Hillary Chooses Canterbury For First Climb – 1939

Painfully shy, and extremely uncoordinated, it was the love of a great adventure that pushed the 20 year old Edmund Percival Hillary up Canterbury’s Mount Ollivier (pictured in 2014) – in what would become his first major climb.  The year was 1939.

Born in Auckland on 20th July 1919, it was a school trip to Mount Ruapehu that first sparked Hillary’s interest in mountaineering. 

Known as a daydreamer, with his nose constantly in adventure books, it was little surprise that he developed a great love for the outdoors and exploring.   To help boost his confidence and self-image, he took up boxing and the 6 foot 5 gentle giant, who was destined to become a national treasure, learnt that he had great strength and endurance – so much more than those athletes around him.  But that didn’t mean that he had all his weaknesses’ beat.  Overcome by shyness again, he relied on his future mother-in-law, to propose on his behalf, to his girlfriend Louise Mary Rose.

In 1948, after recovering from burn injuries during his active service in WWII, Hillary conquered New Zealand’s highest peak – Mount Cook in what he described as his happiest day.   It would just be a short 3 years later that he would have his first look and experience of Mount Everest.   After a controversial reconnaissance expedition to Everest in 1951, Hillary attempted the climb on 29 May 1953, in the company of Tenzing Norgay and successfully climbed to the summit of Everest – the world’s highest peak. 

They spent 15 minutes on top of the world, taking photos and leaving offerings – including chocolates!

Knighted shortly after by the newly anointed Queen Elizabeth II, Hillary embarked on a life of the most unimaginable adventures.   Not only was he the first man to stand on Everest’s summit but was also the first to stand both at the North and South Poles.  He worked endlessly as a philanthropist, especially with the Sherpa people, assisting with the building of schools and hospitals. 

By the time of his death in 2008, he had received numerous titles, medals, memorials and honours including his own personal Coat of Arms and having a mountain on Pluto named after him.
Unfortunately, Hillary knew great sadness too with the deaths of his first wife Louise and their daughter in a plane crash near Kathmandu in 1975 as they made their way to join him at a hospital build.
Hillary narrowly avoided death several times himself: One by missing his flight – now known as the ‘1960 New York Air Disaster’, and another in 1980, after turning down the speaker position on the Air New Zealand flight that crashed into Mount Erebus, Antarctica.
His ashes are scattered in the Hauraki Gulf and on Mount Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary is a world-renowned and much respected New Zealand figure who showed that ordinary people could accomplish extraordinary things. He is also commemorated on New Zealand currency ($5 note).

“You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things – to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Mount Ollivier is named after mountaineer Arthur Morton Ollivier (1851 – 1897).  To learn more about the Ollivier family, please check out the attached link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/the-olliviers

*Image courtesy of CrispNZ Trips – https://cris.lovell-smith.com*

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