Edmund Percival Hillary was born on 20 July 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand.
At the age of 16 a teacher took his class on a trip to Mount Ruapehu, the highest volcano in the country, and there he learned to ski and climb on the snowy flanks of the mountain. Immediately he knew this was what he wanted to do. It was like love at first sight - the mountaineering life was for him.
For a few years after leaving university Ed became a bee keeper with his brother Rex and would head for the mountains to climb and adventure at any opportunity.
In 1939 Ed Hillary made his first climb of a peak in the Mt Cook region of New Zealand's Southern Alps called Mount Ollivier, and for Ed this was the beginning of his adventure. He climbed 16 of the 34 peaks over 3000 metres in the Southern Alps including what is now called the Hillary Ridge of Mt Cook, a route that was probably one of his most technical climbs. He then he climbed the Maximillian Ridge of Elie de Beaumont, one of the longest and most remote ridges in the Southern Alps.
Having made it through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall at the foot of the mountain they knew for the first time that this was a route to the top.
In 1951 Ed Hillary was part of a British reconnaissance expedition to Mt Everest that was led by the legendary Eric Shipton. They explored the southern Nepalese side of Mt Everest looking for a feasible route to the summit. On climbing through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall at the foot of the mountain they reached nearly 6000 metres and knew for the first time that this was a route to the top. In 1953 Ed Hillary joined John Hunt's British Mt Everest Expedition to attempt the world's highest mountain.
On the 29th of May 1953 Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first people to reach the summit of Mt Everest. They were members of a British expedition, and their success on reaching the 8848 metre summit was not known for two days. This was the culmination of 12 failed attempts since 1921, including nine British expeditions.
Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.
News of the expedition's success reached Britain on the day of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and the press called the ascent a coronation gift. "All this and Everest too."
People do not decide to become extraordinary, they decide to accomplish extraordinary things
Ed Hillary married Louise Rose on the 3rd of September 1953, soon after the ascent of Mt Everest. It was a fairy-tale wedding; he had gone to Everest a beekeeper and returned with a knighthood to propose to the love of his life. They had three children; Peter, Sarah and Belinda. Peter Hillary is one of the founders of the Edmund Hillary Collection.
Ed Hillary helped to establish Shackleton Base in the Weddell Sea during the summer of 1955-1956. With Sir Vivian Fuchs they wanted to complete the epic crossing of Antarctica that had eluded the great polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914.
The next Antarctic summer, under Ed Hillary's leadership, the Ross Sea support party established Scott Base on Ross Island at 78° South on the other side of the Antarctic continent. With 22 other expeditionaries Ed wintered over in the new base, before laying the fuel depots for Vivian Fuchs's crossing party using modified Ferguson tractors.
Having laid all the fuel depots across the east side of the continent, they drove on across the Polar Plateau to reach the South Pole the 4th of January 1958. They were the first to reach the South Pole overland since Robert Scott's tragic journey in 1911-1912, and Roald Amundsen in 1911, and they were the first to do so using motorised vehicles.
In 1960 the Sherpa people in the Khumbu region of Nepal told Ed Hillary that they needed a school. "Our children have eyes, but they cannot see."
Ed Hillary wanted to improve their lives, as they had put such effort into helping him. Many of the Sherpas had become his close friends. In 1961 Ed Hillary returned to Nepal with money that he had raised, established the Himalayan Trust, and helped build Khumjung School, the first school in the region. The charitable work of the Himalayan Trust continues today, and is supported by sales from the Edmund Hillary Collection.
Over the years Ed Hillary built 2 airstrips, 30 schools, 2 hospitals and 12 village clinics in the valleys below Mt Everest. Ed always said that this work for the mountain people of the Himalayas was the most important and meaningful work of his life.
The Edmund Hillary Collection was launched on 28th August 2018 by the Hillary Family. His grandchildren George, Alexander and Lily Hillary proudly modelled the clothes at New Zealand Fashion Week in Auckland to continue the legacy of their grandfather.
All photos courtesy of The Royal Geographical Society in London, the Auckland Museum in New Zealand and the Hillary Family.