Mount Everest 1953
This year (2013) marks the 60th Anniversary of the First Ascent of Mount Everest 1953 Expedition. At 11.30am on the 29th May 1953 Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood on top of the world.
Over the past sixty years mountaineering clothing and equipment have changed considerably. Here we take a look back at the clothing and equipment that was used on the British 1953 Mount Everest expedition. At the time the team used the best clothing and gear that was available to them.
A thin, windproof, military-derivative “cotton wrap, nylon weft” suit was Hillary’s defence against Everest’s fierce gales.
A woollen “jumper suit” provided an insulating layer. It was made of Shetland wool by T.M. Adie and Sons of Voe, Scotland. The firm provided custom-made this and other clothing for the expedition.
Hillary wore “long underwear” made by Duofold. The synthetic top and bottom, which wicked sweat better than natural fibres, were a revolution at a time when cotton or coarse wool were the order of the day.
For some of the climb, Hillary wore a hand-knit “sun helmet” that was made by his sister.
All the expedition members wore wool scarves and other pieces that were custom-made for the climbers by T.M. Adie and Sons because it was not available on the shelf. The scarves were made of a fine Shetland wool blend.
To protect Hillary and Tenzing from the strong UV rays and snow blindness they used Aviator-style goggles with darkened glass lenses. A head strap and lens gaskets kept the goggles tight on their face.
The expedition used at least two types of boots, including a custom high-altitude model made by The British Boot, Shoe and Allied Trade Research Association of Kettering, England. They were very lightweight for their day and had insulating material sandwiched inside a waterproof “envelope” to preserve insulation loft.
The expedition had high-mountain tents with piano-wire stiffeners on the doors and detachable “nylon inners” for extra warmth. At the time, many tents were made of a canvas-like material with a nylon inner tent.
To keep the members warm during the long cold nights they used a nylon-shell sleeping bag with down insulation. They were heavy, weighing in at a hefty nine pounds.
Hillary’s ice axe was constructed of forged steel with a European ash wood handle that was made by Claudius Simond in Chamonix, France.
Hefty steel crampons allowed all the team members to grip solidly on snow and ice.
The expedition used a military-issue aluminium frame which was surprisingly light, weighing just a couple of pounds.
Adding an extra 35-pound of hefty weight to the climbers’ gear they used a closed-circuit oxygen system.
There were no computers back in 1953 so Hillary would write his adventures down on lined paper with a pencil or pen.
The photograph of Tenzing on the summit of Mount Everest was taken with Hillary’s Kodak Retina, a camera that used 35mm film and had a rangefinder body type.
To stay in contact camp-to-camp on the mountain they used walkie-talkies that weighed five pounds each. The dry-cell batteries that it used had to be kept warm under the climbers under clothing.
Hillary and Norgay fuelled up on chicken noodle soup, apricots, tinned fish, lemonade, and plenty of tea.
The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) have kindly given me permission to use the following photographs. They are all © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).