Sir Edmund Hillary
and the Legends of Modern Climbing History Gather to Benefit the American Himalayan Foundation -- November 8, 1996
Proceeds from this event will go to support schools, hospitals and reforestation in the Everest region of Nepal.
Click on the small photos to see a larger image.
The Mountain Zone: Are you pleased that your son Peter has followed in your footsteps?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Oh, I never tried to persuade him. When he was young...I think children ought to be encouraged to be interested in the out-of-doors but I never really tried to persuade him to be interested in the technical side of mountaineering. That was really something he decided to do for himself and I think he has done it very well. I wish him well obviously. Since those very early days we have never climbed together anyway. He's gone toward very technical mountaineering and the technique and equipment are very different now.
The Mountain Zone: With the growing popularity of Nepal's mountains can the region realistically be saved from over use and be preserved in a wild state?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Tourism trips have far more people today than mountaineering. On the big mountains, to tell you the truth, I think the Nepalese government has to be a bit more restrictive about permission for groups. I mean we had an enormous advantage when we were climbing in those early days because we were the only people there. You never saw another party or another climber. You had to pioneer your own routes and be able to take care of yourself. Now days on mountains like Everest they have thousands of feet of fixed ropes in all the difficult places. They have sixty aluminum ladders on the ice fall. I mean the whole mountain is sort of tied down almost. Made tamer by all this sort of equipment. I feel lucky to have been up there climbing when it was a different sort of mountaineering. Now there are still a lot of very good expeditions going up the extremely difficult routes of the mountain and they are much to be admired but I don't particularly like the commercialized side of mountaineering.
The Mountain Zone: What do you think of polypropylene? Do you still wear wool or do you wear polypropylene?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Both. I think there is a place for both of them. Certainly some of the modern equipment is very effective but there is still a place for some good woolen clothing as well. But, clothing has become a lot more efficient than it ever was in my day.
The Mountain Zone: Are you familiar with the World Wide Web? The Internet?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Oh no. I know very little about it but I read about it all the time. But I really know nothing about it except that everybody seems to go all gaga about it these days.
The Mountain Zone: What are your favorite foods for high altitude?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Well the food we had for high altitude was very simple really. One of the problems at altitude is that you often get nauseated as far as food is concerned. I would say that we got the majority of our energy from hot drinks with lots of sugar in them. We used to particularly have weak tea with a lot of sugar in it, not what you would regard as a healthy diet down here, but for the relatively short time you were at high altitude, that sugar gave quite a lot of energy. I think now days there is quite a variety of food... much better freeze dried food than there was in my day so people can eat better than we did. However, we got there in spite of it.
KIRO: Sir Edmund, I know from reading of you that this is a cause that is very close to you, the people of the Himalaya. What touched you most on your early trips over there and caused this wonderful outpouring of your thoughts and efforts?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Well, I have built up a very close relationship with the Himalayan people. I have always admired their strength and enthusiasm and their sense of humor. I have never really felt sorry for them even though their way of life is a pretty harsh one. But, I decided many years ago to give them help in establishing schools and medical facilities and I've been doing it now for 35 years, or so, and it has been very worth while I find.
KIRO: What do see as your influence of the schools and also the impact of tourism, the trekking industry and the climbing industry that is really pretty big business there... How does that impact the traditional Sherpa life?
Sir Edmund Hillary: Well I think that the tourism is a very big economic benefit to the Sherpa people and also they have very strong ties to their own social attitudes and their own religion, so fortunately, they're not too influenced by many of our Western attitudes. They are affected a little I guess. I can remember when I first went into the Himalayan area way back in 1951 money for instance was not important at all to the local people. But now, finance has become just as important to them as it is to us, and this is a change maybe not for the better. But they have very strong culture and very strong village spirit. They work together on projects and so on and much of this I think is very admirable.
Hear Sir Edmond Hillary's thoughts on the commercialization of the Himalayan area:
Hear Sir Edmond Hillary talk about what he's up to these days:
The American Himalayan Foundation held a fund raising event at the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle on Saturday night, November 9, 1996. The sold out benefit raised over $150,000.00 and featured legends of Himalayan mountaineering.
Sir Edmund Hillary -- he and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to reach the summit of Everest (May 29, 1953)
Sir Edmund Hillary showed an incredible slide show while giving a characteristically modest account on his first ascent of Mount Everest on May 29,1953. We sat transfixed as he told of confronting the infamous rock wall on the West ridge after having just been told that it was insurmountable by a previous party. He told us how he'd jammed himself into the crack where the snow and ice was melting away from the rock and wriggled up the face. Not until he'd actually squirmed out of that crack did he actually believe that he and Tenzing Norgay would reach the summit. It's hard to imagine Sir Edmund Hillary wriggling and squirming, but then, he'd be the first to admit: they weren't as technical back in those days.
Maurice Herzog, the first person to climb an 8,000 meter peak, told us that his heart was in Nepal and that the country was his second motherland. He lamented the deforestation of the country and suggested that if done well, the construction of dams to generate hydroelectric energy would greatly benefit the area. If located far up the valleys where the only thing they disturb is rock, the dams would be environmentally unobtrusive. It would be unacceptable though to put them in the valley floors where they might displace people and destroy vegetation.
There was a solid measure of good-natured teasing about who climbed what before who and some belated yet sincere congratulations about past conquests. Jim Whittaker chided Ed Viesturs about his refusal to use bottled oxygen and having to cut him from the US-Chino-Soviet Climb for Peace team because he wanted the best chance of summiting. (Ed later climbed Everest alone and without oxygen.)
Tom Hornbein, whose alpine-style traverse of Everest's West Ridge with Willie Unsoeld in 1963 stunned the climbing world, was the next one to take the stage. He congratulated Viesturs but mentioned that he'd probably lost a few brain cells as a result of the achievement - "brain cells that he obviously could ill-afford to loose!"
In recounting his experiences on Everest, Viesturs insisted that reaching the summit was always optional. Getting down safely was mandatory.
Brent Bishop followed with another spectacular slide show and a talk on his successful expeditions to begin cleaning up the climbing debris on Everest. (Bishop has organized programs to pay climbers for the empty oxygen bottles that they brought down off the mountain.) He noted that many of the commercial enterprises, that generally took much of the heat from environmentalists, had actually done the most to provide funding and man power for the clean-up efforts. The Sherpas too, have done a great deal to remove trash from the mountain and had to be limited as to the number of bottles that could be brought down per load so as not to endanger themselves.
Bishop also urged those trekking in Nepal to not tolerate the use of wood as a fuel for the preparation of food. Because of the country's severe deforestation crises, the only acceptable fuels are gas and kerosene.
-- Gaylord Kellogg, Mountain Zone Staff
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The American Himalayan Foundation provides crucial education, cultural preservation, health care and environmental conservation in the Himalayan region. In the Everest area of Nepal, the AHF works with Sir Edmund Hillary to fund schools and hospitals, reforestation and sacred site restoration. The AHF also helps Tibetan refugees in their difficult struggle to survive and to preserve their culture.
For Information and Donations:
The American Himalayan Foundation
909 Montgomery Street
San Fransisco, CA 94133