Born to climb: Tashi Tenzing on Everest

Image: Courtesy Tashi Tenzing

More than half a century after his grandfather became one of the first men in the world to summit Everest, the spirit of adventure lives on in Tashi Tenzing.

The legacy of your grandfather, Tenzing Norgay, (who accompanied Edmund Hillary to Everest in 1953) has had a huge impact on the climbing industry. How has this influenced your own life and career?
I see it in a very positive way. My family was so poor back when they migrated from Tibet four generations ago. If my grandfather hadn’t ascended Everest in “˜53, my life would have been very different. He was a very strong-minded person to do something so unique for his own people. That’s what made Tenzing a hero. He didn’t want to be just a porter, carrying for the white men and the British climbers. He wanted to be one of them. I have followed in the footsteps of family history and I still continue to do that.

Were you drawn to the mountains from a young age?
I have been climbing maybe 20 years, from the age of 12. I always wanted to climb Everest, which I did in 1993. I did not make it to the top the first time. I had snow blindness so I missed out [and had to turn back] about 90 metres from the summit. My uncle died on the mountain that time. My second, my third and my fourth attempts were successful.

What emotions were going through your mind when you reached the summit for the first time?
Firstly, you feel a huge relief that there is not another step to take. But the beauty of Everest is, you can actually see the curvature of the Earth from the top. You are at over 8,800 metres, and sitting there at six o’clock in the morning, watching the sun rising over the world — words can’t express such beauty.

Image: Courtesy Tashi Tenzing

After you conquered Everest you set your sights on Antarctica. What inspired you to head south?
When I was in school, my grandfather Tenzing had been to Antarctica and brought back these wonderful pictures of penguins and icebergs. I had imagined it was just flat with snow, but it’s got mountains, wildlife and everything a climber would want. It’s paradise for climbers.

You now lead tours following the footsteps of another great explorer, Ernest Shackleton.
I’m a great fan of Shackleton. It’s quite amazing that three of [his team] were able to cross from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, past Elephant Island and cross to South Georgia with no gear and with torn clothes. They were completely a mess, but they had that incredible spirit of survival. I think that’s what got them through, along with Shackleton’s guidance and leadership.

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