(b. July 20, 1919 Auckland, New Zealand – d. January 11, 2009 Auckland, New Zealand)
Sir Edmund Hillary’s relentless ambition, his hunger for exploration, and invigorating leadership paved the way for his monumental accomplishment: conquering Mt. Everest and reaching the tallest point on earth, achieving a feat no human had accomplished before.
At the young age of 16, Hillary uncovered his passion for trekking and exploration after a high school trip to a local mountain, deciding he “wanted to see the world.” After two years of university, Hillary dropped out, risking a formal education to pursue his passion for hiking; he dedicated winters to climbing local mountains in his home, New Zealand, summiting his first mountain at the age of 20. Not 3 years later, Hillary devoted himself to trampling and spreading wisdom on behalf of a life philosophy known as “Radiant Living,” encouraging pillars of pacifism and healthy eating. Before hiking Mt. Everest, a fellow climber described Hillary “at the peak of fitness”; he was a prime candidate for conquering a beast never before surmounted. At the age of 33, having excelled in multiple Himalayan expeditions, Hillary was invited to join an expedition to Mt. Everest: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (and unparalleled challenge) he accepted without hesitation. By this point, over 10 expeditions and at least 2 solo climbers had attempted the trek without success. Nevertheless, Hillary displayed no discouragement: with over 350 porters, 20 sherpas and roughly 10,000 pounds of equipment, he and 9 fellow climbers began their ascent. Not a few days in and their enterprise seemed ill-fated: oxygen tanks malfunctioned, climbers fell to altitude sickness, and the overall orchestration of their initial ascent proved disastrous. Nonetheless, the group persevered, with Hillary spearheading group endeavors through treacherous obstacles, including their trek through Khumbu Icefall—a hazardous glacier in which many have met their deaths. Eventually, the team reached the South Col, a vital point on Everest that marks the final stretch to the peak. At this point, the leader of the expedition first chose Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans to make that final push. After reaching the South Summit, a point only 330 feet below the peak, Bourdillon and Evans decided to turn back–failing to summit due to extreme exhaustion and lack of oxygen; a decision Bourdillon is said to have “always regretted.” Three days later, after perilous weather delays, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the second pair elected to summit, having proven their competence after demonstrating outstanding leadership and tenacity in earlier segments of the expedition. By 9 AM, Hillary and Norgay reached South Summit. Their trek was far from over: the pair needed to surmount a near vertical, almost impenetrable 40-foot ascent right before the peak. With careful planning, Hillary positioned himself with feet against one surface and back against another: a rock pillar and a wall of ice, chimneying his way up to the peak with Norgay closely behind him. By 11:30 AM, Hillary and Norgay stood on top of the highest point on Earth, being the first humans in history to summit Mt. Everest. Their journeys inspire individuals all over the world; when describing how he achieved such staggering success, Hillary asserts: “I think it all comes down to motivation. If you really want to do something, you will work hard for it”.