Everest 1953 The Epic Story of the First Ascent

The compelling story of the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Based on newly released diaries, documents and letters it reveals the inside story of the epic expedition to the world’s highest mountain.


Conefrey describes this frenetic scramble for ownership of the mountain brilliantly … As I read the book, I often found myself deeply moved. It is a tale of great courage, and – poignantly – of a world that has passed.

– Justin Cartwright, The Guardian

A fascinating piece of documentary writing, as readable and poignant as Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air or Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void.

– Joanna Kavenna, The Spectator

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Book cover Everest 1953


Oneworld Publications
First Edition 18-10-2012
hardback, paperback
16 x 3.4 x 23.7 cm


For British climbers of the 1920s and 1930s, Everest was quite simply ‘our mountain’. It didn’t matter that it was over 4,500 miles away on the border of two of the most remote countries in the world, countries that weren’t even part of the British Empire. To paraphrase the poet Rupert Brooke, it was a foreign field that would be forever England. The British had measured it, named it, photographed it, flown over it and died on it. And so they assumed that one day a British mountaineer would be first to its summit.

Alternative Text for this image
1953 Heathrow Arrival – Union Jack. Left to right: Tenzing’s two daughters, a UK-team member’s daughter, Hunt, Tenzing, Hillary; Ed Webster Collection.

Everest 1953, is the remarkable inside story of the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Drawing on dozens of interviews with expedition members and their families, unprecedented access to diaries and letters, and several years of research in archives around the world, it sheds dramatic new light on this historic expedition. What has gone down in history as a supremely well-planned attempt was in fact dominated by crises from beginning to end. Far from enjoying a smooth path to the summit, the team had to overcome endless problems on and off the mountain.

Everest 1953 begins with the intrigues and backstairs manoeuvring which led the to the sacking of the expedition’s first leader, Eric Shipton, the legendary mountaineer, and climaxes with the totally unexpected and bitter arguments over who actually got to the top first. What emerges during the dramatic narrative is a set of fascinating characters who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances, which required huge reserves of physical and emotional courage to survive and ultimately to triumph.

John Hunt the leader of the expedition was a war hero and serving officer in the British army. Outwardly he sported an archetypal stiff upper lip but as his letters and diary reveal, he was an incredibly passionate man who flogged himself to death for the sake of victory on Everest. Edmund Hillary, one of the two climbers to reach the summit, was not the humble bee-keeper that he has so often been portrayed as but rather a complex, deeply competitive figure for whom Everest was a transforming experience. No less fascinating was his partner Tenzing Norgay who fell out so publicly with the other members of the team at the end of the expedition.

2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing’s courageous first ascent. This is the first book since 1956 to devote itself entirely to the expedition.