I am rereading Annapurna by Maurice Herzog, the account of the first successful ascent of an eight-thousander, which took place in 1950.

In Chapter VII, the following dialog takes place:

[Lachenal, just returned from a reconnaissance]: There are pitches which are easily Grade Five. [Herzog]: Grade Five! ,,,, How on earth do you think Sherpas can climb pitches of that grade? ...... We can fix ropes and by pulling and pushing the Sherpas we'll manage all right.

How did Sherpa climbing evolve from their being "pulled and pushed" to their equality in skill and even pulling and pushing expedition "members" themselves? (For example, Lobsang short-roping Pittman on Everest? Of course, that was no Grade Five.) For some, the equality must have been reached by the time of Hillary's and Norgay's climb, but when and how did reliance on Sherpa technical skills become the norm?

Or was Herzog's evaluation incorrect?

  • what grading system are they using, in that extract, by the way?
    – njzk2
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 17:13
  • 2
    @njzk2 They didn't say. The author and his expedition were all French, and the climb took place in 1950. So whatever system Chamonix guides were using in 1950 to describe Alpine climbs. Grade Six was described as "the limit of the possible", and "Most of the classic expeditions in the Alps are Grade Four."
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 19:47

1 Answer 1


Tenzing got Hillary up Everest in '53 and earlier had been very nearly to the top a few years earlier, with the Swiss. Tenzing's nephew, uncle (or something) Nawang Gombu got J. Whittaker to summit on first American Ev. exped. ten years later. Obviously, it wasn't just chance that sherpas, rather than the rich foreigners, were in those slots. So I'd say by the 1950s Sherpas were totally up to speed. The guiding "industry" as known today in the Himalayas probably began emerging in thye 1980s.

  • 5
    I'm going to plus one your answer, but you are inaccurate in saying that Tenzing "got Hillary up" and that Nawang Gombu "got Whittaker up". Hillary and Whitaker were world-class climbers themselves. However the Sherpas hauled a lot of stuff up Everest and other 8000anders, for their employers. And Hillary and Whittaker and Bonington et al did not pay "scads of $$" to be got up. The era when the Sherpas "got people up" who would NEVER have been able to get themselves up. and who paid $$$$ to be got up, up was well established in the 90s, but exactly when that started, I don't know.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 16 at 20:52

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