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If you like Edmund Hillary's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Roger Bannister,
Sylvia Earle,
Jane Goodall,
Richard Leakey,
Greg Mortenson,
Alan Shepard and
Chuck Yeager

Edmund Hillary's recommended reading: The Warlord of Mars

Related Links:
New Zealand Edge
Hillary Foundation
Himalayan Trust

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Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary
Profile of Sir Edmund Hillary Biography of Sir Edmund Hillary Interview with Sir Edmund Hillary Sir Edmund Hillary Photo Gallery

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview (page: 2 / 6)

Conqueror of Mt. Everest

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  Sir Edmund Hillary

How would you describe to somebody who didn't understand anything about climbing or anything about the feeling of adventure, what the excitement of your adventurous career is like?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: I think I'd try to find out what the things are that made them excited. It doesn't matter what field you're in. You could be in education, science or business. Almost anything has its moments where you have to overcome considerable challenges, and if you're able to overcome those challenges, you get a great sense of satisfaction. And I would say a businessman who's been able to achieve a successful deal of some sort, would probably feel a very similar sort of reaction to someone who's just managed to get to the top of a mountain. You've overcome problems. You may not have been frightened to death, but you've overcome problems and difficulties and you've achieved success and you certainly feel pretty happy about it.

I think the element of danger which is present in things like mountaineering and sailing around the world and all those type of things, does add a tremendous amount to the challenge. There's simply no question that if you're doing something that has the possibility that you may make a mistake or something may go wrong and you'll come to a rather sticky end, this I think, does add something, really, to the whole challenge. You really feel you're doing something exciting and perhaps a little desperate, and if you're successful, it certainly gives you that little bit more satisfaction.

What is it that made you enjoy walking on the edge?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I don't really know.

When I was very young I read about it, dreamed about it and when the opportunity came to do something about it I seemed to slip into it rather easily. Even the companionship that I made with similar friends in adventurous activities, I found very, very rewarding. Nothing is better fun that sitting down with a group of your peers who've done similar sort of things and just talking about your experiences. Maybe boasting a little bit here and there too, but sharing experiences that you all appreciate, you all know have been frightening and dangerous and have been successful.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

You're very physically fit and yet you're in your 70s, so I imagine that you have come to a point in your life where you know that you've had to leave certain things behind. Has that been a tough adjustment?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I've been very fortunate in that respect. In the early days I liked to be the bomb of the expedition, and rush on ahead and do things faster than anybody else. Those days merged very pleasantly into periods when I organized and inspired expeditions and selected these younger people who were then the bombs of the operation. And then it drifted into this involvement with the people of the area, still loving the mountains, but finding the people just as important too. And on and on it's gone. As I get older and less physically capable, I find other challenges have grown up and become just as important to me.

Of course, we're all unique and have our own paths, but kids sometimes get so confused and feel they've got to be like somebody else. How would you encourage young people to find their own way?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: The only way to encourage them to find their own path is to tell them that, in my view, that's the only way in life. It's one of the things I really like about Tibetan Buddhism. I have no particular religious beliefs at all, but I am interested in all religions. In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the strongest features is that they believe that everyone must choose their own path in life. They don't try to convert you to their particular form of religion, but it's up to you to choose your own path. I like that very much indeed. I think that's a great approach to philosophy. I think that we have to learn to choose our own path, to make our own way, and in many ways, to overcome our own problems. There are many people who, when they're in a moment of danger, will resort to prayer and hope that God will get them out of this trouble. I've always had the feeling that to do that is a slightly sneaky way of doing things. If I've got myself into that situation, I always felt it's up to me to make the effort somehow to get myself out again and not to rely on some super-human human being who can just lift me out of this rather miserable situation. That may be a slightly arrogant approach, but I still feel that in the end, it's up to us to meet our challenges and to overcome them.

Do you remember some incident that was extremely dangerous for you, where someone else may have prayed for help, where you took responsibility?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Well I have no doubt at all that, when I've been on slightly questionable expeditions, people have prayed for my welfare, but I certainly haven't.

Can you describe a particularly dangerous or challenging incident where you have had to rely on yourself, where someone else might have chosen to pray?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Well for instance,

Coming down from Nup La Pass on one occasion and very difficult conditions, through crevasse country I stepped on a piece of snow which happened to be a thin bridge over a crevasse and...I shot through the thin bridge and started falling into the depths of the crevasse. Well my thoughts, which were fairly quick at the time, were just, "How can I overcome this?" Almost instinctively, because the crevasse was relatively narrow, I kicked my feet out towards one wall of the crevasse, and on my feet I had these spiked crampons, so I jammed my feet against the wall into the ice and then my shoulder bridged the crevasse, and I stopped. There I was, half-way down the crevasse with my feet against one wall and my shoulder against the other. I held onto my ice axe which, after all, any good mountaineer is told to do, and ultimately, I was able to use my ice axe to chip steps in the ice and get safely out.

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Now I really felt under those circumstances that it was up to me to get myself out of this unfortunate predicament. I didn't really feel that it would have done me all that much good calling on some great being to suddenly lift me out of this unfortunate situation.

I think even people who do pray in situations like that know that they have to help themselves.

Sir Edmund Hillary: Oh yes. People who feel they get strength from prayer, of course, should use their prayer.

Everyone knows you for climbing Mt. Everest, but what's your life like now?

Sir Edmund Hillary: My career over the years has slowly grown and changed, but I've retained a vast amount of the interests that I had in my early days.

I've moved from being a child who dreamed a lot and read a lot of books about adventure, to actually getting involved in things like mountaineering, and then becoming a reasonably competent mountaineer and going off to the Himalayas, doing a lot of climbing, and going off on expeditions to the Antarctic and that sort of active adventurer stage. Then I, more or less as I got older, I moved into a period where I was more involved in organizing, raising funds and leading expeditions. I was sort of the motivating factor in the expeditions, but perhaps less active. I wasn't the hot shot heading for the summit; I had other members of the party who did it. As I got somewhat older, again I became increasingly interested particularly in the people of the Himalayas. I built up very close friendships with them and I became concerned about the things that they wanted: schooling and hospitals and things of that nature. This carried on for quite a while. Perhaps in more recent years, certainly in the last 15 years or so, I've also become very much involved in environmental matters. So I would say now that my major interests are in people and in the environment.

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo

Can we go back to that young Ed that read a lot of books and dreamed? What were some of the dreams you had?

Sir Edmund Hillary: My dreams were almost all adventurous dreams. I suppose in many ways, I was not lonely, but I didn't really have many friends, and I used to go on long walks. I was a very keen walker and, as I walked along the roads and tracks around this countryside area, I'd be dreaming. My mind would be miles away and I would be slashing villains with swords and capturing beautiful maidens and doing all sorts of heroic things, just purely in my dreams. I used to love to walk for hours and hours and my mind would be far away in all sorts of heroic efforts. I never really felt that this was going to take place in quite that way. I think I was reasonably practical in that sense, but I rather enjoyed this dreaming phase. And certainly, I was also a very great reader, and the books I read were initially, very largely on the adventurous sort of activities. The Warlord of Mars or Georgette Heyer and those sort of romantic adventure type things. When I was going to high school, I lived right out in the country, but I went to a big school in the city and I had to travel about two hours each day, each way, to school, so I was on the train about four hours a day. I used to get a book out of the library every day, so I was reading a book a day for quite a number of years. Most of the books had some adventurous slant, so I guess these books tended to stimulate periods when I dreamt about doing all these things. I wasn't really doing anything at that stage, but I was certainly reading about it and dreaming about it.

When did you start to make the transition between dreaming about these adventures and actually pursuing them?

Sir Edmund Hillary: When I really started getting going, was when I was 16 years old. It was high school and...

I went with a school party about 250 miles south of Auckland, where I lived, down to our national park area where there were a number of big volcanic mountains and there's lots of snow there. It was the middle of winter and there was snow everywhere. It was really good, heavy snow. This was the first time I had ever seen snow, because we don't get it in Auckland, and for ten days I skied and scrambled around the hills. For me, it was the most wonderful experience I'd ever had up to that stage, and I think it really was the beginning of my enthusiasm for mountains and for snow and ice. In fact, it was really the first real adventure I'd had.

It built up, even at that early stage, a very strong affection for mountaineering. I knew I could do it and enjoy it and so it grew on me. Of course, after that I did a great deal more.

Did you tell anyone how excited you were with the snow and your adventure?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Yes, when I came home. I was quite good at relating slightly exaggerated stories of my adventures. Certainly my brother and sister and my parents were pretty patient about it. They listened with interest, but I'm inclined to think, in looking back, that I actually told quite a good story, so that they found my discourses quite interesting. I was doing things that they, at the time, weren't doing, and so I think I did impart this growing enthusiasm to them.

Who encouraged you? Did you have any teachers or any aunts or uncles or neighbors that encouraged you to continue being adventurous?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Not really. I had a number of friends who were interested in tramping and trekking around our local hills, but as I got older, I discovered that I tended to be rather more energetic and stronger walkers than they were and so...I always seemed to be pushing young ladies up steep hills and clamoring up trees to find out where we were. And I sort of quickly became pretty active in that sort of way. I still wasn't doing anything of great consequence, but I was loving the out-of-doors and loving forcing myself to travel quickly around the countryside and do very long treks and I enjoyed it very much.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

At that point in your life, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I really had no idea whatsoever. I feel that my life developed as I went along. I was never one of those people who, at an early age, had picked an objective and worked steadily towards it. All I knew was that I wanted to get involved in adventurous activity. I didn't have any specific type of activity in mind, but I wanted to do things that were exciting and adventurous. I had a fairly diffused feeling as to what precisely it should be.

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This page last revised on Feb 05, 2008 18:08 EDT
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