Everest conqueror with a cause

Since his trail-blazing journey to Everest with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay 53 years ago, mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary has undertaken humanitarian projects to improve the lives of the people and the country which propelled him to fame.

Hillary's conquest of Everest in 1953 won him global fame

On May 29, 1953, Hillary scaled the planet’s highest peak [8,848-metres above sea level] and almost every year since, the New Zealander has returned to Nepal’s Khumbu region where Everest is located.

In May, Hillary, 83, and his wife, June, flew into Khumbu from Kathmandu by helicopter, a journey that would have taken at least three weeks on foot in 1953.


Hillary’s trip focuses on maintaining his numerous projects – such as building schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, reforestation and monasteries – that his foundation, Himalayan Trust, has been undertaking since 1961.


“Of course, my enthusiasm for the people of Nepal [takes me there every year],” Hillary told Aljazeera.net.


“The Khumbu region has been fortunate compared to other parts of Nepal,” he said, “but life there hasn’t changed much [since 1950s]. It is much the same as it used to be.”


Celebrity status


In 1953, Hillary’s conquest of Everest catapulted him into celebrity status from relative obscurity as a beekeeper in his native New Zealand, and earned him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.


During a return visit to Khumbu in 1960, Hillary asked local Sherpas what he could do to improve their lives and they suggested building the region’s first school to help open the “eyes of the children”.


Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountainsNepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains

Nepal is home to eight of the
world’s 14 highest mountains

Using his fame to raise funds to build the first school in Khumjung in 1961, Hillary laid the foundation of the Himalayan Trust. The trust went on to build a hospital in 1966 and today has offices in Canada, the UK, Germany and New Zealand.


Operating on an annual budget of $500,000 it continues to build schools and clinics and recently helped build an airport, several trails and bridges in arguably the world’s remotest region.


“He realised his responsibility for illiterate and economically backward Sherpa people,” said Ang Rita Sherpa, chief administrative officer of the Himalayan Trust in Kathmandu.


“We are extremely thankful to him. It is because of his efforts that the 30,000-strong Sherpa community in the Everest region today is among the most prosperous in the region.”


Scotch for a cause


Hoping to increase the cash flow for the Himalayan Fund, Hillary sold a rare bottle of Scotch Royal Salute Whiskey for $30,000 at an auction in March.


The bottle of rare blended whiskey – the first bottle in a batch of 255 bottled to mark the 50th anniversary of the Coronation of Britain’s’ Queen Elizabeth and the 50th birthday of the Royal Salute whiskey – was gifted to Hillary by the makers on May 29, 2003, also the golden jubilee [50th anniversary] of the first ascent of Everest.


“The people need to work a lot harder than they are doing to preserve [the Himalayas]”

Sir Edmund Hillary

“The money will go to the Himalayan Trust projects in Nepal … entirely on the medicines, hospitals, schools and [renovation] of the monasteries in the region,” Hillary told Aljazeera.net.


Hillary’s consistent involvement in the promotion and development of the Everest region has been a booster that Nepal’s ailing tourism industry badly needs.


As he toured Nepal in May, he urged the international community to help Nepal revive its tourism industry. He said he found Nepal had “vastly improved” there despite the bad news and the bloody demonstrations which dominated headlines throughout April.


“I will return to Nepal again next year,” he said.




Aditya Baral, a Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) official in Kathmandu, said presence of luminaries such as Hillary has boosted the confidence of tourists and entrepreneurs in Nepal.


Mountain treks have also maintained their popularity.


Japanese Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb Everest in 1976, is attempting to scale Manaslu, the eighth highest peak.


Sean Young Park and Um Hong Gil – two Koreans who have climbed all 14 mountains that are above 8,000 metres – are attempting to climb Everest and Lhotse Sar, the fourth highest peak, respectively.


Negative impact


In all, 52 foreign expedition teams have been given permission from Nepal‘s tourism ministry to climb various mountains. Last year, 54 teams were in the mountains, according to NTB figures.


But Hillary thinks that’s a bit too much. He’s been advocating limiting the number of teams to Everest to preserve its sanctity and the pristine region’s fragile environment.


He also believes that the world should focus on the negative impact of “commercialisation of Everest” and the effects of global warming.


“The people need to work a lot harder than they are doing to preserve” the world’s highest mountain range, Hillary says.

Source: Al Jazeera