George & Alexander Hillary



You don’t have to travel to the Himalayas to get a good lesson about sensible planning for the mountains. In fact, you only have to drive 4 hours out of Auckland.

About 15 years ago, my Dad, dual-Everest Summiteer and polar explorer, Peter Hillary, took myself and my brother, Alexander, to Tongariro National Park for a boys climbing trip. It was a real father and son bonding experience, and in the end it turned out to be a chance for Dad to teach us an important lesson about being in the mountains.


 It was boxing day, which happens to be Dad’s birthday. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm summer’s day. As we pulled into the car park to begin the trek toward Ngauruhoe, there were trekkers everywhere. All dressed for a wonderful summer’s day hike, equipped with shorts, singlets, flip flops and sun hats.

So when Dad made us carry a large trekking pack with gortex pants, jacket, gloves, beanie and a merino base layer, well, I must say, I’ve never been so embarrassed.

I felt like a fool. Here I am, with my Dad, who claims to know a thing or two about mountaineering, yet everyone else is dressed like they are heading for a day out at Piha Beach. Begrudgingly, with our packs, we made our way toward Ngauruhoe.


 About 3 hours later, we were hit by the most wild storm I had ever experienced. By this stage, we were ascending up the endless scrambling rock that leads toward the summit. Dad, fairly comfortable with the conditions, only decided to turn back when he looked over his shoulder to find myself and Alex huddled behind a rock, shielding ourselves from the wind. I was quite a skinny kid and I was struggling to stand in the gale-like conditions.


 As the wind-chill dipped into single digits and the rain pelted down, we casually walked past our fellow trekkers who were no longer happy with their shorts and flip flops. After feeling like a fool in the car park earlier that day, I now felt like a genius; a warm, wind-protected genius. We strutted away from Ngauruhoe in our gortex gear, gloves, beanies and base layers.


Written by George Hillary

Photography by Alexander Hillary