“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”
Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand on this day in 1919. He would have turned 93 today.
Hillary’s interest in mountain climbing was sparked on a field trip at 16 to Mount Ruapehu. The first mountain he climbed was Mount Ollivier in the Sealy Range on the country’s South Island in 1939. He became a beekeeper with his brother Rex, an occupation that left ample time for mountain climbing in the off season.
During WWII he joined the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) as a navigator.
After the War he continued to climb his own country’s mountains, concurring Aorki/Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest peak) in January of 1948. Next he travelled to Europe and tackled the Alps.
In 1951 Hillary went to the Himalayas. He joined expeditions in 1951 and 1952 to recon Everest. In 1952 He was part of a team that attempted (but didn’t reach) the summit of Cho Oyu from the South side.
And in 1953 he was part of team to attempt 29,035ft summit of Everest. The group established 9 camps on the mountain (some of which are still in use today.) On May 26 the first team, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans tried for the peak. They got to about 300 ft from the summit but had to turn back. Problems with their oxygen tanks, bad weather and a fall had worked against them.
So, the second team, Hillary and Tenzin Norgay made preparations for the ultimate climb. They woke early, but Hillary’s frozen boots caused a 2 hour delay before they set off to forge the summit. They left camp at 6:30 pm. Almost at the top of the mountain they encountered a nearly vertical 40ft rock face. Hillary found a way to climb it by wedging his way up a crack. (The rock formation is now called the “Hillary Step.”) at 11:30 on May 29th, 1953 the two men stood at the top of the world.
Hillary‘s itch to explore turned to the Antarctic and in 1955-1958 he led the New Zealand party of the Commonwealth Tran-Antarctic expedition and participated in the first mechanized expedition tot he South Pole.
In 1985 he joined with another famous explorer, Neil Armstrong, for a flight over the Arctic Ocean. The two landed at the North Pole, and Hillary became the first person to reach the northern most, southern most and highest point on Earth. (Armstrong, of course had gone a bit further.)
He returned to Nepal in the 1960s on several philanthropic missions to help the people. There he helped build clinics, hospitals and schools for the Nepalese people. He enlisted the help of the New Zealand government to provide aid and technical support to Nepal in setting up the agencies needed to establish and run Everest National Park and the tourist industry that grew around climbing the peak. He spent the rest of his life working to help the Nepalese people.