Mountaineering & Expeditions

Edmund Hillary Facts | 53 Things You Might Not Know About The First Everest Summiteer

How old was Hillary when he climbed Everest? What did Hillary do after climbing Everest?

If you know anything about mountaineering, you’ll almost definitely have heard the name Sir Edmund Hillary before. In fact, even if you know next to nothing about the art of climbing up big hills there’s a good chance you’ll have come across the story of Hillary’s iconic ascent of the world’s highest mountain in 1953. And speaking of ’53, we’ve decided it’d be a cool idea to compile this list of 53 (hopefully) pretty interesting facts about the man himself.

1) Edmund Hillary was a beekeeper (also known as an ‘Apiarist’). He did this to help finance his climbing in the winter.

2) When he climbed Everest on the 29th of May 1953, Edmund Hillary was 33 years old.

3) He climbed Everest with Tenzing Norgay.

4) Edmund Hillary was 6ft, 5 inches tall.

5) Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on the 20th of July 1919.

6) On the 30th of January 1948, Edmund Hillary climbed New Zealand’s highest peak – Aoraki / Mount Cook.

7) He discovered his love for climbing when he went on a school trip to Mount Ruapehu.

8) During World War II, Hillary served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (joining in 1943). He was transferred to Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 1945, where he suffered serious burns in a boating accident.

9) Hillary married his first wife Louise in 1953. Together, they had three children (Peter, born in 1954, Sarah, born in 1955, and Belinda, born in 1959).

10) In 1958, Hillary made it to the South Pole.

11) In 1985, he flew to the North Pole with Neil Armstrong. In doing so, Hillary became the first person in history to have stood on the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Everest. This has since become known as the ‘Three Poles’ challenge.

12) Between 1956 and 1965, Hillary climbed 10 more Himalayan peaks.

13) In 1960, Hillary was part of an expedition to search for the abominable snowman (also known as a ‘yeti’).

14) The expedition occurred in the Himalayas and lasted for five months, during which no clear evidence of the abominable snowman’s existence was found.

15) While on the expedition, Hillary travelled to remote temples containing “yeti scalps.” However, upon returning home it turned out that two of these had come from bears and one from goat antelope.

16) On the subject of the abominable snowman expedition he went on the record saying “The yeti is not a strange, superhuman creature as has been imagined,” before adding, “We have found rational explanations for most yeti phenomena.”

17) In 1960, Edmund Hillary was late for a flight and missed being involved in the New York Air Disaster (a mid-air collision between two planes that killed all 128 passengers involved as well as six people on the ground in Brooklyn).

18) Hillary founded the Himalayan Trust in 1960. The foundation, which he ran until his death in 2008, helps to build hospitals and schools in the remotest parts of Nepal.

19) In 1992, Hillary had his face printed on the five New Zealand Dollars note. He became the first living New Zealander to appear on the country’s banknotes.

20) In 2002, the sons of Edmund Hillary and his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay (Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay) summited Everest together.

21) To mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent, in 2003 Nepal granted Hillary honorary citizenship. He became the first foreigner in Nepal’s history to be granted such an honour.

22) In 1979, Edmund Hillary narrowly escaped being killed in another air disaster when he pulled out of commentating duties on an Antarctic Sightseeing Flight due to work commitments. The flight crashed into Mount Erebus, killing all 257 people on board.

23) His commentator role had been taken on the flight by his close friend Peter Mulgrew. Years later, Hillary married Mulgrew’s widow June.

24) Hillary’s first wife Louise, and the couple’s daughter Belinda, died in a plane crash near Kathmandu airport in 1975.

25) In the latter stages of his life, Hillary was openly critical of the overcrowding on Everest – as well as the increasing commercialisation of it.

26) Following more deaths on Everest in 2006, he was critical of attitudes on Everest that he deemed to be too ruthless. “People just want to get to the top [and] don’t give a damn for anybody else in distress… All I can say is that in our expedition there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die,” he said.

27) Politically speaking, Hillary publicly supported New Zealand’s Labour Party in the country’s 1975 general election. He was a member of the ‘Citizens For Rowling’ campaign – a movement aimed at stopping the right-wing National Party leader Robert Muldoon winning office.

28) He also played an active part in a pro-choice advocacy group, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand.

29) In 1977, he led a jet-boat expedition down the Ganges River.

30) During his lifetime Hillary was the Honorary President of Mountain Wilderness, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to preserving mountain areas’ nature and culture.

31) Hillary wrote numerous books about his adventures including ‘View From The Summit’, ‘Nothing Venture, Nothing Win’, and ‘From The Ocean To The Sky: Jet Boating Up The Ganges’.

32) Hillary died of heart failure at Auckland City Hospital on the 11th of January 2008.

33) Hillary’s casket was taken to Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral on the 21st of January 2008, where it lay in state.

34) His state funeral was held the day after on the 22nd of January 2008.

35) In January 2008, Lukla Airport in Nepal had its name officially changed to the Tenzing-Hillary Airport.


Pictured: Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla

36) The majority of Hillary’s ashes were scattered in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf with the remainder of them going to a Nepalese monastery near Everest.

37) Initially there had been plans, as per Hillary’s wishes, to have his ashes scattered on the summit of Everest. This idea was shelved in 2010.

38) Helen Clark, New Zealand’s Prime Minister at the time, paid tribute to Hillary, saying: “The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived. But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi.”

39) In 1984, Hillary became New Zealand High Commissioner to India.

40) As a youngster, Hillary took up boxing.

41) On the summit of Everest, in 1953, Hillary left a cross while Norgay left some chocolates.

42) The first person the pair met on the way back down Everest was a mountaineer called George Lowe. Hillary reportedly said to him: “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.”

43) There are two Antarctic features named after Hillary. The Hillary Coast, south of Ross Island, and the Hillary Canyon, an undersea feature in the Ross Sea.

44) In 2003, a 2.3-metre bronze statue of Hillary was unveiled, by Hillary himself, in Mount Cook Village.

45) The ‘Hillary Trail’ is a hiking trail near Auckland, named after him.

46) The ‘Hillary Step’ was a near vertical 12-metre high rock face close to the summit of Everest. It was significantly altered by the devastating 2015 earthquake that hit Nepal.

47) Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, after summiting Everest.

48) Time Magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people of the century.

49) In an interview in 1995, Hillary said “I think the most worthwhile things I’ve done have not been on the mountains or in the Antarctic, but doing projects with my friends, the Sherpa people. The twenty-seven schools we’ve now established, the hospitals – those are the things I would like to be remembered for.”

50) Despite being one of the most famous adventurers in history, Hillary loved going home to the west coast of Auckland. On this particular subject, he once said: “That is the thing that international travel brings home to me – it’s always good to be going home. This is the only place I want to live in; this is the place I want to see out my days.”

51) News of the first Everest ascent was announced to the British public on the eve of the Queen Elizabeth II coronation. The press labelled it a “coronation gift.”

52) In 2013, the Government of Nepal proposed to name a 7,681-metre high mountain in the Himalayas ‘Hillary Peak’ – in honour of the man himself.

53) Hillary’s middle name was Percival.

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