Everest’s conqueror, Sir Edmund Hillary, dies at 88

?m=02&d=20080111&t=2&i=2735997&w=&r=2008-01-11T002242Z_01_NOOTR_RTRIDSP_0_NEWS-NEWZEALAND-HILLARY-COLIn what was almost the last item of a newscast on January 11, the world learned that Sir Edmund Hillary had died earlier that day, at the age of 88.

No, I’d never heard of Edmund Hillary either – until June 2, 1953, that is, when my father called out from his study to all who would hear, “They’ve climbed Everest! Some New Zealand beekeeper!”

The exhausting final ascent had been made on May 29, but the news did not reach the outside world until June 2, coincidentally the eve of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. (It was later claimed that the news had been purposely suppressed so that the world would hear simultaneously of the crowning of the Queen and of the conquest of the world’s highest mountain, but that was later disputed.)

The New Zealand beekeeper was part of a team led by Colonel John Hunt, and on his summit dash he was accompanied by a Nepalese Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay. They reached the summit after a gruelling climb up the south face, and Hillary described the top of the world as “a symmetrical, beautiful snow cone summit.”

The two men embraced, then Hillary took some photographs, of surrounding peaks and of Tenzing waving the flags of Nepal and other countries.

Two earlier climbers, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, presumably also bound for the summit, had disappeared in 1924. Hillary and Tenzing searched for their bodies but were unsuccessful.

By the time they staggered into base camp, the pair was unable to speak, but they pointed to the mountain and signalled that they had reached the top, and that was where the celebrations started.

On their return to England, Colonel Hunt and Edmund Hillary were knighted, and Tenzing Norgay was awarded the George Medal.

Mount Everest was named after Sir George Everest, surveyor-general of India and the first to produce detailed maps of the Indian subcontinent.