World

Mount Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary dead at 88

Sir Edmund Hillary, who, along with Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first person to climb the summit of Mount Everest, has died. He was 88.

Sir Edmund Hillary, who, along with Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first person to climb the summit of Mount Everest, has died at the age of 88.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark made the announcement Friday.

Her office said Hillary died at Auckland Hospital at 9 a.m. Friday, but no cause of death was immediately given.

Part of a British climbing expedition, Hillary and Norgay scaled the mountain on May 29, 1953.

"Awe, wonder, humility, pride, exaltation — these surely ought to be the confused emotions of the first men to stand on the highest peak on Earth, after so many others had failed," Hillary noted.

"But my dominant reactions were relief and surprise. Relief because the long grind was over and the unattainable had been attained. And surprise, because it had happened to me, old Ed Hillary, the beekeeper, once the star pupil of the Tuakau District School, but no great shakes at Auckland Grammar [high school] and a no-hoper at university, first to the top of Everest. I just didn't believe it."

He reached the summit of Everest four days before Elizabeth was crowned Queen of Britain and the Empire on June 2, 1953. She immediately knighted Hillary, who was just 33.

Before Norgay's death in 1986, Hillary consistently refused to confirm he was the first to the top, saying he and the Sherpa had climbed as a team to the top.

But in his 1999 book View from the Summit, Hillary finally admitted that he was the first to step atop Everest.

"We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction," Hillary wrote.

"Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked round in wonder. To our immense satisfaction we realized we had reached the top of the world."

But Everest was just one of Hillary's adventures. He later led the New Zealand group that participated in the British Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic expedition from 1955 to 1958. In 1958, he reached the South Pole by tractor.

Hillary has helped the Sherpa people over the years by donating millions for improvement projects, including the building of schools, hospitals, clinics, roads and bridges.

A strong conservationist, he demanded that international mountaineers clean up thousands of tonnes of discarded oxygen bottles, food containers and other climbing debris that litters the lower slopes of Everest.

With files from the Associated Press

now