Hillary - who began his career as a beekeeper before turning to a life of adventure - was known to many people in the Nepalese foothills of Everest as burra sahib or "big man".


'Life-changing work'


Hillary, right, and Norgay were the first to
reach the summit of Everest [AFP]
Zimba Zangbu, the association's vice-president, said Nepal's Sherpas considered Hillary "a second father".


"We are planning a memorial and thinking about a statue in the mountaineering park," he said. "His work changed the life of the whole Sherpa community."


In 2003 the Nepali government granted Hillary, a beekeeper from Auckland, honorary citizenship of the Himalayan nation on the 50th anniversary of his historic climb.


Hillary, a strong conservationist, had demanded that international mountaineers clean up thousands of tonnes of climbing debris including discarded oxygen bottles and food containers that littered an area called South Col, the jump-off point for Everest attempts.


He had also suggested for Everest to be closed for a few years to allow the mountain's eco-system to rejuvenate.


'Irreplaceable loss'


Describing Hillary's death as "an irreplaceable loss", Wangchuk, of the Everest Summiteers Association, said his "contribution to the mountains, mountaineering and Nepal will always be remembered".


New Zealand health officials said Hillary died early on Friday from a heart attack after having been ill for some time.


Edmund Hillary

Conqueror with a cause

In announcing his death, Helen Clark, New Zealand's prime minister, said Hillary claimed to be an average, modest man but was in reality "a colossus".


"He was a heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity," she added.


In 1985, Hillary was made New Zealand's high commissioner to India and five years later became the first living New Zealander to be featured on a banknote, the same year his son, Peter, scaled Mount Everest.


Illustrious explorer


Nepal made Hillary an honorary citizen for
his work in the Everest region [AFP]

Since his historic ascent, Hillary had returned to Nepal more than 120 times to help communities living in the foothills of Everest, building hospitals, schools, health clinics and airfields through the Himalayan Trust he founded in 1962.


During his life, Hillary helped set up the scientific Scott Base in Antarctica in 1957, and a year later led the first team to reach the South Pole by motorized transport, using a modified tractor.


In 1960, he returned to the Himalayas in search of the Yeti and set up a trust for charitable work in Nepal.


The mountaineering legend lost his wife, Louise, and youngest daughter, Belinda, in an aircraft crash in Nepal in 1975.


In 1977, Peter, who followed his father's footsteps to become a mountaineer, went on several expeditions together including a trip to the source of the Ganges in the Himalayas on jet boats.