As the sirdar of the 1953 Everest Expedition, Dawa managed the supplies, porters, and logistics
From Khumbu to London, celebrations this week to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953 focus on the two summiteers, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, belying the fact that the climb was truly a team effort. While Tenzing was the lead climbing Sherpa, an often forgotten figure is the sirdar, the foreman of the expedition.
“Has my grandfather been completely forgotten?” asks Tashi Sherpa of Tengboche as he sorts through a bag of old photographs. As the sirdar of the 1953 Everest Expedition, Tashi’s grandfather, Dawa Tenzing of Khumjung, managed the supplies, porters, and logistics. He ensured the safe transport of over seven tons of supplies and equipment from Kathmandu to Khumbu, a journey that took nearly three weeks. The porters were from the spectrum of ethnic peoples of eastern Nepal.
Dawa Tenzing (also known as Da Tenzing) was over 40 in 1953 and was already a veteran of several Himalayan expeditions. Having gone from Khumbu to Darjeeling in search of work as a young man, Da Tenzing had memories of the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine on the north side of Everest in 1924.
ON TOP: Da Tenzing was over 40 in 1953 and was already a veteran of several Himalayan expeditions. In this photo, a Christmas letter from the European members of Everest Party wishing him a Happy New Year 1954.
OLDIES: Da Tenzing next to Reinhold Messner (right) and other mountaineers.
Between 1952–63 Da Tenzing was on several expeditions: reaching the South Col twice in both 1952 and 1953. He was sirdar of the 1955 Kangchenjunga expedition and again went twice to the South Col with the American expedition of 1963.
In the afterglow of the 1953 expedition, the British Alpine Club had made Da Tenzin an honorary lifetime member and despite his remote address all alpine club mail duly arrived at Tengboche. In a dusty old cardboard box he had kept brochures for anything from crampons to electric kettles and letters and photographs from the previous generation of climbers, including those of John Hunt, with whom he had managed the 1953 expedition, and others from George Lowe to Reinhold Messner.
PROUD: In the afterglow of the 1953 expedition, the British Alpine Club had made Da Tenzin an honorary lifetime member.
Da Tenzing spent his last years hobbling around Tengboche monastery as best he could with complete Buddhist devotion. According to the Royal Geographic Society, he had ‘earned respect for his character and his performance as climber and sirdar, and affection for his wicked sense of humour’. Da Tenzing died in 1985.
Frances Klatzel in Tengboche.