Hillary, Sir Edmund

Hillary, Sir Edmund
Jul. 20, 1919-Jan. 11, 2008
New Zealand mountaineer


On May 29, 1953 New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary made history in one of the greatest feats of the 20th century when he and his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, became the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. Since then, Hillary has led numerous Himalayan climbing expeditions; became the first man to reach the South Pole via tractor, during the 1957-1958 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition; conducted an investigation into the existence of the mythical Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, of the Himalayan region; and served as New Zealand's high commissioner to India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Hillary is widely considered to have been one of the greatest athletes of his time. Yet, he is also known throughout the world for his philanthropy and humanitarian work on behalf of the Sherpas, the indigenous people who live in the shadows of Everest. Since 1961, Hillary has provided funding and other resources through his Himalayan Trust to aid in the development of schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges throughout the region. One of New Zealand's greatest living treasures, Hillary also graces the front of his country's five-dollar bill.

Edmund Percival Hillary was born on July 20, 1919, in Auckland, New Zealand, to Percival Augustus and Gertrude Hillary. The family business was beekeeping; Percival managed to make a modest profit through local sales of his honey. According to Eileen Alt Powell of the Los Angeles Times (June 19, 1988), Hillary once described his father as energetic and resourceful, despite "never [being] very good at making money." For a time Percival took over a country newspaper, the Tuakau District News, for which he served as both reporter and editor, and printed the paper out of the family home; Hillary's mother, meanwhile, was a schoolteacher. Growing up, Edmund and his brother, Rex, often worked on the family farm. The physical nature of their chores led both to develop a strong work ethic and a hardy constitution. As Hillary recalled to Jennifer Moran for the Canberra Times (July 18, 1999), "My brother and I used to compete. There was a lot of hard physical work in those days in bee-keeping, lugging the honey around, and I can always remember how we would compete with each other, grabbing an 80lb box of honey and rushing up to the truck and dumping it on, and running down again." Hillary's favorite activities-reading adventure books and exploring the outdoors-helped him cultivate a strong imagination and an instinct for adventure. "There was a phase when I was the 'fastest gun in the West,' another when I explored the Antarctic," he told Powell. "I would walk for hours with my mind drifting to all these things." Described as "a bright but gawky child, his extremities huge and clumsy, his manner shy," by British journalist Jan Morris, according to Joshua Hammer for People (November 18, 1985), Hillary was anything but a natural athlete; in fact, his tall and lanky frame actually proved somewhat awkward. As Hillary himself explained in an interview for the Hall of Science and Exploration (November 16, 1991), as posted on that organization's Web site (www.achievement.org): "I was never what you would call a great athlete, in the sense that an athlete has a tremendous eye and tremendous ball sense and great speed of movement and that sort of thing. I was more the rugged, robust type, and I was physically strong. I was also pretty strongly motivated."

At age 16 Hillary saw snow for the first time on a school-sponsored skiing and climbing trip to Mt. Ruapehu, which lies near Turangi in the center of New Zealand's North Island. As he recalled to Eric Sharp for the Detroit Free Press (February 22, 2000), "It was unquestionably the most exciting thing I'd ever done." Soon after that trip Hillary completed his education at the Auckland Grammar School and enrolled at the University of Auckland. Yet, he found university life to be a disappointment. "At the end of two years, I hadn't passed a single subject and I didn't have a single friend," he wrote in his autobiography, A View from the Summit (1999), as quoted by Margaret Jordan for the South Africa Financial Mail (January 7, 2000). Hillary ultimately left college and returned home to manage the family apiary with his brother. At age 20 he also began to practice serious mountain climbing, and made his first ascent of the 7,500-foot (2,300-meter) summit of Mt. Olivier, on New Zealand's South Island. He later ascended the South Isalnd's 12,349-foot (3,763-meter) Mt. Cook-the highest point in New Zealand. (The top 10 meters of Mt. Cook fell away during a massive avalanche in 1991; today, the peak has an elevation of 12,316 feet [3,754 meters].) "I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do," Hillary told Sharp, "spend my life among the mountains and the snow and the ice. I had never been happier in my life, and I couldn't wait to do it again."

In 1944, at age 25, Hillary enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, which was then engaged in World War II, and trained as a pilot. His duties involved piloting Catalina Flying Boats in the Fiji islands for search-and-rescue operations at the end of the war. In one such operation, in the Solomon Islands, Hillary's boat caught fire and he suffered severe second-degree burns that destroyed 40 percent of his skin. Nevertheless, upon returning to New Zealand in 1945-still recovering from the accident-Hillary remained determined to pursue his passion for mountain climbing. He reportedly used his Air Force pay to finance climbing expeditions in New Zealand's Southern Alps. A self-taught mountaineer, Hillary had an unusual knack for climbing. In 1949, after observing the young climber's skill on the snow and ice, another New Zealand mountaineer, George Lowe, was so impressed that he inquired, as quoted by Frank Deford for Sports Illustrated (December 27, 1999): "Have you ever thought about going to the Himalayas, Ed?" The Himalayas, located in the heart of South Asia, are the highest mountain chain in the world, stretching approximately 1,550 miles through India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. The range contains the world's ten highest mountains, including Mount Everest, which rises to a height of 29,028 feet (8,848 meters).

Having established a reputation among climbers, Hillary was invited in 1951 to join a Mount Everest expedition led by British mountaineer Eric Shipton. Although New Zealand had gained independence from Britain in 1947-it had been a dominion under the British crown from 1907-1947 and, prior to that, a colony in the Empire-the two nations continued to maintain strong ties. As Hillary once told Deford, "Like most of my fellow citizens, I was British first and New Zealander second." Because New Zealand climbers had experience in their country's Southern Alps, it was thought they would bring useful skills to a rigorous mountain expedition. Hillary readily accepted the invitation and accompanied Lowe, another invitee, to Nepal, where they joined the British team. However, a problem soon arose: Prior to 1951, climbers attempting to scale Everest, which is located on the border between Tibet and Nepal, had all approached the mountain through Tibet. (Nepal had previously barred foreign travelers from its lands.) But in 1951 Chinese Communists took over Tibet and sealed the country's borders; on the other hand, the Nepalese government began to ease travel restrictions. As a result, Shipton's Everest expedition faced the daunting task of determining a new, southern route to the top. (The previous route had thus far proved impossible, and had already claimed the lives of 16 climbers, including the legendary British mountaineer George Mallory, who disappeared near the summit of Everest in 1924.) During a reconnaissance expedition around the mountain, Hillary and Shipton discovered a glacier pass that they felt might be used in a southern route-though it would likely entail an even more dangerous climb than the existing northern route. As Hillary recalled in his 1955 memoir, High Adventure, the discovery of this glacial pass stirred his competitive instincts. He realized that Shipton would have to reevaluate "the deep-seated British tradition of responsibility and fair play … to modify the old standards of safety and justifiable risk and to meet the dangers as they came … ," as quoted by Deford. "The competitive standards of Alpine mountaineering were coming to the Himalayas, and we might as well compete or pull out."

After mapping out a new course to the summit, Shipton's team judged the reconnaissance mission a success, and made plans to return the following year to attempt the trek. Upon his return to New Zealand, Hillary learned that two Swiss teams had obtained the only permits for Everest climbs in 1952. Later, it was reported that two climbers, Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgay, had reached the summit on one of these expeditions. (The rumor was untrue.) Hillary received these reports with ambivalence. On the one hand, he believed that success for one climber represented success for all; still, his own competitive impulse remained strong. In 1953, after joining another British Everest expedition under John Hunt, he experienced further disappointment after his good friends Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans were chosen to make the first summit attempt. (Hunt's expedition involved 11 climbers and 800 porters, all of whom spent two months walking to the base camp. Higher up the mountain, the group established nine ascending camps for climbers working toward the summit; the higher camps could accommodate only a few climbers at a time.)

Hillary was partnered with Norgay, a Sherpa guide who had attempted six previous Everest climbs and had come within 800 feet (240 meters) of the summit the previous year. (Sherpas are Himalayan yak-herders and potato-growers who live in the Khumbu, the high mountain valleys shadowed by Everest. Because of their tough, hard-working nature and their acclimation to climbing in high elevations, they have often served as guides for Western expeditions to Everest.) Hillary and Norgay, as Jan Morris described them for the Melbourne Herald Sun (September 22, 2001), were "an oddly assorted pair. Hillary was tall, lanky, big-boned and long-faced, and he moved with an incongruous grace, rather like a giraffe. He habitually wore on his head a home-made cap with a cotton flap behind, as seen in old movies of the French Foreign Legion. Tenzing was by comparison a Himalayan fashion model: small, neat, rather delicate, brown as a berry, with the confident movements of a cat. Hillary grinned; Tenzing smiled. Hillary guffawed; Tenzing chuckled. Neither of them seemed particularly perturbed by anything; on the other hand, neither went in for unnecessary bravado-Hillary and Tenzing were two cheerful, courageous fellows doing what they liked doing, and did best." The duo developed an unspoken bond of friendship, respect, and trust that undoubtedly enhanced their climbing partnership. In one notable incident on the Everest expedition, Norgay's quick instincts actually saved Hillary's life after the latter fell into an icy crevasse at 18,000 feet (5,500 meters). The Sherpa mountaineer promptly secured his ice-axe into the ground, wrapping Hillary's rope around the handle and halting his fall. After climbing out of the crevasse, Hillary was more convinced than ever that he and Norgay made an invincible team.

Like Hillary, Norgay harbored a strong competitive will to be the first to reach Everest's summit; he believed that he, as a Sherpa, should be a member of the triumphant team. As Bourdillon and Evans approached the peak, both Hillary and Norgay became anxious. "Tenzing was very glum," Hillary recalled to Deford. "I wasn't very proud of my feelings." Ultimately, the first team turned back about 300 feet (90 meters) below the summit, unable to surmount a vertical ice ridge that blocked their progress. According to Deford, upon returning to camp Evans warned Hillary, "I don't think you're going to get to the top along that ridge." "[But] I didn't take that seriously," Hillary continued, "because it reminded me of just another one of those good Alpine ridges I'd seen so often in New Zealand-demanding yes, but climbable." Soon after, Hillary and Norgay set out for the summit, carrying early-model nylon ropes, oxygen cylinders, and heavy axes and wearing primitive, metal-spiked crampons on their boots. At 26,000 feet (8,000 meters) they left two exhausted climbing partners behind and began working their way up the final summit ridge. "We had very heavy loads-50 to 60 pounds each," Hillary told Hammer. It was getting dark, and we were looking desperately for some sort of campsite. Finally, at 27,900 feet [8,500 meters], we found one." The two climbers spent that night atop a six-foot-square snow ledge that sloped at a 30 degree angle; they huddled together inside their small tent, battered by heavy winds and sucking oxygen sparingly from their tanks. Around four in the morning, the winds eased, and the team began painfully packing their gear; by six o'clock they had set out on their final ascent. Before reaching the top, they came upon a 40-foot-high vertical "rock step" covered with ice. Working carefully, they found a crack where the ice was breaking away from the rock, and Hillary spent the next several hours cutting steps into the vertical section. This final obstacle is now known among mountaineers as the "Hillary Step."

Finally, at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, Hillary and Norgay reached the summit and stood together on the rounded dome. For Hillary the achievement brought a sense of satisfaction and even surprise. "It really all had been supposition," he recalled in an interview for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (May 28, 2002). "I didn't know whether we were going to be successful or not. I knew we were going to give it everything we had. But it wasn't until we climbed up the Hillary Step that I knew we were going to do it." Hillary moved to shake Norgay's hand, but his Sherpa companion pulled him in for an embrace. "He threw his arms around my shoulders. So I threw my arms around his shoulders, and we gave each other a hug." Norgay, for whom the accomplishment carried great spiritual and religious meaning, later buried bits of candy and biscuits into the snow as a gift to his Buddhist gods, who were believed to reside in the clouds above Everest. Hillary later recalled to Sharp his thoughts at the top: "We could see five other nearby peaks that hadn't been climbed," he said, "and I'll always remember when I was standing on top of Everest, I was looking across at Mt. Makalu and mentally picking out a route to the summit." While on the summit, the ever-practical Hillary took out his camera and began snapping pictures of the terrain, as well as of his climbing partner, Norgay. "In actual fact, there is no picture of me on top of Mt. Everest," he told Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune (November 24, 1989). "There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that Tenzing didn't have a camera and, as far as I was aware, he hadn't ever taken a photograph in his life-and it really didn't seem the ideal place to give him instruction. But the other, perhaps more important, reason, was, I never really thought of it. I didn't think of it as being very important as to whether or not I had a picture of myself on the top… . This, maybe, is the difference between expeditions in those days and expeditions today."

In the years that followed, the question of who actually reached the summit first received obsessive coverage in the media. Expedition leader John Hunt once told a reporter for the Herald Sun that the question was one that "climbers would never think to ask." In the spirit of traditional mountaineering, Hunt considered Hillary and Norgay's accomplishment a success for the entire team. In truth it was Hillary who had placed the first steps on the summit-he arrived two or three steps ahead of Norgay-but the duo agreed to announce they had arrived at the same time. (The decision to do so was made in deference to the Nepalese people. As Hillary recalled to Deford, "In Nepal it became very important to believe that Tenzing was first. That was proof that an Asian was as good as a Westerner. Norgay was quite frightened, actually, because politically he found himself in a very difficult situation.") For decades, both men stuck to their story-until Norgay published his memoirs shortly before his death in 1986. After Norgay disclosed the truth, Hillary began to discuss it as well; he offered a full account of the events in his 1999 autobiography, The View from the Summit. He later told Sharp, "It was a very silly thing, really. We were a team, and what difference did it make that one of us reached the top a few seconds ahead of the other? But I finally got so tired of all the questions that when Tenzing wrote that in his book, I admitted it, too."

After their historic climb Hillary and Norgay descended the mountain to find their lives dramatically changed. They learned they were to receive numerous honors: On July 16, 1953, Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England; Tenzing was decorated with the George Medal, one of Britain's highest civilian awards. In addition, Hillary earned the Founder's Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society, Nepal's Order of Strong Right Arms of the Gurkhas, the Hubbard Medal from the American National Geographic Society, the United States Gold Cullum Geographical Medal, and even a decorative scepter from the Katmandu Taxi Drivers' Association. In addition to the official recognition, Hillary and Norgay also found themselves to be international celebrities. (Hillary's famous reaction upon meeting George Lowe at one of the lower camps-"Well, we knocked the bastard off!"-was carried in papers around the globe.) "I was a bit naive, really," Hillary told Sharp in 2000. "I was just a country boy. I thought the mountaineering world would be interested, but I never dreamed that it would have that effect on people who didn't climb. Funny enough, it has gone on ever since."

After returning to New Zealand, Hillary resumed his work as a beekeeper and married Louise Mary Rose on September 3, 1953. His newly-acquired celebrity status provided ample opportunities to indulge his passion for adventure. In 1954 he led the New Zealand Alpine Club Expedition to Nepal's Barun Valley. In 1957 the British scientist and explorer Vivian Fuchs invited Hillary to participate in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which aimed to cross the full length of Antarctica-2,158 miles-for the first time. Fuchs set out from the Shackleton Base, on the Weddell Sea, in November 1957, hoping to be the first man to reach the South Pole by land since Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated expedition did so in 1914. Meanwhile, Hillary was to lead a New Zealand expedition in establishing a base on the Ross Ice Shelf (on the opposite side of Antarctica from the Shackleton Base), as well as three fueling and supply depots across the Antarctic plateau. Hillary's team planned to meet up with Fuchs at the South Pole; they completed their tasks in good time and pushed ahead to the South Pole, riding on three Ferguson tractors. Much of their trek involved cutting a path over icefall and crevices under extreme conditions, including frigid temperatures and gale force winds that restricted visibility. Hillary described the effort to Bill Taylor for the Toronto Star (November 27, 1992): "We were the first to use tractors. There were similarities between that expedition and Everest in that we were dealing with snow and ice and intense cold. But on a mountain like Everest, the danger is more immediate. Avalanches, crevasses, sudden storms, falling down steep slopes. In Antarctica we were having to travel for long, long periods, months, always with the possibility we'd break through into a crevasse area and our tractors-and us-would go to the bottom. We were an awful long way from anyone and anything. So there were prolonged periods of tension." On January 4, 1958, Hillary's team reached the South Pole before Fuchs, sparking controversy throughout Britain that Hillary had engaged in a "hell-bent dash" to beat the English team. Nevertheless, when Fuchs arrived on January 20, the two men showed no signs of a rivalry, and reportedly greeted each other warmly. Hillary and Fuchs later collaborated on a book recounting the expedition, The Crossing of Antarctica: The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1958).

Following the Antarctica expedition, Hillary abandoned beekeeping altogether to focus on outdoor activities, lecturing, and writing books. Moreover, in 1961 he took up a task to which he has dedicated much of his energy over the last 40 years: providing for the Sherpa people. By the early 1960s Mount Everest was regularly besieged with climbers hoping to reach the summit; the growing tourism took its toll on the Sherpas, whom Western climbers often hired, at extremely low wages, to help tackle the mountain. As Hillary explained to Kevin Klose for the Washington Post (January 2, 1984), "Nobody was doing anything to help the Sherpas. And it just seemed to me that because I'd become friendly with these people, and it was obvious that these problems were there, I just felt I wanted to do something about it." With the help of a grant from World Book Encyclopedia, Hillary launched the Himalayan Trust, a foundation dedicated to aiding the Sherpas and other indigenous Himalayan people. In 1961 the Trust erected a three-room schoolhouse in the village of Khumjung; since then, it has built more than 30 schools for the indigenous peoples of the Solu Khumbu and Khumbu regions, as well as two hospitals-including Khunde Hospital in 1966, which at 13,000 feet (1,200 meters) is the highest medical facility in the world-dozens of medical clinics, and numerous airstrips, bridges, and roads. Ultimately, Hillary believes his work has helped the Sherpas become something more than "peons" in the region's burgeoning tourist industry. (Today it is estimated that 5,000-7,000 tourists visit the Khumbu region below Everest each year.) "I've always adopted the policy, right from the start," he told Klose, "that it's not my job to go into an area and tell them, 'You need a school, a hospital, the rest of it.' Motivation really comes from the local people. As far as I'm concerned, I'm really responding to the very strong desires of the local people."

In 1974 Hillary expanded the Himalayan Trust by establishing the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation in Canada, which is dedicated to raising funds for Hillary's charitable causes. Today Hillary spends several months each year traveling the globe, particularly the United States and Europe, to raise money for his foundation. In recent years the Himalayan Trust has provided teacher training programs for schools in the Khumbu region, and has planted over a million trees to replenish forests decimated as a result of tourism. (Tourists' growing demands for food and shelter have accelerated the destruction of forested areas. In addition, the growing population of the Sherpas, which has nearly doubled since the introduction of western medicine, has taken a toll on the region's natural resources.) Hillary has also addressed the issue of the considerable amount of human debris that has accumulated on Everest; at one point he lobbied the Nepalese government to restrict access to Everest for five years to give the mountain a chance to be restored. In an interview with Johnson, Hillary emphasized the significance of his work for the Sherpa people. "My life is not so much stepping on top of a peak that has never been stepped on before, or traveling to the South Pole," he said, "but, rather more, the building of schools and medical clinics for the very worthy people of the Himalayas. I just think they're worth helping."

In addition to establishing the Himalayan Trust, Hillary also embarked on an unusual journey in 1961: a 10-month search for evidence of the mysterious Yeti of Himalayan legend, also known as the Abominable Snowman. For more than a century, both local peoples and foreign explorers had described encounters with a "hairy, ape-like creature" roaming the Himalayan region. Vivid folk-lore surrounded the Yeti, and millions of Sikkimese, Bhutanese, northern Indians, Nepalese, and Tibetans grew to accept the creature's existence as fact, despite skepticism from many Westerners. Hillary set out to prove-or disprove-the Yeti myth once and for all. On an expedition sponsored by World Book Encyclopedia, he explored reports of Yeti footprints and even examined a purported Yeti scalp, hand, and fur. (He had these items analyzed by experts in Chicago, Paris, and London.) After a lengthy investigation, Hillary drew several conclusions: First, he theorized that the tracks were the result of the sun melting the pug marks of smaller animals. Second, he determined the supposed scalp to be a fake, molded from the skin of a wild goat antelope, and the hand to be that of a human. Finally, because he found no one who could claim to have seen the Yeti firsthand, Hillary deemed the snowman's existence to be little more than myth. These conclusions dampened enthusiasm for the "Yeti hunt" then in full swing among explorers and scientists. However, the debate over the existence of the Yeti continues to this day; several scientists and explorers have argued strongly against Hillary's theory that "Yeti footprints" are formed by melting snow. In discussing the expedition with Taylor in 1992, Hillary remarked: "I have to say the yeti is a myth. But I'd be delighted to be proved wrong."

In 1961-1962 Hillary oversaw the construction a high-altitude research unit in the Himalayas (This project, like the Yeti expedition, was sponsored by World Book Encyclopedia.) Over the next decade he continued his work with the Himalayan Trust, and led Himalayan climbing expeditions in both 1963 and 1964. In 1967 he led the first ascent of Antarctica's Mount Herschel. The period was a prosperous time for Hillary's young family, which included his wife, Louise, and the couple's three children: Peter, Sarah, and Belinda. "Those years from 1953 to 1975 were extremely happy years for me," Hillary later recalled in the Hall of Science and Exploration interview. "I did many adventurous activities. I got deeply involved in these aid programs for the people of the Himalayas, I had a nice family, we took our family out-of-doors, we camped and we swam and we clambered around the hills. For me, it was a very full and a very happy existence." But on March 31, 1975, disaster struck: Hillary's wife and youngest daughter, Belinda, were killed in a plane crash en route to a rural hospital construction project in Nepal where Hillary was working. Shortly after take-off in Katmandu, the plane malfunctioned because someone had forgotten to free the ailerons. Hillary was devastated. "It took me several years to recover," he told Deford. "I had always thought that I would be the one to come to grief, but never once-never for a moment-did I think it would be my wife or one of my children." Just a few years after the death of his wife and daughter, Hillary narrowly escaped death himself. He had been scheduled to accompany a group of tourists on a flyover of Antarctica, yet was forced to cancel his plans at the last minute. Hillary's close friend and climbing partner, Peter Mulgrew, took his place. (Mulgrew had previously lost his feet to frostbite in the Himalayas, but had taken up competitive yachting instead. Hillary considered him a great friend and a "great battler," as he told Deford.) The plane flew into a mountain, killing everyone on board. Hillary and Mulgrew's widow, June, came together in their grief, developing a strong bond of companionship. As June recalled to Hammer, "We were a foursome for 20 years, then each of us was suddenly widowed. So I suppose it was only natural we came together. It would be extremely difficult for him to do these things alone." The couple were married on December 21, 1989.

After the death of his wife and daughter, Hillary became despondent and even struggled to continue his charitable work on behalf of the Sherpa people. He grieved for several years. "Ultimately I made the determination to keep doing the projects I'd been doing with my family," he explained to Hammer. "That way, at least life became worth living again." In 1977 Hillary also returned to exploring with an expedition up India's Ganges River. He aimed to cross the river by jet boat from its mouth to its source, and finish by climbing two minor mountain peaks near the river's headwaters. He dubbed this journey an expedition "from the ocean to the sky." (Hillary later used that phrase for the book he wrote, published in 1979, that chronicled the expedition.) While the adventure was a success, it would prove to be Hillary's last. Later that year he suffered a cerebral edema while climbing at 15,500 feet (4,700 meters) and had to be helicoptered to safety. Though no longer able to climb at high elevations-he risked a relapse above 14,000 feet (4,250 meters)-Hillary continued his annual visits with the Sherpas, typically spending six to eight weeks a year in elevated regions of the Himalayas. (With the onset of advanced age in recent years, Hillary has had to restrict himself to significantly lower elevations; he now suffers from altitude sickness above 8,000 feet [2,400 meters].)

In March 1985 Hillary took up a new challenge when he was appointed New Zealand's high commissioner to India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Upon accepting the post Hillary told a reporter for the Record (May 5, 1985), "I gave up my cherished free-wheeling life for a desk of diplomacy because I am fond of Indians and want to do something for them. I love the Himalayas, and I always have strong feelings for the Indians, their ancient temples and culture, that's why. The job that I have now is probably the most challenging since I climbed Everest." As high commissioner Hillary focused on expanding New Zealand's two-way trade with India, and oversaw the construction of an embassy there. He retired from the position in 1989.

While he retired from climbing in the late 1970s, Hillary has continued to give lectures around the world and has written several books about his expeditions, including East of Everest: An Account of the New Zealand Alpine Club Expedition to the Barun Valley in 1954, with George Lowe (1956), No Latitude for Error (1961), High in the Thin Cold Air: The Story of the Himalayan Expedition Led by Sir Edmund Hillary, Sponsored by World Book Encyclopedia, with Desmond Doig (1962), and Schoolhouse in the Clouds (1964). He also published the memoir High Adventure (1955) and two autobiographies, Nothing Venture, Nothing Win (1975) and The View from the Summit (1999). Since the 1960s Hillary has served as a consultant to Sears, testing and lending his name to Sears's brand of camping gear.

Over the course of his career, Hillary has been honored with a number of awards, including the Polar Medal from the British Ministry of Defense (1958), the R. M. Johnston Memorial Medal from the Royal Society of Tasmania (1959), the James Wattle Award for the New Zealand book of the year (1975), the Centennial Award from the National Geographic Society (1988), and the Star of Nepal. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Victoria, British Columbia (1969) and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (1970). Hillary was inducted into the American Academy of Achievement in 1973. Perhaps his greatest distinction is his appearance on New Zealand's five-dollar bill. As he told Taylor, "It's a great honor, of course, to be chosen as the first living person to appear on a New Zealand bank note. But I always felt it was only suitable for dead people." He continued, "I'm pretty philosophical about it. I think, 'Well, how long is this going to be worth anything?'"

Sir Edmund Hillary resides with the second Lady Hillary in Remuera, New Zealand, a suburb of Auckland, in the same house in which he has lived for more than 40 years. The home provides an expansive view of New Zealand's Waitemata Harbor and the Hauraki Gulf. Hillary's son, Peter, is also an adventurer who has reached the summit of Mount Everest twice; his daughter, Sarah, is a chief conservator for the Auckland City Art Gallery. While Hillary is most often remembered for his feats on Mount Everest, he recently told Deford, "Even if I hadn't climbed Everest, still, I know I would've lived an adventurous life."

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