Sir Edmund Hillary



Edmund Percival “Ed” Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand on July 20



Hillary and his classmates took a trip to Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park



Hillary summitted Mount Ollivier in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park



Hillary and his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Mt. Everest on May 29. In June, Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and became Sir Edmund Hillary



Hillary founded the Himalayan Trust and devoted his time to helping the people of Nepal



Hillary suffered from chronic heart problems and passed away on January 11

Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand Mountaineer


Edmund Hillary’s Background

Edmund Percival “Ed” Hillary was born in 1919 in New Zealand and grew up in Taukau (south of Auckland). Bookish and smaller than his classmates, Hillary learned to box, which increased his confidence. At 16, he took a school trip to Mount Ruapehu, and although by that time he was 6’5” and gangly, his strength and endurance outstripped those of his classmates.

He studied math and science at Auckland University College before completing his first major climb in 1939, summiting Mount Ollivier (in the Southern Alps).


Hillary and World War II

Like most men during the WWII years, Hillary thought about joining the military serving in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF); however, his pacifist leanings had him withdraw his application. Finally, the Japanese threat in the Pacific convinced him to join the RNZAF where he remained until he was badly burned in the Solomon Islands and returned to New Zealand.


Hillary’s Climbing Years

Hillary became seriously involved in expedition climbing pursuits in 1948. The Hunt expedition to Everest had begun in March with over 400 people: 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides, and 10,000 pounds of baggage. Ultimately there were just two teams of two men for the assault. It was the 29th of May 1953* before Hillary could proclaim, “A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top.” Hillary and his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay remained on the summit for only 15 minutes, but made sure to take photos confirming they had summited. Norgay left pieces of chocolate in the snow, while Hillary left a cross given to him by John Hunt.


Helping the Help

Following his summit of Everest, Hillary devoted much of his time and money to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal. The Himalayan Trust, created in 1960 by Hillary, works to improve the lives and education of people living in the Solukhumbu district.


First or Not?

There remains a controversy as to whether or not in 1924 Georgy Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvin may have beat Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to the summit. The search continues for Irvin’s body and the camera he might have been carrying. Hillary’s answer to the question, “Were you the first or not,” responded, “I do not know whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit. What I do know is that Tenzing Norgay and I were the first to get to the top and back down to the bottom again.”


Did You Know?

  • The quote, “People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things,” usually attributed to Hillary, may have actually been a quote about him from a Rolex advertisement.
  • There isn’t a photograph of Hillary at the summit; although he took one of his climbing partner Tenzing.
  • TIME named Hillary one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
  • Hillary was the first to reach the North and South Poles as well as summit Mt. Everest.
  • Edmund Hillary and his brother, Rex, were beekeepers during the summer, allowing winters free for climbing.
  • When Hillary and Norgay reached the summit it was untouched; now estimates show approximately 12,000 pounds of human waste end up on Everest each climbing season. Trash includes, plastics, tents, oxygen tanks, and corpses.

* Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation day; she knighted him on June 12th, 1953.




Read the story of the summit in Hillary’s own words

Sir Edmund Hillary quotes

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