Edmund Hillary

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geographers and explorers

Edmund Hillary in 1957 after accompanying the first plane to land at the Marble Point ground air strip - Antarctica
Edmund Hillary in 1957 after accompanying the first plane to land at the Marble Point ground air strip - Antarctica

Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, KG, ONZ, KBE (born 20 July 1919) is a New Zealand mountaineer and explorer. He and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers to reach the 8,848 m (29,028 ft) summit of Mount Everest, highest mountain in the world. They achieved this on 29 May 1953 at 11:30 a.m. local time.

The feat was accomplished as part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt. After descending, Hillary stated that he and Tenzing had "knocked the bastard off", a phrase which has found its way into colloquial New Zealand English.


Born in Tuakau (south of Auckland), he attended Auckland Grammar School. The trip to school was over two hours each way, time which he spent reading. As he grew up he was smaller than his peers and very shy so he took refuge in his books and daydreams of a life filled with adventure. At age 16, his interest in climbing was sparked during a school trip to Ruapehu. He found that his gangly and uncoordinated frame was physically strong and had greater endurance than many of his tramping companions.


During World War II he was a RNZAF navigator. He was part of a British reconnaisance expedition to Everest in 1951 led by Eric Shipton before joining the successful British attempt of 1953. He climbed ten other peaks in the Himalayas on further visits in 1956, 1960-61 and 1963-65. He also reached the South Pole, as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition for which he led the New Zealand section, on 4 January 1958. He also led a jetboat expedition from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source in 1977. In 1985, Hillary accompanied Neil Armstrong in a small, twin-engine ski plane over the Arctic Ocean and landed at the North Pole. He thus became the first man to stand at both poles as well as the summit of Everest. That same year, Hillary was appointed New Zealand High Commissioner (Ambassador) to India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and spent four and a half years based in New Delhi.

In 1979, he had been scheduled to act as a commentator on the ill-fated Air New Zealand Flight 901, but had to pull out due to work commitments elsewhere. He was replaced by his close friend Peter Mulgrew , who perished on the flight.


Hillary was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 16 July 1953; a member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 1987; and a Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) on 23 April 1995. He is the only living New Zealander to appear on a banknote. Various streets, schools, and organisations around New Zealand and abroad are named after him. A few examples are Hillary College ( Otara), Edmund Hillary Primary School ( Papakura), and the Hillary Commission (now SPARC).

To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Everest, the Nepalese Government conferred honorary citizenship upon Sir Edmund at a special Golden Jubilee celebration in the capital, Kathmandu. He is the first foreign national to receive such an honour from the Nepalese.


He has devoted much of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust which he founded and to which he has given much of his time and energy. Through his efforts he has succeeded in building many schools and hospitals in this remote region of the Himalayas. He has stated that he regards this as his most important achievement. He is also the Honorary President of the American Himalayan Foundation, a United States non-profit body that also helps improve the ecology and living conditions in the Himalayas. During the mid-1980s, he was New Zealand's High Commissioner to India (the equivalent of an Ambassador between Commonwealth countries), where he was in frequent demand as a guest of honour.

Hillary has recently spoken of his disdain for the attitudes displayed by many modern mountaineers. In particular he publicly criticised New Zealander Mark Inglis and 40 other climbers who, in various groups, left British climber David Sharp to die in May 2006. He said "I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top, it was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say good morning and pass on by." He also told the New Zealand Herald that he was horrified by the callous attitude of today’s climbers. "They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die.".


Arriving back at base after climbing Everest, Hillary's first words were "well George, we finally knocked the bastard off." Other sayings of note were,

"We didn't know if it was humanly possible to reach the top of Mt. Everest. And even using oxygen as we were, if we did get to the top, we weren't at all sure whether we wouldn't drop dead or something of that nature."

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


  • Hillary took part in the 1975 general election, as a member of the " Citizens for Rowling" campaign. His involvement in this campaign is seen as precluding his nomination as Governor-General , with the position instead being offered to Keith Holyoake in 1977.
  • While The Lord of the Rings was filming in New Zealand, Hillary came to visit the set meeting the cast, crew, and director Peter Jackson.
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