Sir Edmund Hillary: Son Peter says life with his father was 23 July, 2019
TREKKING in the Himalayas, birthdays at Everest Base Camp and building schools and hospitals, life with Sir Edmund Hillary was never dull, says his son Peter
As twelfth birthdays go, celebrating at Everest Base Camp surrounded by the debris of previous expeditions to the top of Earth's highest mountain must take some beating. But for Peter Hillary, whose seventh birthday five years earlier had been spent trekking along the Singalila Ridge dividing Nepal and India, it was very much business as usual. Being the son of Sir Edmund Hillary - the pioneering mountaineer who conquered Everest with sherpa Tenzing Norgay - made the unique event all the more natural. Sir Edmund's successful 1953 expedition to the summit of Everest made him a hero, and set the template for Peter, born a year after the pair conquered the famous peak.
"It was an amazing upbringing. My father was an incredibly energetic, restless sort of a guy who liked to take his family with him," says Peter.
"Dad took us around the world. We went to Darjeeling, spent time with Tenzing. We went back to the Everest area again and again and we were involved in the building of schools and hospitals."
This weekend saw the centenary of the New Zealander's birth and, while he died aged 88 in 2008, his name reverberates around the world to this day thanks in part to his family's devotion.
Peter, now 64, may not have the worldwide fame of his father but has matched him in many ways.
As well as Everest, Hillary senior - Ed to his friends - tackled 10 other Himalayan peaks, reached the South Pole in 1958 with the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (the first to get there overland since Scott in 1912), reached the North Pole - the first person to tick off both along with Everest - and even led a fruitless hunt in the Himalayas for the abominable snowman.
Peter has trumped his father with five Everest expeditions, reaching the summit twice (making them the first father and son conquerors), and been on a three-month trek to the South Pole.
And he completed the so-called Seven Summits, climbing the highest mountains on each continent.
His own visit to the North Pole in 1985 was a father-and -son outing - along with guests. It involved landing a ski plane at the Pole with round-the-world balloon hero Steve Fossett and man on the Moon Neil Armstrong.
"Neil was well known as being quiet, a private kind of a guy and so if you went up to him he wasn't all that forthcoming," he says.
"But if you're having coffee, dinner, people just start telling stories."
It was Peter's own father who guided him most.
"Dad had one of the most extraordinary lives of the 20th century. There was something special that kept him going back to the Himalayas for half a century," he says.
"It was quite remarkable, but then that was the kind of man he was. I remember him telling me I should go off and get a conventional job, an engineer or something, and I looked at him and said 'But I like what you're doing!' It's what I was born to and what I do to this day."
Father and son made some "quite bold climbs" on Everest but it was 1990 when Peter finally reached the top without his father.
He recalls: "Cellphones were just coming out. They weighed about 180lb and you needed a generator - but I was able to speak to my father from the top, 'Dad, we're here!'" And yet for all the gung-ho experiences, life wasn't without tragedy. In 1975 Peter's mother, Louise, and teenage sister Belinda died when their plane crashed taking off from Kathmandu as they headed to join Hillary as he helped build a hospital.
"We lost half our family. It was a huge struggle to rebuild and move on. It still travels with me.When I have quiet moments I think about them, they're always there."
In the years after his famed climb, Hillary set up the Himalayan Trust (and, later, Himalayan Trust UK) which has helped create at least 30 schools along with hospitals, clinics and airstrips plus thousands of scholarships in one of the world's poorest countries.
Peter now heads the Trust and still visits Nepal regularly.
"It's very rewarding. You see people becoming literate, building lives for themselves, getting into subsistence farming... pretty moving stuff."
The Trust helps young Nepalis find a reason to stay in their country rather than heading off to work on the building sites of the Middle East and Asia. It also helped rebuilding following a devastating 2015 earthquake and is now dedicated to bringing running water to the poorest people.
"Dad built a lot of basic water systems - you'd find a remote spring, get it channelled into a small dam and a pipe would take it down to the village and a tap," says Peter.
"What we're doing now is coming up with more sophisticated systems with ultraviolet filtration and sterilisation, plumbing to houses and firefighting hydrants - all things we take for granted."
The charity is set to get a boost from a new family initiative to keep Sir Ed's legacy alive in his centenary year: The Edmund Hillary Collection, a line of posh clothing that recreates items seen in vintage photographs from the roof of the world.
There's a copy of the parka Hillary wore, an updated version of Tenzing's down-filled jacket, and even one of those chunky jumpers with a roll-neck taller than the north face of the Eiger. All the clothes are made using historic patterns and original fabrics where possible and some are even produced by the suppliers of the 1953 expedition where they still exist.
With a percentage of the profits being directed to Nepal, Peter, along with three of his five children who are involved in the business - George, 27,Alexander, 23, and Lily, 19 - is searching for suppliers there too.
"I've gone back to the Himalayas on more than 40 expeditions. It's an amazing experience," says Peter.
But he never forgets that climbing is dangerous.
The worst was on Ama Dablam where we were hit by blocks of ice and I fell about 120 feet to the end of the rope.
I was badly hurt. It was very steep, and it took three days to abseil down.
"It wasn't just a matter of hobbling out, securing yourself and trying to melt ice for drinks."
Peter, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, finds time to write books, be a cruise ship guide in the Antarctic and lead mountain and Antarctic jaunts with his own travel company.
But he still treasures the memories of exploring with his dad.
"One of the most marvellous adventures was one of my father's last major expeditions," he says.
"We took jet boats up the Ganges, from the Bay of Bengal across the Gangetic Plains and into the Himalayas. "When the boats couldn't go any farther we hiked and made the first ascent of a beautiful little mountain."
Peter is very much the family man his father was. There was a family outing to Everest Base Camp back in April ("Lily went off and climbed two 26,000ft peaks").
He and Alexander will be filming on Everest next spring while a family trip - which he describes like a weekend at the seaside - is imminent, skiing in New Zealand's Southern Alps and climbing Mount Aspiring ("the Matterhorn of the Southern Hemisphere").
"The boys and I have been doing a lot of climbing in recent years Australia, Africa, Mont Blanc, Russia," he says.
"I'm not sure their aspirations are there to the degree of my father or me - but as a father I'm pretty happy with that."
Source: Express New