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Sir Edmund Hillary - the mountaineering legend

world Updated: Jan 11, 2008 11:48 IST

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Sir Edmund Hillary, who became a mountaineering legend by conquering for the first time the world's highest summit Mount Everest, devoted his life for the betterment of Nepal's Sherpas who live on the slopes of the Himalayas.

A school mountain trip in 1935 made the fragile looking boy to decide that it was his calling in life to scale peaks even as he made his living as a beekeeper.

He climbed mountains in New Zealand, then in the Alps, and finally in the Himalayas where he climbed 11 different peaks of over 20,000 feet. Hillary's exploits as a member of the Everest reconnaissance expedition in 1951 drew the attention of Sir John Hunt, leader of an expedition trying to make an assault on Everest.

As the expedition reached the South Peak on May, all but two climbers were forced to turn back due to exhaustion. Hillary and Nepalese climber Tenzing Norgay were the only members who made to the summit 29,028 feet above sea level on May 29, 1953.

The duo spent only 15 minutes at the summit. Hillary took Tenzing's photos. Hillary left a cross that he had been given as an offering to the peak.

Sir Edmund later recalled "We did not know if it was humanly possible to reach the top."

Though the pair initially reported the ascent as one made in unison, it was only after the Sherpa's death in 1986 that Sir Edmund revealed that he had been about 10 feet ahead at the final ridge.

The news of the ascent reached Britain on the day of the Queen's coronation and as Hillary was a New Zealander and as a result a citizen of the Commonwealth, Britishers celebrated his win.