The Theft of the Mona Lisa

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• Part 2: Familiar with the Territory
• Part 3: Success and Worldwide Fame

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Part 3: Success and Worldwide Fame

Hillary and Norgay set out on their historic expedition, led by Englishman John Hunt, in 1953. They reached the south peak in May. At that time, the group thinned out. Those still climbing got to within 300 feet of the summit, where another split occurred. The two who soldiered on were Hillary and Norgay. Braving the extreme altitude, cold, and winds at the "top of the world," they stood atop the summit on May 29, 1953.

Despite their success, they had a rough road ahead of them. The descent of a tall mountain is often more difficult than the ascent. They made it down safely, however, and were hailed as heroes. Hillary, especially, received worldwide recognition. He was knighted by Great Britain's newly crowned queen, Elizabeth II. (New Zealand at that time was still a British entity.) Norgay was given the George Medal, the highest honor given by the British government to non-British citizens.

Since that historic day, others have stood atop the summit of Mount Everest. It continues to beckon climbers the world over.

Hillary continued to explore and to climb mountains, although he never returned to Everest. He returned to Nepal many times and helped the Nepalese people modernize their society. Concerned about the rapidity of forest cutting in the area surrounding Mount Everest, Hillary got his home-country government to finance a project that made that area a National Park. He was also part of a New Zealand group that was the first mechanized expedition to the South Pole and of a jet-boat expedition to the source of India's Ganges River. He was still involved in many causes to that end until he died, in 2008..

Norgay, too, after traveling for many years and being honored around the world, stayed close to the site of his greatest triumph. He continued to live in Darjeeling and was the director of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute for 22 years. He died in 1986. One of his sons reached the summit of Everest 10 years later.

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David White