Sir Edmund Hillary was the man to conquer Mount Everest. Read this ThrillSpire article for some interesting facts about him. Also find information about his expedition to Mt. Everest as well as his life after that.
Life’s a bit like mountaineering – never look down. ~ Edmund Hillary
A mountaineer, an author, a humanitarian, a man of guts, and the first man on earth to reach both its poles and its highest point Mount Everest, was Edmund Hillary.
✦ Hillary was born on 20th July 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand.
✦ He was a mediocre student at school. He was very shy and his only recourse were his books and his daydreams. He dreamed of a very adventurous life. He regularly took time out for reading.
✦ He gained confidence after learning to box. During a school trip to mount Ruapehu, his interest in mountain climbing was actuated, when he found himself better than the rest. He found that he had good physical strength and endurance.
✦ After the completion of schooling, he took to beekeeping, following the footsteps of his father.
✦ Edmund Hillary married Louise Mary Rose in 1953. They had three children.
✦ He lost his wife in 1975.
✦ In 1989, he married June Mulgrew, the widow of his friend Peter Mulgrew.
✦ Peter Hillary, son of Edmund Hillary, followed the footsteps of his father to reach Mount Everest in 1990. With this, they became the first father and son to reach Everest.
The Everest Expedition
✦ Edmund Hillary breasted Mount Ollivier in 1939, thus completing his first major climb.
✦ In 1951, he joined the British reconnaissance expedition to Everest. The expedition was led by Eric Shipton.
✦ The British team led again by Eric Shipton attempted an expedition to mount Cho Oyu, which is in the Himalayas, 20 km west of Mount Everest, at the border between China and Nepal.
✦ Edmund Hillary accompanied by George Lowe was a part of that team. This expedition failed. Later, Hillary and Lowe were invited for the approved British summit to the Everest in 1953.
✦ Hillary wanted to climb with his friend Lowe, but the two teams selected were, one of Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans and other one of Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The expedition began in March 1953 at the base camp. It was led by John Hunt.
✦ The final camp of Mt. Everest expedition was set up at South Col (in Khumbu), at 25,900 feet. Once a mountaineer is on the South Col, he is said to have entered the ‘death zone’.
✦ Edmund Hillary and Tenzing were detained there for two days due to harsh weather conditions.
✦ They reached a height of 27,900 feet on May 28, 1953.
✦ On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay set off for their final ascension to mount Everest. They reached Everest at 11.30 a.m. They were at a height of 29,028 feet, feeling ‘on top of the world’ indeed!
✦ There they spent only 15 minutes. Hillary took Tenzing’s picture. Tenzing, not knowing how to use a camera, could not take Hillary’s photograph. It is a little ironic that there exists no photograph of Hillary on mount Everest.
✦ The King of Nepal declared that it was Tenzing who reached the summit first. However, in his autobiography in 1955, Tenzing confessed that Hillary was the first one to reach the summit but had never given it much importance and had rather regarded it as their collective achievement.
✦ Their descent on the snow-covered track had to be made carefully. After meeting Lowe, Edmund exclaimed, “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off”.
Feats after the Everest Summit
✦ Hillary became the Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire on June 6, 1953.
✦ In 1960, he established the Himalayan Trust as an international non-profit organization that helped the Sherpa people of Nepal. He led this trust until death.
✦ He worked towards building hospitals and schools in the remote areas of the Himalayas.
✦ The American Himalayan Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to improve the environment and living conditions in the Himalayas. Edmund Hillary served as its Honorary President. He also held this position for Mountain Wilderness, an NGO that works for protecting mountains.
✦ Hillary surmounted ten other Himalayan peaks.
✦ He headed a team to the South Pole. It was for the first time ever that a team of people had reached the South Pole on motorcycles.
✦ He was awarded the Polar Medal for his Antarctic expedition. Two geographical features of Antarctica; namely, the Hillary Coast and the Hillary Canyon have been named after him.
✦ Later, he led a jet boat journey from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source. It was called ‘Ocean to Sky’.
✦ From 1977 to 1979, Hillary was a commentator on many Antarctic sightseeing flights of Air New Zealand.
✦ On November 28, 1979, he was supposed to commentate on Air New Zealand Flight 901, from which he opted out due to other commitments. His friend Peter Mulgrew took his place. Unfortunately, this plane crashed and killed Mulgrew along with 257 passengers.
✦ He, along with Neil Armstrong, landed on the North Pole in 1985. He boasts of being the first man to reach both the poles and also conquer Mount Everest.
✦ Hillary participated in the 1975 General Elections.
✦ He was appointed as the New Zealand High Commissioner to India in 1985.
✦ On February 6, 1987, he was the fourth appointee to the Order of New Zealand.
✦ Many organizations and streets in New Zealand have been named after him.
✦ He was appointed Knight Companion of The Most Noble Order of the Garter on April 22, 1995.
✦ The Nepalese Government awarded him the citizenship of their country. Again, he was the first foreigner receiving this honor from the Nepal Government.
✦ In June 2004, he was honored with Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
✦ According to a poll conducted by the Reader’s Digest in 2005, Edmund Hillary was the most trusted individual of New Zealand, the title he retained until death.
✦ At the start of 2007, he traveled to Antarctica on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Scott Base.
✦ ‘Padma Vibhushan’ is the second highest civilian honor of India. Hillary was given this honor by the Indian Government in 2008.
✦ Time Magazine has named him as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.
✦ The Tenzing-Hillary Airport (also called Lukla airport), in Nepal has been named after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Lukla is where most climbers begin their expedition to the Everest Base Camp. This has made the airport popular.
✦ In 1992, Hillary was featured on the $5 note. He urged to have mount Cook on the background of his picture. He was the first person to be showcased on a note when alive.
✦ Edmund Hillary died on 11th January 2008 at the Auckland City Hospital, New Zealand.
✦ New Zealand’s flag was at half-mast to mark his death.
✦ Prime Minister Helen Clark called Hillary a ‘quintessential Kiwi’ and described his death as a profound loss to New Zealand.
✦ The Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation organized “Summits for Ed”, the first major public tribute that invited people to come together to climb a hill or mountain and pay their respect to him. People were invited to bring rocks or pebbles that would be included in a memorial to him.
In a tribute to Hillary, Claire Harvey wrote, “Sir Ed was everything a good bastard ought to be – modest and humorous, brave and compassionate, and just grouchy enough to remind us he never sought, nor particularly enjoyed, adulation”.