Everest legends: Hillary, Norgay tell tales of adventure and leadership at MSU Leadership presentation.

The sons of the first two men ever to summit Mount Everest — Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay — recounted two generations of high-altitude triumphs and tragedies for a standing-room only crowd in Bozeman this week.

Peter Hillary, 49, and Jamling Tenzing Norgay, 38, described what they learned from their fathers and the lessons of their own adventurous lives for an audience of 1,400 people Monday night at Montana State University.

By JOAN HAINES, For the Chronicle


Congratulations to the MSU Leadership Institute for arranging this excellent presentation.

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Carmen McSpadden



"It really is the people that is, in many ways, the great allure of going on an expedition, going to a challenging place," Hillary said.

No one could have ever guessed that when Hillary and Norgay joined forces to complete the first successful ascent of the 29,035-foot-high Mount Everest in 1953 that their families’ lives would still be intertwined 50-some years later.

The two, a "beekeeper from New Zealand and a Sherpa from Nepal," had little in common, including language, Norgay, who lives in India, told the hushed audience.

"You can imagine these two sleeping in a tent at 27,000 feet on a small ledge, not talking to each other as if they had had a fight," he said. "And the next day, they were going to create history by climbing this mountain.

"It just goes to show if you have the same drive, the same passion and desire, you can achieve anything."

Both men said they’re often asked who reached the summit of Mount Everest first.

"It doesn’t matter; it was teamwork," Norgay said.

"They couldn’t have done it without each other," said Hillary, who lives in New Zealand. "It was two people tied on a rope."

The sons were funny and they were serious. They lobbed questions and answers back and forth. And they demonstrated that they have hardly lived their lives in their fathers’ shadows.

Norgay started his mountain-climbing career when he was 6 years old.

"It was very exciting," he said. "I wanted to climb more mountains. I looked up to my father. I wanted to become just like him."

He was the climbing leader on a 1996 expedition to Mount Everest’s summit, which was filmed for an IMAX documentary. On that trip, Norgay and the IMAX team helped rescue some of the climbers caught in a vicious storm on the mountain that claimed 11 climbers’ lives. He has authored a book, "Touching My Father’s Soul."

Hillary has summited Mount Everest twice, once in 1990 and again in 2002, when he was part of a climb to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Hillary-Norgay triumph. Joining that climb "was too good a proposition to turn down," he said.

He was the first person to traverse the length of the Himalayas. He set down a new route across Antarctica to the South Pole. And he has written six books, including his newest, "In the Ghost Country."

On the stage Monday, Hillary stood to one side, Norgay to the other. Both were lit by spotlights with a high, wide screen behind them.

On the screen, Hillary could be seen struggling against winds threatening to topple him over.

At one point Hillary remarked that climbing above 25,000 feet can cause mountaineers to have "intellectual faculties of a 6-year-old on a rather cantankerous day."

Their advice for climbers: follow your passions and your instincts.

Hillary trusted his instincts during a 1995 climb on K2 in Kashmir, when he decided to turn back short of the summit. Seven others on the climbing team went higher, were swept off the mountain and died.

He advised climbers to tackle the easy climbs first.

"You need to do your apprenticeship," he said. "Learn all the stages, the steps."

At the end of the 90-minute event, sponsored by the MSU Leadership Institute, they received a standing ovation.

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