Nawang Gombu
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KOLKATA, India (AP) - Sherpa mountaineer Nawang Gombu, the youngest on Sir Edmund Hillary's climbing team that first scaled Mount Everest in 1953, died on Sunday at his Indian home at the foot of the Himalayas. He was 79.

Friends and family were at Gombu's bedside when he died after a brief illness in Darjeeling, about 400 miles (650 kilometers) north of Kolkata, his son Kursung Phinjo Gombu said.

The first person to summit Everest twice, Gombu was considered one of the last of the so-called "Tigers of the Snow" - a small group of Sherpa mountaineers who scaled the Himalayas to bring fame and prestige to their ethnic community that originates from the mountains of eastern Tibet and Nepal.

Known for their hardiness, expert regional knowledge and unwillingness to leave any man behind, the Sherpa mountaineers formed the backbone of India's Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the trekking industry based in Darjeeling. Among the Sherpas, many of the highest mountains were worshipped as gods.

Gombu was about 21 when he joined his uncle Tenzing Norgay and Hillary on the famous 1953 expedition, but he did not reach the top of the world's highest mountain until 10 years later when he guided the first American expedition led by mountaineer Jim Whittaker to the summit. The 1963 expedition members were then invited to the White House, where Gombu placed a traditional white katha-style scarf around the neck of President John F. Kennedy.

Gombu achieved fame two years later as the first to summit Everest twice, when he guided an Indian team to the top. He is also credited with pioneering dozens of new routes through the Himalayas and helping to open the region to tourists and trekkers seeking new and increasingly extreme climbing challenges.

"He was not only an outstanding climber, Gombu was fine person who guided Indian mountaineering to a greater height," said retired Navy Capt. Mohan Singh Kohli, who le ad the 1965 Indian Everest expedition. "Gombu's death left a big void in the adventure field of the country."

Born and raised in Tibet, the young Gombu migrated with his family to neighboring Nepal before finally settling in Darjeeling. He began working as a Mountaineering Institute instructor when the adventure school was set up in 1954 and later served as director of field training when his uncle retired. He and Norgay had been among the first Sherpas to complete a Swiss mountain guide course in 1954.

Gombu's career includes numerous Indian and international awards including a Coronation Medal from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and a Hubbard Medal from the National Geographic Society for his climbing feats.

He is survived by his sister, his wife Sita, his son, four daughters and nine grandchildren. A funeral is planned on Thursday in Darjeeling.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press
Published in Chicago Sun-Times on Apr. 24, 2011.
Memories & Condolences
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27 entries
October 26, 2017
Nawang was an inspiration to me for life. He once told me in climbing school," Steve If you can concur the mountain, you can concur the valley below!" A metaphor for life.
Steve Napolitano
July 17, 2014
Julie, David and Robert Palais with Nawang Gombu Aug. 8, 1974
I learned of Nawang Gombu's death recently from a friend who climbed with him in Bhutan in 2005. The attached photo is of my brothers and I when we met Nawang Gombu as children back in August of 1974. I remember him as a nice, gentle man. He was a legend.
Julie Palais
July 17, 2014
Julie, Robert and David Palais with Nwang Gombu at Mt. Rainier-Aug. 8, 1974
Julie Palais
May 14, 2011
I am extremely sorry to hear about Gambu's demise, my prayers are with the family.
Imram Ali
May 7, 2011
Thank you for being our "liaison officer" during our 1983 Atlantic College trek. No need to look at the photos to remember your extraordinary smile, energy and simplicity.
Françoise Vial-Vey
May 7, 2011
Dear Phinjo,
My sincerest condolences to you and your family. Your father was truly an exceptional man.
Radmila Vujovic (Martinovic)
Radmila Vujovic
May 6, 2011
My deepest condolences to Gombu's family; his wife, son, daugthers, sons and daughters in law and grand children

Poul Breil-Hansen / Denmark
Poul Breil-Hansen
April 29, 2011
We are very sorry for the untimely demise. Mr Gombu has made all of us proud with his distinguish achievements in mountaineering nationally and internationally. May God give strength to his family to bear the loss.

Satish Mehta, NASA, USA
Suman Mehta
Satish Mehta
April 26, 2011
Gombu, a kind, gentle, and humble man. You pinned our ice axes on us at Paradise Inn and helped with our crampons at Camp Muir. We were honored. May your family find comfort knowing others remember you not only as a renowned Mountaineer but as a good person. (one of the "Breast Ladies") Sincere Condolences.
Nancy Rogers
April 26, 2011
Sorry about your lost. Remember the good times and great joy he bought you.
John3:16 God loved the world so much that
he gave us his son.
April 26, 2011
Gombu had such an endearing smile and gentle way about him. His ways gave you courage to climb higher than you dreamed possible. The “Breast Ladies” thank you for the dream. My deepest sympathy to you and your family. Cindy Seelaus
Cindy Seelaus
April 26, 2011
"I have climbed my mountain ,but I must still live my life" Tenzing Norgay..

One of the greatest climbing families in the known world. Thank you for opening a path to the top of the World. Rest in Peace..

A fan of adventure
Joanne S. Kelly Stonington CT
Joanne Kelly
April 26, 2011
I had the great fortune of spending a few summers with Gombu at Mt. Rainier when I worked as a climbing Ranger for the NPS. Those summers were some of the best times of my live. The times we spent hiking up to Camp Muir and talking made a lasting impression on me. Gombu's gentle nature and quiet unassuming ways were inspiring. The memories will last a lifetime. Climb Free My Friend. John Loehr - Montana
John Loehr
April 25, 2011
At Gombu's home - photo taken by Phursumba
We will never forget our dear friend Gombu. He was so kind and gentle with a lovely smile and twinkle in his eye. He was a great help to the "Breast Ladies" on their climb for breast cancer research. We will never forget visiting him and his wife at their home in Darjeeling on one of Phursumba's treks. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, God bless.
Peggy Shimono
April 25, 2011
May the love of friends and family carry you through your grief.
April 25, 2011
The world has lost another true hero and inspirational man. May his family find comfort in knowing he was such a great soul and that his life inspired many
Frank Abissi
April 25, 2011
This world has lost another MAN.
May the fierce winds that you knew here turn to gentle breezes for you from now on.

April 25, 2011
April 25, 2011
While I'm saddened to read of the death of another mountaineering pioneer, I hope his family takes comfort in knowing that Nawang's life still inspires, his work led the way for so many thankful followers, and the weight of age has been lifted from his strong shoulders.

Rest easy, and enjoy the view from the highest of high places.

Shawn K., United States
April 24, 2011
One of the greats, for sure. Fare thee well, Gombu.
R Ackert
April 24, 2011
To the the family of Nawang Gombu - May God give you peace and comfort through his word and the Lord Jesus Christ during this time of sorrow, I know that he will be missed by many.
R Golay
April 24, 2011
We were so lucky to be his American family for 17 summers on Mount Rainier.
Thank you Sita and family for sharing your wonderful husband and father with us. We have lost a brother too and share your sorrow.
All our Love,
Ingrid & Lou
Ingrid & Lou Whittaker
April 24, 2011
Gombu giving Budha statue to Lou at his home
Ingrid & Lou Whittaker
April 24, 2011
HMI 2008
Ingrid & Lou Whittaker
April 24, 2011
Lou and Gombu on our last trek in Bhutan in 2008
Ingrid & Lou Whittaker
April 24, 2011
Petite and unassuming, he was a hero to generations of West Bengal mountaineers. It was a pleasure to hear him talk about mountaineering. May the sun shine warm upon his back in the great alpine meadow in the sky.
Yana Bey
April 24, 2011
A life well lived. Thank you for being you. Pamela El Paso TX USA
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