06:35 pm EST Jan 10, 2008
(ExplorersWeb.com/story updated 7.57 pm EST) Everest legend Edmund Hillary has died at the age of 88. This is a big loss to the world of exploration, Hillary's family and also to Himalaya chronicler Elizabeth Hawley, 83, who remained one of Hillary's closest friends since his great Everest ascent.
After four decades of tracking Himalayan expeditions, when climbers spotted the American chronicler at Kathmandu airport they knew what that meant: "There is only one person that Liz Hawley goes to the airport to meet," Wally Berg reported in 2006.
Not impressed by modern Everest, humanitarian work till the end
Hillary quit climbing long ago, but nevertheless traveled every year to Nepal, where he founded several humanitarian projects together with Ms Hawley. Much like many other veterans, he was not impressed by the evolution of Everest mountaineering.
"I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying...,” he said in regards to the fate of David Sharp. In later years, Edmund Hillary, Junko Tabei of Japan, the first woman to scale the peak and Messner asked Nepal to close the mountain; and only one or two expeditions to be allowed a permit each year.
Hillary and Hawley, whose lives and work in Nepal spanned precisely the 6 decades since Nepal opened its borders to the outside world in the 1950’s, were both doing their humanitarian thing to the end. In April last year, Edmund Hillary went to a New Zealand hospital after slipping and falling during a visit to Nepal. In Kathmandu Hillary, then 87, had met SuperSherpas’ team members Apa and Lhakpa Gelu, together with Liz Hawley.
“Elizabeth Hawley invited us over to gather information about the expedition, and we were unbelievably surprised that Sir Edmund Hillary was there as her guest,” SuperSherpas expedition manager Roger Kehr reported in the Salt Lake Tribune. “We were honored when he said that this may be his last trip to Nepal.”
(Ed: Story updated 7.57 pm with added info and images)
Together with Tenzing Norgay, New Zealander Edmund Hillary achieved the first summit on Mount Everest, via the South Col route on May 29, 1953.
Edmund Hillary's death comes only months after the death (on June 1, 2007 at 95 years old) of Ernest Hofstetter, member of the 1952 Everest expedition which opened the route to the South Col, along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa who would finally reach the top together with Hillary one year later. The Swiss climbers found the path up the Khumbu Icefall, the Valley of Silence and the Lhotse face, until they reached the South Col.
One year later, the larger and better equipped British team led by Colonel Hunt stepped on the summit of Everest for the first time. Back home, they sent the Swiss pioneers a telegram stating: "To you goes half the glory."
Hillary's mountainering career started in 1945 when he climbed Mount Cook (3764 meters). 1949 he had a year in the European Alps and climbed there. 1951, George Lowe invited him to join a New Zealand expedition headed for the Himalayas, climbing at altitudes of around 6,000 meters.
The British 1953 Everest expedition sponsors first wanted the more experienced Eric Shipton, a team-member on all four Everest expeditions during the 1930’s and founder of the route that Hillary and Tenzing would follow to the top of the world. Along with long time friend Tilman, Shipton devoted himself to small teams exploring with minimal logistics, an objected to the large setup. The sponsors therefore instead hired John Hunt and he in turn invited Edmund Hillary.
The expedition set out with 14 climbers, and 350 porters. The team carried the best high-altitude boots, windproof clothing, lightweight but sturdy tents, special radios and walkie-talkies, Primus stoves, aluminum-alloy ladders for crevasses, ropes, and the latest oxygen tanks to ensure Everest victory.
After their summit, a debate erupted on who of the two climbers had reached the top first. The mountaineers agreed not to answer the question. After his death however; a letter by Tenzing Sherpa was published stating that Hillary had placed the first step on the world's roof.
The history of Tenzing Sherpa:
1933 - Trekking porter in Darjeeling
1936 - Went with Huge Ruttledge's expedition to Everest and reached the North Col, 8000m.
1938 - Accompanied H.W. Tilman's expedition to Everest and reached Camp VI (8332m)
1939 - Went with a party to Tirchimir in the Hindu-Kush range and reached 7012m.
1946 - Carried out explorations in the Kangchenjunga region.
1951 - Went with a French expedition to Nanda Devi and reached the east summit (7621m)
1952 - Accompanied two Swiss expeditions to Everest, reaching the heights of 8600m and 8097 m respectively without oxygen, with Raymond Lambert.
1953 - Went with British Everest Expedition led by Col John Hunt and climbed the summit along with Edmund Hillary on 29 May.