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Sir Edmund Hillary RIP


Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Hillary was a mountaineer with enormous physical energy. After recovering from burns over 40% of his body, which he had received on board a boat during World War II, he began climbing the highest mountains he could find. In the attempt to climb Everest, he was forced to make a difficult climb from the southwest, as the Chinese had closed off the traditional approach.

“Hillary led George Lowe and George Band up the Khumbu icefall - perhaps the most dangerous part of the entire climb - and established Camp III, the advanced base camp, in the West Cwm. But he had a narrow escape when the ice gave way as he was moving loads up to this camp, plunging him into a crevasse. Fortunately Tenzing, who was following, thrust his ice-axe in the snow, and whipped the rope round it in good belay. It tightened just in time to prevent Hillary being smashed to pieces at the bottom of the crevasse."

"Sir Edmund Hillary, who died late yesterday aged 88, made his name as the first conqueror (with Tenzing Norgay) of Everest on 29 May 1953; just as impressive, though, was the use he made of his renown over the remainder of his life.”

He travelled to the South Pole, searched for the Abominable Snowman (he concluded it did not exist), and out of "deep admiration for the Sherpa people" established the Himalayan Trust in the 1960s. With his wife Louise he established and oversaw the building of 25 schools, two hospitals and a dozen medical clinics, as well as bridges and airfields. The price was very high. Hillary lost his wife and daughter in a plane crash at Kathmandu in 1975.

For the next thirteen years he continued to work for the Sherpa people. His son Peter, who was also a mountaineer, continues to raise money for the Himalayan Trust.

Though Hillary "claimed to feel British first and a New Zealander second, the Kiwi strain was always strong in him". He inspired many, but he found being classified a hero “embarrassing".

Update: More fine details in the New York Times, which remarks that British surveyors established that the Himalayan peak on the Nepal-Tibet border was the highest point on earth in the 19th century. Hillary and Tenzing

"first established a bivouac at 27,900 feet on a rock ledge six feet wide and canted at a 30-degree angle. There, holding their tent against a howling gale as the temperatures plunged to 30 degrees below zero, they spent the night.

At 6:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, cheered by clearing skies, they began the final attack. . ."