Remembering Sir Edmund Hillary

One of those few people to achieve the unachievable, to make possible the impossible, Sir Edmund Hillary, the legendary mountaineer who conquered the Mount Everest along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953, passed away on 11 January 2008 at the age of 88. He succumbed to a heart attack in an Auckland hospital on Friday.He had been ill for sometime and it was reported by the local media that he had pneumonia.

Hillary, whose vocation was beekeeping and passion mountaineering, achieved triumph and fame at the age of 33 when he scaled the highest peak. In 1953, Hillary had been chosen by British expedition leader John Hunt for the grand task of taming the Everest due to his experience in the Himalayas and his immense strength. Tenzing was chosen as his partner. They faced many hardships in the harsh, unwelcoming terrain of the Mount Everest but ultimately crossed all barriers, mental and physical, to achieve success.

After fellow expeditioners, Bourdillon and Evans, failed to reach the top due to failure of oxygen system, Hillary and Tenzing were given the go ahead by Hunt. On 26 May, at 11: 30 am, the duo reached the summit, thereby engraving their names in the world records. It is said that there are no photographs of Hillary on the summit as Tenzing did not know how to use the camera!!

Their feat ensured them huge media coverage and soon, they were celebrities whose names have become synonymous in textbooks with leaders and revolutionaries of all times. Hillary’s exuberance got immortalized in this one famous quote, “Well George, we finally knocked the bastard off.”. It speaks for itself. Unlike many mountaineers, Hillary did not consider climbing the Everest as a “spiritual experience”. After this extraordinary triumph, Hillary continued with his affair with the mountains. On different visits, he climbed ten peaks of the Himalayas. In 1985, he was appointed New Zealand High Commissioner (ambassador) to India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and spent four and a half years based in New Delhi. In 1985, he accompanied Neil Armstrong in a small twin-engine ski plane over the Arctic Ocean and landed at the North Pole. He thus became the first man to stand at both poles and on the summit of Everest, another great feather in his cap. Sir Hillary commemorated the 50th anniversary of the founding of Scott Base, travelling especially to Antarctica for that. Hillary was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire on 6 June 1953; a member of the Order of New Zealand in 1987; and a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 22 April 1995. Many streets, schools and organizations have been named after him in New Zealand.

The fame, love, admiration that he received from the public, he returned it by helping the underprivileged. He founded a Himalayan Trust, dedicated to the cause of helping the Sherpa’s. His earnest efforts have ensuredthat about US$250,000 were raised a year, building 26 schools, two hospitals, an airport and providing scholarships for Sherpa children in the Himalayan nation, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains including Mount Everest.

New Zealand flags flew at half mast at Scott Base in Antarctica on Friday, mourning the loss of one of the greatest adventurers of the 20th century.

“The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived. But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi,” New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Friday in announcing Hillary’s death.

Nepali Sherpa friends of Sir Edmund Hillary, who died on Friday, lit butter lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries for the mountaineer, calling him a great philanthropist and friend of Nepal. Tenzing Norgay died in 6 May 1986.

Sir Edmund Hillary was one of the Greats who managed to achieve the unachievable and became immortal. He will remain an inspiration for humanity for generations to come. His grit and determination is worth emulating. Not only was he a great mountaineer, post victory he also showed the greatness within him as a human being.

On 26 May 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became immortalized and found their feat imprinted in the pages of history. Both have left this world but their imprints in the sands of time will last forever.

Shravya Jain