11 January, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary: A Legend

Sir Edmund Hillary, a pioneering conqueror of Everest, dies at 88 today. He together with his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, won worldwide acclaim on May 29, 1953 by becoming the first to scale the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest.

Edmund Percival Hillary was born on July 20, 1919, in Tuakau, near Auckland, the son of Percival Augustus Hillary and Gertrude Clark Hillary. His father, originally a journalist, was a commercial beekeeper, and Edmund and a younger brother, Rexford, worked on the family farm.

In more than five decades since the first successful climb of Mount Everest, more than 3,000 people have reached the summit of Everest, while more than 200 have died in the attempt, 8 of them in 1996 expedition that was savaged by a blizzard and chronicled in 'Into Thin Air" (Jon Krakauer, Villard Books, 1997).

Sir Edmund is a lanky New Zealand mountaineer stood at 6 feet 5 inches. He as a tough, rawboned with a long leathery and wrinkled face, intelligent and unsophisticated man with tigerish confidence on a mountain but little taste for formal social doings.

Sir Edmund and Mr. Norgay were part of a Royal Geographical Society-Alpine Club expedition led by Col. Henry Cecil John Hunt - a siege group that included a dozen climbers, 35 Sherpa guides and 350 porters carrying 18 tons of food and equipment. Their route was the treacherous South Tor, facing toward Nepal.

Edmund loved climbing and at the age of 16 spent a weekend on Mount Ruapehu, a 9,175-foot dormant volcano in New Zealand. Each year after that he climbed New Zealand's Southern Alps.
He attended public schools in Auckland and Auckland University, and served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II. After the war he resumed climbing seriously, taking instruction from leading alpinists and specializing in ice-climbing techniques. In 1950, he climbed in the Swiss Alps and got to know British mountaineers with Himalayan experience. The next year he joined a New Zealand expedition and climbed peaks of more than 20,000 feet in Nepal.

Sir Eric Shipton, the veteran Himalayan climber, took him on an expedition to reconnoiter the south face of Everest. Sir Edmund performed so well that he was invited to join the 1952 British expedition to Cho Oyu, which tested high-altitude equipment. As his reputation grew, Colonel Hunt chose him as a member of the 1953 expedition that conquered Everest.

Sir Edmund wrote or co-authored 13 books. His famous autobiography quoted in "Nothing Venture, Nothing Win" (1975, Hodder & Stoughton). His other book about the Antarctic expedition is "No Latitude for Error" (1961, Hodder & Stoughton).

Reference "New York Times (January 10, 2008)"

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