The Wisdom of Sir Edmund Hillary

Today would be Sir Edmund Hillary’s 102nd birthday. The man was so even-keeled, consistent, and determined, it’s almost a surprise he isn’t still climbing somewhere, his long, mournful face pointed up at a sun-washed peak, alone in his element.

Humble, filled with perspective from being among the (likely) first two people to reach the summit of Everest and after a lifetime of scaling tough alpine peaks, Hillary is one of the most quotable, and blessedly relatable adventure greats. On this, his 102nd birthday, we’ve put together 11 of our favorite bits of wisdom from Sir Edmund, everyone’s favorite New Zealander who is most often mistakenly assumed to be British. (Photo: Russell Charters)

Life’s a bit like mountaineering – never look down.

Despite all I have seen and experienced, I still get the same simple thrill out of glimpsing a tiny patch of snow in a high mountain gully and feel the same urge to climb towards it.

Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.

I have never regarded myself as a hero, but Tenzing undoubtedly was. (Said at the unveiling of a Tenzing Norgay statue in 1997).

There is precious little in civilization to appeal to a Yeti.

I was scared many times on Everest, but this is all part of the challenge. When I fell down a crevasse, it was pretty scary.

Well, we knocked the bastard off! (Said to George Lowe as Hillary and Norgay were descending Everest after their successful climb).

Better if he had said something natural like, “Jesus, here we are.” (In response to Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon).

You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things — to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals. The intense effort, the giving of everything you’ve got, is a very pleasant bonus.

We didn’t know if it was humanly possible to reach the top of Mt. Everest.

I have discovered that even the mediocre can have adventures and even the fearful can achieve.


Some of our favorite books on Hillary are below.

High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest

View from the Summit: The Remarkable Memoir by the First Person to Conquer Everest

Edmund Hillary – A Biography: The extraordinary life of the beekeeper who climbed Everest



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