Friday, January 11, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, died this morning. He was 88.

On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norway conquered the world's highest peak, with equipment and support that is considerably outdated today. Knighted by the Queen of England on his return, Hillary then became a passionate advocate for improvement of Nepal's social infrastructure, most notably schools and health clinics. Hillary also led the campaign to clean up the mountain's south face, which over the years had become polluted from the debris left by mountaineers. He certainly had his fair share of controversy, but few can argue that the man always tried to do the right thing, and was more than successful than most in this endeavor.

I've always thought that you don't have to be born with special gifts to achieve success, that much can be accomplished with intelligence and sheer force of will. I believe Sir Edmund agreed.

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."

- Sir Edmund Hillary.


D. Robert Pease said...

I heard a great quote by him on NPR this morning. He said: "If you set out on an adventure, and you are absolutely convinced you're going to be successful, why bother starting."

I thought he was going to say something along the lines of if you are convinced you will succeed then you have a better chance of doing so, or something along those lines. But what he actually said was much more profound than that. Man can show greater depths of character when he starts something, against all odds, knowing that there is little chance of success, and in Hillary's case every possibility of death, and yet he still started. He still takes that first step.

This is living beyond the "If you dream it you can do it" mentality of the modern world.

Sarah said...

Obviously, Hillary was a great man (I learned today that he also drove a tractor to the South Pole!), but why do people refer to Tenzing Norway as just that sherpa who was with him (when they mention him at all), as though he didn't also make history that day?

Jonathan Lyons said...

Well, I actually think that he commands tremendous respect within the mountaineering world (he's a living god to most), and Hillary certainly thought the world of him. In fact, in order to not diminish Tenzing's accomplishment, he routinely refused to answer when asked by reporters which of the two men reached the top first (though Tenzing had no problems admitting that it was Hillary).

However, many suspect that Hillary was the stronger climber and "led" the climb, and he likely was the one who negotiated the complex approaches on their ascent, including the Hillary Step. And finally, Tenzing was in the employ of the expedition, as compared to a member.

A cool little aside to all of this is that the two men remained friends all of their lives.

Jonathan Lyons said...

Well, since he's dead maybe not a living god, but just a god.

tkersh said...

I always found it amazing that I shared part of a timeline with the last great Earth explorer -- that somewhere on the planet, this man, who I group with Magellan and Amundson, was still breathing the same air as me and watching the same stars. I feel great sadness that my son and generations after him, are growing up in a world with so much less awe and wonder.

John Arkwright said...

It was the best of Hillaries, it was the worst of Hillaries.

Tale of Two Hillaries