Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary: A Giant Passes

"Another few weary steps and there was nothing above us but the sky. There was no false cornice, no final pinnacle. We were standing together on the summit. There was enough space for about six people. We had conquered Everest."

A great explorer died today.

He called himself a humble beekeeper. But he was really a humble GIANT. Not just because he got to the top of the world first. But because of the kind of man he was.

Hillary's life was marked by grand achievements, high adventure, discovery, excitement _ yet he was humble to the point that he only admitted being the first man atop Everest long after the death of climbing companion Tenzing Norgay.

He had pride in his feats. Returning to base camp as the man who took the first step onto the top of the world's highest peak, he declared: "We knocked the bastard off."

But he was more proud of his decades-long campaign to set up schools and health clinics in Nepal, the homeland of Norgay, the mountain guide with whom he stood arm in arm on the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953.

Although he met Tenzing Norgay many times after their famous climb, Hillary said they never spoke of it. Not once. Nor did the two men ever climb Everest again.

His life was marred by tragedy.

But he just carried on.

He climbed many other mountains. In 1977 he lead a jet boat expedition up the mighty Ganges.

In 1985 accompanied by Neil Armstrong....the first man on the moon and another humble hero... he flew a small plane to the North Pole. Making Hillary the only man known to have stood on both poles and the top of Mt Everest.

If I had been in the backseat of that plane I think I would have died of awe.

Big mountain. Big man....

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