The Man Who Knocked the Bastard Off

On a sunny day in 1953, a tall young New Zealander named Edmund Hillary became the first human to stand atop the world's highest mountain—and, thereafter, a paragon of grace and bonhomie for explorers who would follow.

Oct 1, 1999
Outside Magazine
You married your first wife, Louise, in 1953 and had three children with her—Peter, Sarah, and Belinda. How did you balance family matters with your adventurous life?

I did it largely by having my wife come with me on the trips, and when the children got a little bit older, they came with me, too. When I went to the Antarctic and was away for 18 months, I did leave my family behind, and at times I had a sense of guilt about that.

In 1975, there was a terrible accident involving two members of your family.

We were working on putting a new hospital in the village of Paphlu, and I had my whole family up in Kathmandu. My wife and youngest daughter Belinda were flying in to join me to go trekking up-valley to the Everest area. But when they took off from Kathmandu, the plane crashed, and my wife and youngest daughter died. I knew there was something wrong, because they didn't turn up at the airfield. I heard a helicopter approaching, and in it was a friend of mine coming to tell me what had happened. It was a terrible moment. It took me three or four years to shake myself out of that, and the way I did it was by doing the things that they had been doing with me, the building of schools and hospitals that I knew they wanted to see completed.

You've been happily remarried for ten years. Could you tell us about June?

When we were carrying out our expedition in the Antarctic, my major friend down there was Peter Mulgrew, who was a radio expert but also a good mountaineer and traveler. He went with me on our tractors to the South Pole. Peter had a wife called June, and Peter and June and Louise and I were very close friends. We shared a great deal together. Soon after Louise died, Peter also died in a plane crash, in the Antarctic. June and I were each left without a companion. We had a very close friendship over the years. June knew a great deal about the Sherpas and had worked with them, so we just became closer and closer. Finally we decided that we would share our lives more fully, and ultimately we married, as we are today.

My wife and I travel around the world, we raise money, and we go back each year to the Himalayas to talk with the local people and ask what they feel should be done. I move around much more slowly now, but fortunately there are many helicopters, so I fly from one village to the next. I have become a helicopter trekker.

Do you think there are any great feats left to accomplish in the adventure world?

People often say to me, "All the good challenges have gone. There's nothing left to do." But that's simply not true. Certainly the summits of the mountains have been reached, the bottoms of the ocean, and the poles have been conquered. But people are constantly thinking up new ideas. Some of them are on the crummy side and not terribly bright, but some of them are very dramatic. In mountaineering, for instance, the really good mountaineers attempt peaks by much more difficult routes than the one that we climbed. Doing something for the first time, something that nobody has done before, is perhaps one of the most exciting things that can happen to anyone.

You've used the term "battle against boredom" many times. What does that mean?

When I wrote my first book, which was about Everest, I thought quite deeply about what to call it. Looking back on my life, I realized that I had been a very restless person. I came to the conclusion that the whole of it had been a struggle against boredom, so I suggested to the publisher that the book be called Battle Against Boredom. The publisher said that the title was much too negative and decided to call it High Adventure. All of my life I've been afraid of having nothing to do, having no challenges to meet, being bored. Life has been a battle against boredom, but I've been quite good at thinking up adventures and carrying them out.

Did you ever want to climb Everest again?

Tenzing and I both agreed when we came down off the mountain that that was as many times as we wished to attempt it. We had done the job. We had completed it the first time. Both of us always felt that that was as much as we needed. But it's really become a much more common thing nowadays for people to want to climb Everest on a number of occasions. There are a couple of chaps who have done it nine or ten times, but Tenzing and I thought nobody would be particularly interested in trying to climb it again. We were absolutely wrong.

Filed To: Mountaineering, Mount Everest, Snow Sports
From Outside Magazine, Oct 1999

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