Sir Edmund Hillary: There were lots of challenges. Even the route we were climbing on Mt. Everest was one of the two easiest routes on the mountain, as we know now. Of course, nobody had climbed it then. But even so, there are demanding parts of it. At the bottom of the mountain, there’s the ice-fall, where it’s a great tumbled ruin of ice that’s all pouring down and filled with crevasses and ice walls. It’s under slow but constant movement. It’s a dangerous place because things are always tumbling down. So you have to establish a route up through that which you can get with reasonable safety. But over the years, literally dozens of people have died in the crevasses. They’ve been engulfed by ice walls falling down and things of that nature.
I had one experience on the ice-fall with Tenzing. We were actually descending after having been further up the mountain, and it was getting close towards dark so we wanted to get through the ice-fall before darkness fell. We were roped together, but I was rushing down ahead in the lead. About halfway down there was a narrow crevasse. I guess it was about four feet wide, but just a bit too wide to step across. On the lower lip was a great chunk of ice stuck against the ice wall, and we’d used that as sort of a stepping stone to get over the gap. I came rushing down the hill without thinking too carefully. I just leapt in the air and landed on the chunk of ice, whereupon the chunk of ice broke off and dropped into the crevasse with me on top of it. It was interesting how everything seemed to start going slowly, even though I was free-falling into the crevasse. My mind, obviously, was working very quickly indeed. The great chunk of ice started tipping over and I realized, if I wasn’t careful, I’d be crushed between the ice and the wall of the crevasse. So I just sort of bent my knees and leapt in the air. I was still falling, but now I was a couple of feet clear of the chunk of ice. Time really seemed to pass even though I was falling clear, and I realized that unless the rope came tight fairly soon, I would come to a rather sticky end on the bottom of the crevasse. Up top, Tenzing had acted very quickly. He had thrust his ice axe into the snow, whipped the rope around it, and the rope came tight with a twang, and I was stopped and swung in against the ice wall. The great chunk of ice just carried on and smashed to smithereens at the bottom of the crevasse.
Then really the rest was what I would have called a routine mountaineering matter. I had my ice axe and my crampons on my feet, so I chipped steps in the side. I was able to bridge the crevasse, and I worked my way up to the top and got safely out. I wouldn’t have said at any stage, because it all happened so quickly, fear really didn’t have much opportunity to emerge. My only idea was to get safely out of this unfortunate predicament. And of course, without Tenzing’s very competent mountaineer’s response, I certainly wouldn’t have made it. But once he had stopped me, then I was able to, using the techniques of mountaineering, to get myself safely to the top again. When you’ve been going as long as I have, many of them have happened during the course of your life, but you tend to forget them, really. I think nature tricks us a little bit because you tend to remember the good moments rather than the uncomfortable ones. So when you leave the mountain, you remember the great moments on the mountain, and as soon as you leave the mountain, you want to go back again.