The Great Mystery

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Tenzing Norgay /I have thought much about what I will say now – of how Hillary and I reached the summit of Everet. Later, when we came down from the mountain, there was much foolish talk about who got there first. Some said ti was I, some Hillary. Some that only one of us got there– or neither. Still others, that one of us had to drag the other up. All this was nonsense. And in Kathmandu, to put a stop to such talk, Hillary and I signed a statement in which we said, “We reached the summit almost together’. We hoped this would be the end of it. But it was not the end. People kept on asking questions and making up stories. They pointed to the ‘almost’ and said, “What does that mean? Mountaineers understand threat there is no sense to such a question; that when two men are on the same rope they are together, and that is all there is to it. But other people did not understand. In India and Nepal, I am sorry to say, there has been great pressure on me to say that I reached the summit before Hillary. And all over the world I am asked, “Who got there first? Who got there first?’

Again I say, ‘ It is a foolish question. The answer means nothing.’ And yet it is a question that has been asked so often – that has caused so much talk and doubt and misunderstanding – that I feel, after long thought, that the answer should be given. As will be clear, it is not for my own sake that I give it. Nor is it for Hillary’s.  It is for the sake of Everest and the generation after us. ‘Why,’ they will say, ‘should there be a mystery to this thing? Is there something to be ashamed of? To be hidden? Why can we not know the truth?… Very well: now they will know the truth. Everest is too great, too precious, for anything but the truth.

A little below the summit Hillary and I stopped. We looked up. They we went on. The rope that joined us was 30 feet long, but I held most of it in loops in my hand, so that there was only six feet between us. I was not thinking of ‘first’ and ‘second’. I did not say to myself, ‘There is a golden apple up there. I will push Hillary aside and run for it.’ We went on slowly, steadily. And then we were there. Hillary stepped on top first. And I stepped up after him.

So there it is– the answer to the ‘great mystery’. And if, after all the talk and argument, the answer seems quiet and simple I can only say that that is as it should be. Many of my own people, I know, will be disappointed at it. They have given a great and false importance to the idea that it must be I who was ‘first’. These people have been good and wonderful to me, and I owe them much. But I owe more to Everest – and to the truth. If it is a discredit to me that I was a step behind Hillary, then I must live with that discredit. But I do not think it was that. Nor do I think that, in the end, it will bring discredit on me that I tell the story. Over and over again I have asked myself, ‘What will future generation think of us if we allow the facts of our achievement to stay shrouded in mystery? Will they not feel ashamed of us –two comrades in life and death– who have something to hide from world? And each time I asked it the answer was the same: ‘Only the truth is good enough for the future. Only the truth is good enough for Everest.’

Now the truth is told. And I am ready to be judged by it. We stepped up. We were there. The dream had come true….

(The excerpt is taken from Everest: The best writing and pictures from seventy years of human endeavour)

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