Three months ago they shared a simple nylon tent 5 1/2 miles above sea level, sheltered from gales and bitter cold by the wind shadow of earth's most revered mountain.

They slept fitfully that night, using up half-empty oxygen bottles left behind by Sherpa guides who had brought supplies for their assault on the peak of Mt. Everest.

In the morning it was precious oxygen that cost them the third member of the assault party. Sherpa Ang. Phurba turned back 50 yards into the climb when his equipment froze.

If you missed the CBS-TV documentary on the American Everest expedition Friday night, you missed an engaging look at the two young men who made the costly voyage worthwhile, the 53rd and 54th climbers to view the world from its highest vantage point.

They were in town last week, flown in by CBS and wined and dinned along with 100 guests, courtesy of Rep. John Murphy (D-N.Y.), whose interest in the whole affair has yet to be defined.

They were not hard to spot in the clutter of dark-suited power brokers and brightly swathed Hill women. They stood out in their simplicity.

Bob Cormack,30, tall and slender, softspoken, invitingly disheveled in a baggy green sweater, jeans and moccasins. Chris Chandler, a most unlikely looking physician, 28, spectacularly healthy, with long blond hair to his shoulders, crisp blue eyes and a bronzed, oversized face.

Also on hand was the man who picked them to make the final ascent, expedition leader Phil Trimble, 38, a gentle State Department lawyer who put the voage together in a five-month mad dash of planning and pleading for cash.

Trimble put his finger on the subtle character trait that carried the pair to the top when the odds were bad confidence.

Chandler calls it a "kind of second sense" - being confident that you'll know you're doing something dangerous even though it doesn't seem so at the time, and taking the needed precautions automatically.

The most dangerous point in the venture came after the pair had conquered the peak. They took a calculated risk in making the ascent, ignoring their agreement to turn back at 3 p.m. and make for their tiny tent at Camp 6. At 3 they thought they saw the peak and couldn't resist pressing on. Later they found they'd been looking at a false peak, but still they climbed on.

What that meant was climbing back in the pitch dark for an hour and a half, a chance at a forced bivouac and the inevitable danger of frostbite and exposure.

Was it a conscious meeting of the minds, the decision to go on?

"Oh, I don't know," said Cormack. "I kind of looked at Chris and he looked at me and he said something like 'Let's do it,' and we did." Automatically.

On the way back, Chandler conceded. "Our position was fairly precarious. The only problem was, we didn't know it."

But they knew what to do - that second sense carried them as they groped their way along the ridge and rediscovered Camp 6 in the black Himalayan night.

They knew what to do at a Capitol Hill reception, too. When to smile, when to shake hands, when to speak and when to keep quiet. And best of all, when to sneak out.

Halfway through the second hour while invites were poring over the CBS show excerpts on a telscreen for the second time, Cormack and Chandler were suddenly gone. They were discovered after a short search chatting amiably with a couple of passersby in one of the Rayburn Building's ponderous marble corridors.

They'd found a way out of the maze, even discovered a little bench in a foyer where nobody knew them.

We chatted awhile and later Cormack came over to make one last point.

"I just wanted to say that we're real happy about the publicity, because without it we could never have afforded to climb there. But mostly for me climbing is just a way to get away with your friends. Of course on this trip, with hundreds of people and the cameras, you couldn't do that."

Bob Cormack isn't planning any more Everests, or anything like them. Chris Chandler isn't so sure. "Hey, after you've interviewed the President you don't stop being a reporter right?"