Remembering Sir Edmund Hillary (1920-2008)

Sir Edmund Hillary celebrates work with Sherpa people on behalf of the American Hiimalyan FoundationI met Sir Edmund once about ten years ago, at a dinner with the American Himalayan Foundation, a charitable organization that supports humanitarian projects among the Sherpa people whom Sir Edmund loved.  It was a memorable moment for me, but certainly not for Sir Edmund.

I remember how gracious Sir Edmund was to me, a complete stranger.  He warmly received my introduction, tolerated my inconsequential dialog, and posed for a picture with me.  He displayed a humble gentleness that I have also encountered in my meetings with the first American to summit Everest, Jim Whittaker, and his rope-mate Gombu, a Sherpa man related to Hillary’s rope-mate Tenzing Norgay.

These giants of climbing history are humble.  My own miniscule climbing experience has taught me this much-mountains make you humble.  Mountains reveal the power and majesty of a creation that strips us of all pretension. Perhaps Hillary, Whittaker, Gombu and others in their league have faced risks of fame down here in the land of media circuses and chicken dinners on white table cloths, but the mountains do not present that particular kind of risk.  Mountains make us more human, because they make us more aware of our place in comparison with the size of creation and its Creator.

Along with unknown millions, I add my humble salute to Sir Edmund, and the fine example he set for the rest of us.

3 responses to “Remembering Sir Edmund Hillary (1920-2008)”

  1. Q: What did Sir Edmund’s son say when asked by his father if he’d like to go climbing?

    A: Sure Pa!

  2. Someone once remarked in my hearing that, “The view from the top must be magnificent.” (We were speaking of Mt. Rainier.) I had to correct him. From the top, the rest of the world looks rather flat. Lesser peaks and mountain ranges shrink in perspective. The most present realities are the greatness of the monolith on which you stand (and the thinness of the air you breathe). The mountain does not help you see the world more clearly, it lets you see yourself more clearly. And that’s indeed humbling.

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