An Era Has Ended – Sir Edmund Hillary 1919-2008

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Sir Edmund Hillary has passed away. He was the first man, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, to summit Everest back in 1953, and later went on to climb ten other peaks in the Himalaya. His adventure exploits didn’t end there however, as he also led a team of New Zealander’s to the South Pole and piloted jet boats from the mouth of the Ganges River to it’s source. Truly he displayed a spirit of adventure.

However, if you were to as Sir Ed how he would like to be remembered, I’d be willing to bet he was most proud of his charitable work. Especially in Nepal, the country which he felt gave so much to him. Hillary dedicated a good portion of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal by creating the Himalayan Trust, an organization whose soul purpose was to enrich the lives of the Nepalese people. Through the trust, more than 30 schools have been built, along with 13 medical clinics and 2 hospitals. In addition, 100 young Sherpas are granted scholarships to those schools each year, providing them with an education that they wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to take advantage of. The trust has done a lot of other wonderful things, such as providing training for teachers, building and maintaining monasteries, and the planting of more than 100,000 trees in environmentally protected areas across the country. These acts demonstrate the profound and lasting effect that Edmund Hillary has had, and will continue to have, on the people of Nepal.

Sir Ed’s passing also marks the passing of another era. Hillary climbed Everest at a time when mountaineers were seen as heroes doing great things for their countries. They made front page news and were on television for their exploits as they did things that no one thought was possible. Much like Neil Armstrong taking those first steps on the moon 16 years later, Hillary and Norgay’s first steps onto the summit of Everest were not unlike walking onto another world. By the time they returned to base camp, their lives were forever changed, as word spread around the World of their accomplishment at having “knocked the bastard off” as Hillary would so famously say.

That era was a time of heroes. True explorers who pushed boundaries for the pure adventure of it, all the while pushing themselves to the limits of human endurance. And while there are plenty of people who have picked up the torch and continue pushing those boundaries, I fear we will never see the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary again. Rest in peace and God Speed. Today we mourn the passing of a legend.


Thank you to everyone who sent me notes and links on this story. They were very much appreciated.

Kraig Becker

6 thoughts on “An Era Has Ended – Sir Edmund Hillary 1919-2008”

  1. Very well put. Your insight on how the eras have changed is right on the money and not something I had initially thought about.

  2. It true! Things really have changed, and we no longer see our climbers as the larger than life heroes they once were. Hillary was one of the last of that generation, and his is a presence that will be missed for sure.

  3. Sherpas pay tribute to legacy of Sir Hillary, Mount Everest
    By Stephen Speckman
    Deseret Morning News
    Published: January 11, 2008
    It was hot and humid inside Elizabeth Hawley’s home in Katmandu, Nepal, where Sir Edmund Hillary and Utahn Jerry Mika were sitting down last April for tea with Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa and Apa Sherpa, just before their SuperSherpas team was scheduled to begin their expedition to summit Mount Everest.
    Mika on Friday recalled fanning Hillary with a magazine to help keep the climbing legend cool. During the visit to the home of Hawley, a historian of Everest news, Mika asked if Hillary would grant the SuperSherpas team a video-taped interview.

    Hillary agreed to the interview and it became his last in Nepal, where some say his biggest legacy lies in what he did to help the Sherpa community there in the years after gaining worldwide recognition for being the first, along with Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay, to summit the planet’s tallest peak at 29,035 feet.

    Hillary, 88, died Friday at a hospital in New Zealand.

    Mika, who lives in Draper, helped bring Lhakpa’s and Apa’s families from Nepal to Utah, where they now call home. Apa, who “broke up” upon hearing word of Hillary’s death, gave a statement to Mika.

    “I am very upset and I am so sad — this is very sad news,” Apa said Friday. “Sir Edmund did a lot of good things. He opened our eyes for Sherpa people. Without Sir Edmund, we would not have hospitals and schools (in his Himalayan community of Nepal).”

    Lhakpa said he was saddened to hear of Hillary’s passing.

    “Because he helped a lot of people in Nepal and, now that he has passed away, who is going to help the Nepali and Sherpa people,” Lhakpa told Mika. “We will always look at Mount Everest and see our Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary.”

    Mika was humbled in Hillary’s presence in Nepal, where his impact can be seen in the schools and health clinics he helped build.

    “You could just see his mark, what he’s done,” Mika said. “What a legacy for one man, to be able to accomplish that much.”

    Apa, Lhakpa and other expedition team members, all Sherpas, reached the top of the world on May 16 in Nepal. The twist for their expedition was that Westerners, like Utahns Mika and Roger Kehr, were the support crew for the much lauded Sherpas, who are usually left in the shadows of publicity surrounding a team’s successful climb.

    Apa is the record holder for the total number of summits, 17, and Lhakpa is considered to have the fastest time in reaching the tip of Everest.

    Other goals for the expedition last May included raising money for the Sherpa community in Nepal and producing a video documentary of the experience. To date, about $11,000 has been raised through SuperSherpas, which is helping fund four children at a boarding school in Katmandu.

    Mika said the documentary is moving forward, with actor Scott Glenn volunteering to do narration for the project. The interview with Hillary will be included in the documentary.

    More about SuperSherpas and ongoing fund raising efforts can be found at

    In the meantime, Mika said Lhakpa and Apa’s children are thriving in Utah schools, boasting 4.0 GPAs and taking advantage of their educational opportunities.

    “I couldn’t be more proud of these children,” Mika said. One of Apa’s children is the first from his village back in Nepal to learn how to play the piano.

    In his statement to Mika, Apa praised Hillary for showing the world the first Everest route, which includes a section named the Hillary Step, located just below the summit.

    “Sir Edmund will be greatly missed by all the people around the world,” Apa said. “Our family is lighting a candle for this wonderful man. May his soul rest in peace in Heaven.”


  4. Very nicely put…
    He is one of my true inspirations…
    I have read most of his works and was even able to get a signed copy of one book… His work in ‘giving back’ has meant so much to me…

  5. Sir Ed was definitely one of a kind. He truly had a life filled with adventure, but he also worked so tirelessly to give back to the people of Nepal. His legacy will continue to live on there for years to come.

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