Hillary was born on the 20th July 1919 in Tuakau, New Zealand. His
interest in mountaineering developed after a school trip at age 16.
After finishing school he became a bee keeper, a summer job which he
could combine with winter climbing. His first major climb was Mount
Olivier in the Southern Alps of New Zealand in 1939. During World War 2,
Hillary was a navigator in the Air Force.
In 1951 Hillary was a member of a reconnaissance expedition which mapped out the route towards the top of Everest over the Khumbu Glacier. When he was invited to join the 1953 British summit expedition, he immediately accepted.
Expedition leader John Hunt decided that Hillary would climb together with Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa mountaineer who had reached a point just 237 altitude meters below the summit the year before. Hillary and Norgay set their final camp at 8503 m and on the morning of May 29th they started climbing the last stretch, reaching the summit at 11.30 a.m. On the descent, the first person the pair met was Hillary’s friend George Lowe, and Hillary said the famous words "Well, we knocked the bastard off.”
Hillary later climbed ten other major peaks in the Himalayas. He took part in an expedition to the South Pole in 1958 and landed on the North Pole in a plane flown by Neil Armstrong in 1985. The man who has described himself as "just an average bloke” then became the first person to stand on both poles as well as the summit of Mount Everest.
Hillary has said that even though he much enjoyed his climb of Everest and trips to the poles, the most worthwhile thing he has done is working for the Sherpa community through the Himalayan Trust. This organisation focuses replanting trees and providing education and basic health services. Projects are only carried out if they are specifically requested by the Sherpas and the local community takes part in the building work. To minimise all unnecessary costs, the trust relies almost exclusively on volunteers, so that all the money raised can be transferred directly to Nepal.
The trust has built two hospitals, thirteen health clinics and over 30 schools. It gives grants to students, train teachers and organises public health programmes to combat deceases, stillbirth and infant mortality. This has lead to improvements in life expectancy for the Sherpas. To protect the environment one million trees has been planted and several Sherpas have gained degrees following training in forestry and in national park management in New Zealand and Canada.
Hillary has been awarded the English Order of the Garter, Order of New Zealand and Order of the British Empire, which gave him the title Sir. He is also the only living New Zealander to appear on a banknote and the first foreigner to become an honorary citizen of Nepal. He was elected honorary member of the UIAA in 1992.
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