LECTURER: OK, so going off our theme of great figures in our country’s history, we’re going to learn a bit today about Edmund Hilary. I’m sure you’ve all heard that name before! As the first person to climb Mount Everest, he has become a household legend worldwide, and has certainly brought a lot of, well, a lot of attention to New Zealand. So, first I’ll go over his climbing career, and then I’d like to call attention to the less discussed area of his life, his philanthropy work.
Now, Hilary, who was born in 1919 in, uh, Auckland, became interested in climbing at a very young age. A school trip to Mount Ruapehu at the age of 16 planted the seeds for what would become his greatest achievements. Following that trip, he began climbing regularly. During college at the University of Auckland, he completed his first really big climb to the summit of Mount Olivier. During the summers he would take on jobs in order to finance his climbing during the winter months. And he eventually started training with the Radiant Living Tramping Club, which introduced Hillary to holistic health. But all of this came to a halt when World War II broke out. Hilary joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and was sent to Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 1945. As a result of a boat accident in which he sustained severe burns, he was sent home to New Zealand.
So, upon return, Hilary picked up right where he left off, wasting no time. In 1948, he was part of a team that climbed Mount Cook, our country’s highest peak. A few years later, in 1951, Hilary joined a reconnaissance expedition to Everest led by Eric Shipton. That trip really got the ball rolling, and with France, Switzerland, and other countries in the race to be the first to reach the top of Everest. While climbing in the Alps the following year...uh, that would be 1952...Hilary found out that he and his friend, George Lucas, were both being invited by the Joint Himalayan Committee to be part of the British team attempting the summit. And this was the turning point for Hilary.
The British sent two teams to Everest in 1953, led by John Hunt. Hillary was placed on a team with a Nepalese man named Tenzing Norgay. Tenzing was born a Sherpa in northeastern Nepal, but ran away from home in his late teens, and eventually settled in a Sherpa community in Darjeeling, India. The entire Hunt Expedition consisted of over 400 people, including porters and Sherpa guides. The entire team had reached their final camp at what is known as South Col, which is, oh, just under 8,000 meters above sea level. The first team attempted the summit, but turned back after an oxygen mask failure. Then Hunt ordered Hillary and Tenzing to give it a go. And on May 29, at 11:30 a.m., Hillary and Tenzing became the first people to ascend the highest peak in the world.
But equally as interesting...at least in my opinion...is what Hilary did with his life following his famous Everest climb. He continued climbing, of course, and even became the first person to have reached both poles...the South and the North...and the summit of Everest. Not bad for a legacy, eh? And he pursued politics for a while, serving as the New Zealand High Commissioner to India for several years.
However, he was also passionate about philanthropy. You see, after spending so much time in Nepal, and having befriended Tenzing, Hilary devoted a lot of his energy to helping the Sherpa community. He founded the Himalayan Trust, which built schools and hospitals in the remote regions of the Himalayas where the Sherpa people lived. He also served as the Honorary President for both the American Himalayan Foundation and Mountain Wilderness, which worked on ecological conservation. So, his life’s work went far beyond his famous trek up Everest, and his real legacy lives with the people who he helped.