Saturday, 12 January 2008
a real loss
Sir Edmund died yesterday. In addition to being known for his exploits he was loved in Napal for all the work he did for the local schools, especially those in the lower range of Chomolungma. His son lives in New Zealand and teaches mountain climbing, as well as a love for the enviroment.
Sir Edmund Hillary, 88, first on Everest
By Robert D. Mcfadden The New York Times
Friday, January 11, 2008
Sir Edmund Hillary, the lanky New Zealand mountaineer and explorer who with Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide, won worldwide acclaim in 1953 by becoming the first to scale the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak, died Friday in Auckland, New Zealand. He was 88.
His death was announced by Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand.
In the annals of great heroic exploits, the conquest of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund and Norgay ranks with the first trek to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen in 1911 and the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight by Charles A. Lindbergh in 1927.
By 1953, nearly a century after British surveyors had established that the Himalayan peak on the Nepal-Tibet border was the highest point on earth, many climbers considered the mountain all but unconquerable. The summit was 5 Â∏ vertical miles above sea level (up where today's jets fly): an otherworldly place of yawning crevasses and 100-mile-an-hour winds, of perpetual cold and air so thin that the human brain and lungs do not function properly in it.
Numerous Everest expeditions had failed, and dozens of experienced mountaineers, including many Sherpas, the Nepalese people famed as climbers, had been killed â•‰ buried in avalanches or lost and frozen in sudden storms that roared over the dizzying escarpments. One who vanished, in 1924, was George Leigh Mallory, known for snapping when asked why climb Everest, "Because it is there!" His body was found in the ice 75 years later, in 1999, about 2,000 feet below the summit.
Sir Edmund and Norgay were part of a Royal Geographical Society-Alpine Club expedition led by Colonel Henry Cecil John Hunt â•‰ 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 Nepal.
After a series of climbs by coordinated teams to establish ever-higher camps on the icy slopes and perilous rock ledges, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans were the first team to attempt the summit, but gave up at 28,720 feet â•‰ 315 feet from the top â•‰ beaten back by exhaustion, a storm that shrouded them in ice and oxygen-tank failures.
Sir Edmund, then 33, and Norgay, 39, made the next assault. They 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. Carrying enough oxygen for seven hours and counting on picking up two partly filled tanks left by Evans and Bourdillon, they moved out. Roped together, cutting toe-holds with their ice axes, first one man leading and then the other, they inched up a steep, knife-edged ridge southeast of the summit.
Halfway up, Sir Edmund recalled in "High Adventure" (1955, Oxford University Press), they discovered soft snow under them. "Immediately I realized we were on dangerous ground," he said. "Suddenly, with a dull breaking noise, an area of crust all around me about six feet in diameter broke off." He slid backward 20 or 30 feet before regaining a hold. "It was a nasty shock," he said. "I could look down 10,000 feet between my legs."
Farther up, they encountered what was later named the Hillary Step â•‰ a sheer face of rock and ice 40 feet high that Sir Edmund called "the most formidable obstacle on the ridge." But they found a vertical crack and managed to climb it by bracing feet against one side and backs against the other. The last few yards to the summit were relatively easy.
"As I chipped steps, I wondered how long we could keep it up," Sir Edmund said. "Then I realized that the ridge, instead of rising ahead, now dropped sharply away. I looked upward to see a narrow ridge running up to a sharp point. A few more whacks of the ice ax and we stood on the summit."
The vast panorama of the Himalayas lay before them: fleecy clouds and the pastel shades of Tibet to the north, and in all directions sweeping ranks of jagged mountains, cloud-filled valleys, great natural amphitheaters of snow and rock, and the glittering Kangshung Glacier 10,000 feet below.
There was a modest celebration. "We shook hands and then, casting Anglo-Saxon formalities aside, we thumped each other on the back until forced to stop from lack of breath," Sir Edmund remembered. They took photographs and left a crucifix for Hunt, the expedition leader. Norgay, a Buddhist, buried biscuits and chocolate as an offering to the gods of Everest. Then they ate a mint cake, strapped on their oxygen tanks and began the climb down.
Four days later, the news was flashed around the world as a coronation gift of sorts to Queen Elizabeth II, who was crowned in Westminster Abbey on June 2. "We tuned into the BBC for a description of the queen's coronation, and to our great excitement heard the announcement that Everest had been climbed," Sir Edmund recalled in his autobiography, "Nothing Venture, Nothing Win" (1975, Hodder & Stoughton). The queen promptly made Edmund Hillary a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, while Norgay received the George Medal of Britain and other honors.
Worldwide heroes overnight, they were greeted by huge crowds in India and London. A controversy over whether Sir Edmund or Norgay had been first to stand on the summit threatened briefly to mar the celebrations, but Hunt declared, "They reached it together, as a team." It was not until 1999, in his book "View from the Summit" (Doubleday), that Sir Edmund broke his silence about which of the two men had reached the peak first. He wrote that it was he, not Norgay.
"We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope," he wrote. "I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction." He added, "Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked round in wonder."
Sir Edmund continued his life of adventure, climbing mountains and once crossing the Antarctic, lecturing and making public appearances, and serving as New Zealand's high commissioner, or ambassador, to India, Bangladesh and Nepal from 1985 to 1988.
Like Sir Edmund, Norgay, whose name was sometimes rendered Norkay, never again tried to climb Everest. He died in 1986.
In more than five decades since the first successful assault on what climbers call the top of the world, more than 3,000 people, including Sir Edmund's son, Peter, and Norgay's son, Jamling, have reached the summit of Everest, while more than 200 have died in the attempt, 8 of them in a 1996 expedition that was savaged by a blizzard.
Today, Everest expeditions are almost commonplace. On a single day in 2003, 118 people were reported to have made it. Some veteran climbers have criticized the "commercialism" and "circus atmosphere" surrounding Everest climbing. Sir Edmund added his voice to the lament in 2003 as crowds gathered for the 50th anniversary celebrations in Katmandu, Nepal.
Tough, rawboned, 6 feet 5 inches tall, with a long leathery and wrinkled face, Sir Edmund was an intelligent but unsophisticated man with tigerish confidence on a mountain but little taste for formal social doings. For many years after the Everest climb, he continued to list his occupation as beekeeper â•‰ his father's pursuit â•‰ and he preferred to be known as Ed.
During the Southern Hemisphere summer of 1957-58 a British Commonwealth team that included Sir Edmund crossed the Antarctic on an overland route that traversed the South Pole. No one had reached the South Pole since Amundsen in 1911, and no one had ever crossed Antarctica.
The expedition, using tractors, was led by Sir Vivian Fuchs, but Sir Edmund and a party of New Zealanders made the dash over the pole. There was debate afterward about credit, but a book by Sir Edmund and Sir Vivian belittled the differences.
In 1960, Sir Edmund led a highly publicized but unsuccessful search for the Abominable Snowman. And in 1985, accompanied by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, Sir Edmund flew a twin-engine ski plane over the Arctic and landed at the North Pole. He thus became the first to stand at both poles and on the summit of Everest.
Sir Edmund wrote or was a co-author of 13 books, including "No Latitude for Error" (1961, Hodder & Stoughton), about the Antarctic experience. He also formed a foundation, the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust, which raised millions and built schools, clinics, airfields and other facilities for the Sherpa villages in Nepal. For many years, Sir Edmund was president of New Zealand's Peace Corps and an important voice in his country's conservation efforts.
Edmund Percival Hillary was born July 20, 1919, in Tuakau, near Auckland, the son of Percival Augustus Hillary and Gertrude Clark Hillary. His father was a commercial beekeeper, and Edmund and a younger brother, Rexford, worked on the family farm.
Edmund began climbing as a youth while attending public schools in Auckland. He went to Auckland University and served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II.
After the war he took climbing instruction from leading alpinists, began to specialize in ice-climbing techniques, climbed in the Swiss Alps and got to know British mountaineers with Himalayan experience. He began climbing peaks of more than 20,000 feet in Nepal. As his reputation grew, Hunt chose him as a member of the 1953 expedition that conquered Everest.
Four months after Everest, Sir Edmund married Louise Mary Rose, the daughter of a mountain climber. They had three children, Peter, Sarah and Belinda. In 1975, Lady Louise and Belinda were killed when their small plane crashed on takeoff from Katmandu Airport.
In 1979, Sir Edmund was to have been commentator on an Air New Zealand sightseeing flight over the Antarctic but had to withdraw because of a schedule conflict. His friend and fellow mountaineer Peter Mulgrew took his place. The plane crashed on Mount Erebus, a volcano on Ross Island in McMurdo Sound, and all 257 aboard were killed. Sir Edmund married June Mulgrew, his friend's widow, in 1989. Besides Lady June, Sir Edmund is survived by his daughter, Sarah, his son, Peter, and six grandchildren.
A footnote to the lore of Everest was added in 1999. Using global positioning system equipment, an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society and others revised the elevation of the summit upward by 7 feet, to 29,035 from 29,028.
Standing atop that pinnacle in 1953 was an experience Sir Hillary would recollect many times in lectures and quiet conversations.
"The whole world around us lay spread out like a giant relief map," he told one interviewer. "I am a lucky man. I have had a dream and it has come true, and that is not a thing that happens often to men."