Thursday, January 10, 2008

Edmond Hillary (1919-2008)

Sir Edmond Hillary, a member of the first party to climb Mt. Everest (also known as Sagarmatha or Chomolungma), died today in New Zealand at the age of 88. He and his Sherpa partner and friend, Tenzing Norgay (1914-86), never revealed who was the first to actually set foot on the summit—an issue that Hillary considered "irrelevant." After summiting in 1953, Hillary went on to climb more Himalayan peaks until he began to show susceptibility to high-altitude pulmonary edema, a condition that can be fatal. He was the first person to stand on the highest mountain on the planet and both the north and south poles .

Hillary devoted much of his life to the work of the Himalayan Trust, which built schools, health centers and hospitals for the impoverished Sherpa of Nepal. The Trust has also initiated major reforestation projects. Hillary was knighted in 1953 and later became an honorary citizen of Nepal, the first foreigner to receive that distinction.

Hillary was an old-school alpinist who had little tolerance for the industrial-scale, summit-obsessed style of Himalayan climbing that is so pervasive today. He was the first to publicly acknowledge the absolutely essential role of the Sherpas, from porters to elite summiteers like Tenzing Norgay, in every phase of Himalayan mountaineering.

PHOTO: Mt. Everest (29,035 ft. /8,850 m.), showing the South Col route followed by Hillary and Norgay on the right skyline (Wikipedia Commons).

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