help the Sherpas build schools and hospitals.

And on the anniversary, climbers from all over the world were lining up to make it to the top.

Within a week from the anniversary, a Chinese team had broadcast live pictures from the summit, and records have been broken for the oldest, and fastest climbers to scale the peak.

But for Hillary, the mountain has lost its charm.

"If I was 33 again, young and fit and a bit of a dynamo as I think I was in those days, I simply wouldn't want to join the queues that would be scrambling together up the mountain.

Everest has not lost its menace. More than 1,200 have reached the peak in the last 50 years, but one out of seven died trying — lured to their deaths by the mountain's terrible and compelling beauty.

On May 28, 2003, a helicopter flying near base camp crashed, killing two passengers and injuring the others.

Sir Edmund's son, Peter, who has also scaled the summit, described the pull of the mountain as: "More than just climbing the highest mountain. It's gone on to represent symbolically something about going somewhere into the unknown and doing something perhaps you couldn't do before."

For his father, it was something simpler. It was, as he said after his ascent, about not walking in other people's footsteps.

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