Sonam Wangyal took birth in the family of Sonam Stobdan, a numberdar, and Tsewang Dolma, a homemaker, on 8 January 1942. Unfortunately, he lost his mother when he was eight. After his matriculation, he got his first job as a primary school teacher in Basgo village on 31 March 1957. Exactly a year later, however, he quit his job to become a clerk in the local forest department. A year later, he quit this job too to enlist with the Indo-Tibetan Border Force (ITBF).
He got posted at the Chang Chenmo river valley located near the disputed India-China border. Taking instructions from Deputy Superintendent SP Tyagi, a senior officer serving in the Central Reserve Police (which we know today as CRPF) and Karam Singh, a Deputy Central Intelligence Officer (DCIO) with the ITBF, he was part of a brutal encounter with Chinese forces on 21 October 1959 at Hot Springs.
Apart from his career in defence, he also has a cheerful career at mountain climbing too. In September 1964, he received a letter from the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence, confirming his selection for a pre-Everest expedition in Darjeeling scaling the Rathong peak, which doubled up as a selection test for the Everest expedition. Before that army made two unsuccessful attempts in 1960 and 1962 to climb Everest.
At 12.30 pm on 22 May 1965, he along with his partner reached the summit, where they spent 55 minutes. At the summit, he took out a ring his late mother had given him and pitched a small Indian flag along with it. But on their descent, when they reached Hillary Step, his partner realized that he had forgotten to place the idol of Lord Ganesh on the summit. So, he went solo to the summit once again and placed the idol there.
Scaling Mt. Everest changed Wangyal’s life forever. He was honoured by many national awards for this achievement. He went back to his unit, became an officer, spent years defending borders and getting posted in various parts of the nation. He also served as Principal of the Sonam Gyatso Mountaineering Institute, Sikkim for 14 years (1976-1990). During his career, he trained many to climb Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga. He retired from service on 31 January 1998.