Edmund Hillary 4

Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008: Everest, Exploration, & Humanitarian Legend

Edmund_hillary_4 The world has lost another great figure in exploration and Everest history with today’s passing of Sir Edmund Hillary.
Hillary, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, made climbing history when,
on May 29th, 1953, they became the first people to reach the summit of Everest, the world’s highest peak. It was an amazing feat to say the least, and gave both Hillary and Tenzing well-deserved places in the history books.

To me, however, Hillary’s legacy extends well beyond his exploits as Everest "conqueror" or Antarctic explorer. Sure, he climbed Everest, but I would be willing to bet that to him that accomplishment was more a footnote to the stunning humanitarian accomplishments that followed.

In the years after Everest, Hillary, more than any climber before him and more than most that followed, dedicated his time, efforts, and the powers of fame to better the lives of the people who made his ascent possible: the Sherpa. After his 1953 ascent, Hillary founded the Himalayan Trust, a non-profit dedicated to bettering the lives of the Sherpa…and quite successful in its objectives. From the Khumjung School and Kunde Hospital to innovative forestry and infrastructure projects, the Himalayan Trust has helped to create a modicum of wealth, health, and overall prosperity in this once desperately impoverished mountain area.

And, Hillary did it all with his usual modesty and sincerity – in his words:

I first visited the Khumbu area on the south side of Everest in 1951
and developed a warm respect and affection for the Sherpa people who
lived there. Their life was a tough and hardy one but they had a most
vigorous sense of humour. It was impossible not to like their
cheerfullnes and generosity.

Over the next ten years, I
developed many Sherpa friends and became of the things they lacked in
their rugged existence – no schooling for their children and no medical
treatment for the ill. I often felt there was much we could do to help
them but never got beyond the stage of talking and dreaming.

I only got to meet and speak with Hillary once, back in 1997 as he visited Denver. But, I remember it well, mostly for the simple fact that Hillary took the time to speak with me, a young climber hoping to some day get to the big peaks. But, fortunately our brief conversation focused more on the people and struggles of Nepal than on our climbs. Everest was only mentioned in passing – the focus was on the people who make our climbs possible.

Modest from beginning to end, Sir Edmund Hillary leaves a lasting legacy of how we all should act on our climbs and in life, as climbers, people, and stewards of the mountains.

Thank you, Sir Ed, for the memories, and dhanyabad from the mountains and the people of Nepal.

Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.

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