Sir Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer who wrote himself into the history books when he and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to conquer the summit of Mount Everest – the highest point on earth. Their amazing feat took place on 29 May 1953, when Hillary was just 33 years of age.
Born in 1919, Hillary grew up in the rural community of Tuakau, south of Auckland in New Zealand, and his passion for climbing began after a visit to Mount Ruapehu as a teenager. Following the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific, Hillary served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator, but returned to climbing after the war ended.
After several expeditions, which included New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, and a British reconnaissance expedition to Everest in 1951, Hillary joined the 1953 Everest expedition led by John Hunt. Hillary and Tenzing pushed for the summit on 29 May and made it at 11.30 that morning. They spent 15 minutes together on top of the world before making a careful descent and being met by fellow climber and lifelong friend of Hillary’s, George Lowe, at which point Hillary’s first words were, “Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.”
After Everest, Hillary continued his explorations in the Himalayas and Antarctica, and founded the Himalayan Trust to help the Sherpa people of Nepal. In recognition of his achievements, Hillary was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1953; member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 1987; and Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) in 1995. His image also appears on the New Zealand five dollar note. Hillary died on 11 January 2008 of heart failure.