In late May, the families of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest, gathered in the shadow of the great mountain, called Chomolungma by locals, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the duo’s victorious ascent. Today, climbing Mount Everest remains challenging and dangerous, but a selfie at the summit is now within reach of anyone with the basic physical ability, inclination, and money to sign on with one of many tour companies offering the experience. In 1953, however, before the era of satellite phones and lightweight down climbing suits, there was serious doubt as to whether it was even possible.
Equipped with the most advanced tools of the day, which included Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches – the predecessors to the Rolex Explorer – Nepali-Indian Norgay and Hillary, a New Zealander, shocked the world with their accomplishment. “Their success showed that yes, it can be done,” says Peter Hillary, Sir Edmund Hillary’s son. “Hillary and Tenzing became like rock stars of the time.”
Norgay went on to use his fame to empower the Sherpa community, the indigenous people of the Himalayas whose local knowledge and innate adaptation to high altitudes have been instrumental in exploration in the region. In addition to raising awareness about the invaluable contribution of Sherpas to mountaineering, Norgay also trained young Sherpas to become safer climbers at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in India, which was established with his help in 1954. “Because of his achievement, he was able to put the name Sherpa in the dictionary,” says Norbu Tenzing, Norgay’s son. “He really paved the way for future generations.”
Norgay’s work to improve healthcare, employment, and education opportunities in the region continues today with support from Rolex through the Tenzing Norgay Sherpa Foundation. Likewise, Edmund Hillary remained devoted to the welfare of the Everest region and its people throughout his life through The Himalayan Trust. This foundation, which has been supported by Rolex since 2012, has helped to build hospitals, schools, and bridges in the area, as well as the Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla, the gateway to Everest.
Rolex has been working with explorers to test its watches in harsh conditions across the planet since the 1930s, a practice that has helped pieces like the Submariner and Explorer earn the reputation as superlative tools for adventure. More recently the brand has also lent its support to conservation via its Perpetual Planet initiative, which funds conservation projects around the world.
On May 29th, 2023, Norgay and Hillary’s descendants celebrated the explorers’ legacies with two cultural centres in the Everest region which were refurbished with assistance from the Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative. Dedicated to the history and identity of the Sherpa people, these centres will act as a platform to raise awareness of environmental issues in the Himalayas and celebrate the many contributions of the Sherpa community to mountaineering. Seventy years after Norgay and Hillary first set foot on Everest’s peak, their historic achievement continues to inspire.