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 ╉ 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 ╉ 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 ╉ 315 feet from the top ╉ 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 ╉ 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 ╉ his father's pursuit ╉ 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."


Richard Havers said...

Not just a brave man but also a compassionate man who did an awful lot of good work after his climb. He would say his best and most important

Pamela Jeanne said...

After reading "Into Thin Air" I have all new respect for Sir Edmund. Unlike many who climb today for the bragging rights, he did it without all of the technical assistance available today, he did it as an old school explorer.

Sparx said...

A nice tribute, thanks for reprinting that. Thinking about his climb of verest always makes me think that there are so few things left to conquer anymore in this world, except for the things that lie within, perhaps.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I agree , Lady M - a real hero. You have written a fine tribute to him.

jmb said...

Thanks for sharing this Lady Mac. He certainly was remembered for that great feat.

rilly super said...

I always feel the world is the poorer when chaps like this are lost to it . A lovely rememeberence lady macleod

jams o donnell said...

He was truly a great man. A sad loss indeed

nepalwriter said...

I had the privilege of meeting Sir Edmund Hillary twice, once in Colorado and once in Namche in the Everest region where I used to lead treks to the base camp. He dedicated his life to helping the Sherpas who were such a critical part of his first ascent. Beyond the Summit is the first work to dramatize their lives in fiction. Hillary's work in the area is mentioned frequently as well as his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay.
Details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to [www]

Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

Conflict and dialog keep this gripping story of destiny, romance and adventure moving from the first page to the last paragraph. LeBlanc has a genius for bonding her readers and her characters. I found I was empathizing in turn with each character as they faced their own personal crisis or trauma.
Richard Blake for Readers Views.

A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest.

A hard-hitting blend of adventure and romance which deserves a spot in any serious fiction collection. Midwest Book Review

LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

LeBlanc’s vivid description of the Himalayas and the climbing culture makes this a powerful read. Rocky Mt News Pick of the Week

A rich adventure into the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom. Fantastic story-telling from one who has been there.

This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
– John (college professor)

Memorable characters and harrowing encounters with the mountains keep the action moving with a vibrant balance of vivid description and dialogue. Literary Cafe Host, Healdsburg, CA

This superbly-crafted novel will land you in a world of unimaginable beauty, adventure, and romance. The love story will keep you awake at night with its vibrant tension and deep rich longing. Wick Downing, author of nine novels

Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

Available through Barnes and Noble, Borders,,, and the web site

lady macleod said...

I could not agree more!
Thank you for coming by.

pamela jeanne
Yes! and no one hauled them up the mountain for some 65thousand dollars (yuk). Really we don't want to start me on this...
Thank you for coming by.

Oh there are still adventures to be had lass! Trust me.
Thank you for coming by.

Thank you, and thank you for coming by.

Indeed. Thank you for coming by.

rilly super
Indeed it is. Thank you for coming by.

Thank you for coming by.

Thank you for your comments, and thank you for coming by.