The Rolex Awards for Enterprise
New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, statesman and humanist, Edmund Hillary gained instant fame with Tenzing Norgay in 1953 when they reached the summit of Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain. His achievements in adventure and exploration continued throughout the following decades and were supplemented by his diplomatic role as New Zealand High Commissioner to India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Edmund Percival Hillary was educated at Auckland Grammar School and attended Auckland University before joining his father’s honey production business. He developed a love for mountaineering at an early age; his lifelong association with the Himalayas began in 1951 when he made first ascents of six peaks over 6,000 metres in the Gawhal Himalaya. ln 1951, he joined the British Everest reconnaissance party; in 1952, he took part in the British Cho Oyu expedition; and, in 1953 — with Tenzing Norgay — he reached the summit of Everest. For this, Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Sir Edmund then turned to the Antarctic and, leading the New Zealand part of the British Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he, with four companions, travelled overland on three converted farm tractors to become the first ever party with vehicles to reach the South Pole. ln 1960-1961, he returned to the Himalayas to carry out high-altitude research and complete a number of difficult first ascents, including Mt Amadablam (6,797m).
His concern for the welfare of the Sherpa people grew more acute and he co-operated with them to build — at an altitude of 3,840m — the first permanent school in the Everest region. He returned to the Himalayas annually for the next few years to combine his first ascents of several peaks with a variety of aid projects.
Sir Edmund continued his expeditions: in 1967, he made the first ascent of Mt. Herschel (3,570m) near Cape Hallett in the Antarctic and, in 1968, he tackled some of the turbulent rivers of east Nepal by jet boat. ln 1977, he drove three jet boats from the Indian Ocean up the Ganges to its source in the Himalayan peaks. ln 1985, the New Zealand government appointed Sir Edmund High Commissioner to India, Nepal and Bangladesh; however, he persevered with his aid programmes in the Everest region and has now completed 25 schools, two hospitals, 12 medical clinics and a reforestation programme. For his conservation efforts, he was appointed an international director of the World Wildlife Fund and was honoured by the United Nations Environmental Programme.
Sir Edmund has received the Royal Geographic Society's Founders’ Gold Medal; the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal; the Polar Medal; the Star of Nepal (1st Class); the Order of New Zealand; and five honorary doctorates. His books include High Adventure, East of Everest (with George Lowe); No Latitude for Error, High in the Thin Gold Air (with Desmond Doig); Schoolhouse in the Clouds; Nothing Venture Nothing Win; From the Ocean to the Sky, and Two Generations (with his son Peter).
Sir Edmund Hillary died on 11 June 2008.
Published in 1993