A remarkable achievement, and even with the cheapening and commercialization of the Everest experience since then, it will always remain so.
It would seem almost as though there were a cordon drawn round the upper part of these great peaks beyond which no man may go. The truth of course lies in the fact that, at altitudes of 25,000 feet and beyond, the affects of low atmospheric pressure on the human body are so severe that really difficult mountaineering is impossible and the consequences even of a mild storm may be deadly, that nothing but the most perfect combinations of weather and snow offers the slightest chance of success, and that on the last lap of the climb no party is in position to choose its day...
No, it is not remarkable that Everest did not yield to the first few attempts; indeed it would have been very surprising and not a little sad if it had, for that is not the way of great mountains. Perhaps we had become a little arrogant with our fine new technique of ice-claw and rubber slipper, our age of easy mechanical conquest. We had forgotten that the mountain still holds the master card, that it will grant success only in its own good time. Why else does mountaineering retain its deep fascination?
Upon that Mountain - 1938
Interestingly, last month (April 2013) was the 50th anniversary of the 1963 American expedition which put 5 Americans and one Sherpa on the summit, and included the legendary West Ridge first ascent/first traverse by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld. The PI's Joel Connelly wrote a nice article about the 50th anniversary re-release of Hornbein's classic eponymous Everest book by The Mountaineers. According to MountEverest.net there have only been 5 successful summits against 9 fatalities on that route, the worst record of all the Everest routes.
And to think that Hillary Clinton was named after him in order to show her "farsightedness". But I think her hyphenated feminist middle name is Ben-gahzi.