Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the Lebron and Steph Curry of mountaineering — yet all they could do was wait. They were holed up in a small tent on the South Col of Mount Everest while the ‘varsity’ team of two climbers was aggressively attacking the last 2,000 vertical feet above them. Their colleagues would become the first climbers to summit Everest, the world’s highest and most unreachable peak. In contrast to other climbers, Hillary and Tenzing were imposing physical specimens. Hillary was 6 foot 5 inches of lean, sinewy muscle and abounding energy. Norgay was larger than other Sherpas and his elite acclimatization to altitude enabled him to climb near the summit two times recently.
Norgay sat cross-legged in the small tent with a three-foot flame from the camp stove shooting up between his legs, while the others slept. A similar fire may have burned inside him. He had a score to settle with Everest. At 3:30 p.m. the first assault team of Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon stumbled back into the South Col campsite — weary and beaten. According to Hillary’s official autobiography Reaching The Summit by Alexa Johnston, they ran out of time and oxygen to reach the summit. Now the stage was cleared for Hillary and Norgay.