Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary
Explorer & Philantropist
Born Jul. 20, 1919
Auckland, Dominion of New Zealand
Died Jan. 11, 2008 (at age 88)
Auckland, New Zealand
Nationality New Zealander

Sir Edmund Hillary was a famous New Zealand mountaineer, philanthropist, and explorer. On May 29, 1953, he and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He was also named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Early Life

Hillary was born on July 20, 1919. In 1920, his family moved to Tuakau. This was after his father was given a piece of land there. His grandparents were early settlers in the northern part of Wairoa during the mid-19th century. Hillary was educated at Tuakau Primary School.

He managed to clear his primary school education two years early and when he got to high school, he was an average student. Being a smaller man compared to his peers, he was very shy and therefore took turned all his attention on books and daydreaming about a life full of adventure.

Building Interest in Climbing

Edmund used to board a train each day to and from school. This was a two-hour journey and he spent this time reading. He also got interested in boxing and this greatly boosted his confidence. When he was 16, his interest in climbing grew when he was on a school trip to Mount Ruapehu. Later, he joined the University of Auckland and studied mathematics and science. In 1939, he completed his very first major climb when he reached the summit of Mt. Oliver in the Southern Alps.

Hillary as a Beekeeper

Together with his brother, he became a beekeeper. This served as a summer occupation that allowed him to pursue his passion for climbing in winter. His love for outdoors was developed on tours with the club the club through Waitakere Ranges. His interest in beekeeping led him to commission Michael Ayrton to cast a golden sculpture in a honeycomb shape. This sculpture was placed in his own New Zealand garden. He later took his bees here.

During World War II

When the Second World War started, Edmund Hillary applied to join the Royal Air Force. However, he withdrew his application before it was even considered. He said, he did this because he was harassed by religious conscience. In 1943, Hillary joined the RNZAF to work as a navigator. In 1945, he was sent to Fiji and Solomon Islands. Here he got into a boat accident that left extremely burned. After this incident, he was repatriated to New Zealand.

Hillary’s Early Work

On January 30, 1948, Edmund Hillary, along with three other people, went to the south ridge of Mount Cook; this is New Zealand’s highest peak. In 1951, Edmund was also part of British reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest. In 1953, he joined a British team that attempted Cho Oyo. However, their attempt failed due to the fact that they lacked a good route from the Nepal side.

Everest Expedition

Edmund HillaryDuring a trip to the Alps in 1952, Hillary discovered that together with his friend, George Lowe, they had been invited for the 1953 Everest Expedition attempt. They both accepted. This expedition totaled over 400 people and was a great team effort. Hillary was able to forge a route through the notorious Khumbu Icefall. In 1953, this expedition set up a base camp. Without any rush, they were able to set the final camp at South Col which was 25,900 feet.

The team leader, Hunt, instructed Edmund Hillary and Tenzing to go to the summit. The strong wind and snow helped the two at South Col for two days. The entire journey was tough but they were finally able to reach Everest’s 8,848 foot summit. This is the highest point on earth. The spent 15 minutes at the summit. Soon after, Hillary and Hunt were knighted by the queen.

After Everest

Sir Edmund was able to climb 10 other peaks in the Himalayas. He was also able to reach the South Pole on January 4, 1958. Between 1977 and 1979, he reported on several Antarctic sightseeing flights that were operated by Air New Zealand.

Personal Life

On September 3, 1953, Hillary married Louise Rose and the couple had three children. In 1975, his wife and one of his children were killed. In 1989, he married June Mulgrew. Later in life, his son, Peter Hillary, became a climber. Hillary spent most of his life living in Auckland City. Here he spent his time reading fiction and adventure novels.

On January 11, 2008, he died of heart failure at the age of 88.

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