On TV: Surviving Everest Tells of Triumph, Tragedy

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Upon his return to England, Edmund Hilary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Tenzing Norgay Sherpa reached the peak on his sixth Everest expedition—his first encounter with the mountain was in 1935 when he was a young porter.

Tenzing Norgay Sherpa's accomplishment made the name "Sherpa" known throughout the world. He became a celebrity, both internationally and among his own people. As a result, he devoted his life to helping the Sherpa people cope with the changes that the climbing boom brought to the region.

Improving the Life of Sherpas

Sherpas are mountaineering's unsung heroes. For them, climbing these mountains is a livelihood—and without their contributions most westerners would never reach the Summit. Living at high altitude has allowed them to adapt to this environment, giving them strength and stamina at great heights. Leading the way on Mount Everest, however, has not come without a price: 56 Sherpas have died climbing her slopes.

Like Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, Sir Edmund Hillary devoted his life to improving the life of the Sherpas—whose tribal name means "people of the east." When the two of them reached Everest's Summit in 1953 most of these villagers were illiterate and nearly half of their children died within the first two years of life.

Hillary has sought to ensure that the Sherpas benefited from the rise of the adventure industry that has altered their lives and land forever. Over the last half-century, Hillary has built 42 schools, two hospitals and 11 medical clinics through a non-profit organization he founded, the Himalayan Trust.

In 1975, he helped establish Sagarmatha National Park to protect the region's flora and fauna. That same year, tragedy struck when Hillary's wife and daughter were killed in a small plane crash in Nepal.

Barry Bishop returned to the National Geographic Society, where he served in a variety of roles, including Chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration. As chairman of the CRE, Bishop helped to grant millions of dollars in research funds to scientists and explorers. From 1968 to 1970, he conducted a geographical research project on the economic hierarchy of Nepal, which earned him a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Chicago.

Following Their Fathers' Footsteps

Each of the three mountaineers planted the seed of adventure in their sons. Peter Hillary unsuccessfully attempted to climb the West Ridge in 1984—and vowed never to attempt that route again. But, he did summit Everest in 1990 via the South Col route—making the Hillarys the first father and son to have reached the top of the world.

Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, was already scaling mountains in Sikkim with his father by age six. In 1986, his father passed away, and Jamling began to contemplate returning to Everest. In 1996, he was the climbing leader for the famed Everest IMAX expedition. During the 1996 climbing season nine people died and Jamling vowed never to climb Everest again—during the anniversary expedition he provided communications expertise from Base Camp. While Jamling's father was the most famous climber in the family, a total of 12 relatives have subsequently reached the Summit—perhaps more than any other family in the world.

Brent Bishop repeated his father's climbing feat in 1994. Tragically, just four months later his father, Barry, died in a car accident.

The young Bishop also felt the need to give back to this land he'd come to know. In 1994, he led the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition to the top of Everest to remove decades of trash left behind by climbers. The high-altitude team dragged 5,000 pounds of refuse off the mountain—and in yearly garbage-collecting expeditions over the next five years, Bishop and his team collected another 20,000 pounds of mountaineers' rubbish.

To commemorate their father's achievements 50 years after the first ascent and 40 years after the first American ascent—the sons of the three much-celebrated Everest mountaineers returned in a two-month anniversary expedition. At the top, Peter Hillary placed an emotional call to his father on his satellite phone—telling him he'd arrived at the top of the world, he was okay—and that he wasn't ever going to do it again.

In the last 50 years, over 10,000 men and women have tried to climb Everest—more than 1,200 have triumphed. Despite the danger, many are still seduced by the challenge. Weather conditions make Everest climbable only a few weeks each year in the spring and fall. Summer monsoons blanket the Himalayas in drifts, and winter winds are murderous.

Why suffer such hardship and take such risk to climb Everest? In the words of George Leigh-Mallory, who perished in 1924 with companion Andrew Irvine during an unsuccessful quest to reach the summit: "What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."

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More Mount Everest Stories From National Geographic News:
1963 Flashback: First Everest Summit by Americans
Everest Attempt Is Focus of New Reality TV Show
Everest Climber to Emcee Summit Attempt on Live TV
Everest: Now Just Another Tourist Trap?
Everest Clinic Tends Ills on High
Everest Time Line: 80 Years of Triumph and Tragedy
Making Movies on the Roof of the World
Everest Snowboarder Vanishes On Second Try
Altitude a Major Challenge to Climbers
The Sherpas of Mount Everest
Everest Melting? High Signs of Climate Change
Everest Anniversary Expedition Wrap-Up
National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition Reaches Summit
Everest Anniversary Team Makes Final Summit Attempt
Jet-Stream Winds Trap Climbers on Everest
Sons of Mount Everest Pioneers to Repeat Historic Climb

Related Stories From National Geographic Adventure Magazine:
After the Storm: '96 Everest Survivors (Audio)
Romance on Everest: The Highest Taboo
The Everest Mess
Little Sister, Big Mountain: Climbing the Himalaya's Cho Oyu
Life on Assignment: Himalaya's Cho Oyu (Audio)
The Last Cairn: A Climber's Tragic Saga (Excerpt)
The Slipping Point: Disaster on Mount Hood
8,000-Meter Man: Ed Viesturs
Q&A: Eric Simonson, Everest Sleuth
Q&A With the Man Who Found Mallory

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