Sixty years ago Wednesday, Tenzing Norgay of Nepal and Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. In honor of this historic anniversary Post’s Grape Nuts cereal is running this commercial:
Perhaps Grape Nuts wanted to focus on Hillary because there’s footage of him eating Grape Nuts. If that’s the idea, fine. But at least say “one of the first two to conquer” Everest, or something to that effect.
Of course, if Hillary ate Grape Nuts during this Himalayan adventure, it’s entirely possible that Tenzing had some as well. I imagine this conversation taking place:
Tenzing: What’s that you’re eating?
Hillary: It’s a cereal, called “Grape Nuts.”
Tenzing: “Grape Nuts?” But I don’t see any grapes.
Hillary: Yeah. There aren’t any nuts, either.
Tenzing: Wild. Can I try some?
Tenzing and Hillary were part of a 400-person expedition led by British army officer John Hunt, who had led six prior Everest expeditions but had failed to get a climber to the summit. Tenzing had been contributing to Everest expeditions since 1935, when he was only 20 and, along with Swiss climber Raymond Lambert, had reached a record altitude of 28,200 feet in 1952.
British climbers Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans were the first pair from Hunt’s team to make an attempt on the peak in May 1953, but they came up 300 feet short, abandoning the effort due to problems with Evans’s oxygen system.
On May 27, 1953 Hunt chose Hillary and Tenzing for a second attempt on the summit. They were successful, reaching the top at 11:30 a.m. on May 29.
Shortly after the successful climb, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Hillary and Hunt and awarded the George Medal, an obscure award honoring civilians who perform acts of bravery, to Tenzing. Some members of Parliament were upset that Tenzing was not afforded the same honor as Hillary and Hunt. His great grandson, Tashi Tenzing is currently petitioning the British government to more appropriately honor his late grandfather. But the decision not to knight Tenzing might not have come from the queen or anyone else in the UK. There may have been pressure from the government of India and/or Nepal to not confer knighthood on the Nepalese mountaineer.
I doubt that any foreign governments have put similar pressure on Grape Nuts.
One year after Tenzing and Hillary’s historic ascent, Tenzing became director of field training for the new Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, India. He founded Tenzing Norgay Adventures, a company that organizes treks and tours in the Himalayas, in 1978.
Tenzing died in 1986. In May 2003 his grandson, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, and Hillary’s grandson, Peter Hillary, scaled Everest to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their grandfathers’ historic climb.
In the 60 years since Tenzing and Hillary scaled the world’s tallest mountain, more than 3,000 other people have reached the summit of Mount Everest.
During car trips my nine-year-old likes to thumb through his almanac and quiz me. A couple weeks ago, he asked me to name the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. I answered, “Sir Edmund Hillary and another guy, a Sherpa from Nepal.” He had to feed me the name “Tenzing Norgay.” (Sherpa, by the way, is an ethnicity, not an occupation. I’ve been guilty of making that mistake in the past too.)
Perhaps I’m part of the problem. Perhaps I’m the product of a culture and/or educational system that values the accomplishments of those of European ancestry or those who live in the industrialized world over the accomplishments of persons from other cultures.
At any rate, on this 60th anniversary of the conquering of Mount Everest, let’s remember that two people reached the summit on May 29, 1953. And that there are neither grapes nor nuts in Post’s Grape Nuts cereal.