Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008), mountain climber and Antarctic explorer. He was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest (8,850 m/29,035 ft), the world's highest peak, with Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Edmund Percival Hillary served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II (1939-1945). He obtained his early mountaineering experience in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
In 1951 Hillary joined the British Mount Everest Expedition. Over the next two years he participated in several expeditions to the Himalayas for reconnaissance and practice climbs.
By the time the British Mount Everest Expedition was ready to attack Everest in the spring of 1953, Hillary had become one of its strongest climbers. In April and May the climbing party ascended the mountain by way of the South Col, the pass between Everest and neighboring peak Lhotse. After the first team of climbers was forced to turn back just about 100 vertical m (about 300 vertical ft) from the summit, Hillary and veteran Sherpa climber Tenzing Norgay were called on to make an attempt. Just 30 vertical m (100 vertical ft) from the summit they faced an exhausting and technically challenging climb up a 12-m- (40-ft-) tall exposed rock cliff. This rock climb, Everest’s final test, would later become known as the Hillary Step. Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered the step and reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. Newly crowned British monarch Elizabeth II knighted Hillary for the achievement later that year.
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In 1955 Hillary was appointed leader of the New Zealand party of the British Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which was headed by British geologist Vivian E. Fuchs. Hillary led his party across Antarctica by snow tractor, pioneering a new route to the South Pole. The expedition was the first to reach the South Pole by overland journey since Robert F. Scott did it in 1912. Hillary subsequently led several expeditions to the Himalayas.
In the early 1960s, Hillary began raising money to build a school for the children of Khumjung, the home village for many of the Sherpas who had accompanied him on the Everest ascent. He later established the Himalayan Trust, which, since its inception, has funded more than 30 schools in Nepal, as well as hospitals, medical clinics, and airstrips. Hillary was granted honorary citizenship of Nepal during celebrations held in 2003 to mark the 50th anniversary of the ascent. Hillary died in January 2008. Among his writings are the autobiographies Nothing Venture, Nothing Win (1975) and View from the Summit (1999).