Life is full of lots of firsts; first man on the moon, and first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest!

            To reach the summit of Mount Everest and make a successful descent takes unimaginable stamina. That is what New Zealand born Edmund Hillary had. He was born in the town of Auckland on July 20, 1919.  He married twice. His first wife and a daughter were killed in a plane crash in 1975. With his first wife he also had a son and another daughter. He married again in 1989. He died at the age of 88 on January 11, 2008, in the city where he was born.

            When Hillary was 16 years of age, he went on a school trip to the mountains. Although he lacked coordination, he topped his peers when it came to endurance. While in college at age 20, he challenged himself by climbing to the top of Mount Ollivier located near the Southern Alps. Over the years, he continued to test his endurance by doing many high-altitude expeditions. One such climb was on January 30, 1948, when he reached the top of the highest peak in New Zealand.

            In 1953 Hillary took on the endurance test of his life; he would attempt to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. To reach its peak is an accomplishment many people before 1953 attempted unsuccessfully. The mountain is 29,035 feet high and the rocky summit is covered with deep snow the entire year. The winds can reach 200 mph and the temperature can be minus 80F. Because the body needs to adjust to the high altitudes, the climb cannot be rushed. A normal climb takes 40 days. To support their families, there are locals called Sherpas who carry tents, food, and other necessities to the high camps. Climbers can select one of 18 routes; some begin in Nepal and others begin in Tibet. Climbs are only attempted between May and November; this is referred to as the summit window. It is during this time that the winds are calmer and temperatures are warmer. To survive the bitter cold temperatures, climbers wear thick, puffy suits filled with goose feathers. To get a firm grip in the snow and ice, they wear spikes on their boots. To prevent falls, each climber must carry an ice axe and climbers are connected by thin nylon ropes. The air is so thin, the majority of climbers use bottled oxygen on the climb. The meals consist mainly of rice and noodles. Climbers will burn over 10,000 calories a day and lose 10 to 20 pounds on the expedition.

            Since May 29, 1953, when Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing were the first to reach the mountain’s summit, others have been successful. Over the years, better gear and weather forecasting have contributed to successful climbs. Today, 68 percent of all expeditions have at least one climber make it to the summit. Even though there are many success stories, deaths due to exposure to the elements, altitude sickness, falls, and avalanches have occurred. Even with the best equipment and weather reports, unforeseen occurrences happen.

            Being the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest only made Hillary continue to challenge himself. In 1958 he reached the South Pole. In 1985 he reached the North Pole. This earned him the distinction of being the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest and both poles. This first by Hillary, opened up a new challenge for adventurers from all over the world; it is called the Three Poles Challenge.

Sir Hillary earned a place in history for establishing many firsts; each one started a following of others who want to do what he did!

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