11 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, RIP

Before knocking off for bed we did our usual news scan to see if anything was happening in the world. Seattlepi.com told us that Sir Edmund Hillary, first ascender of Mt. Everest, had recently passed away.

We first learned about Sir Edmund when we read Jon Krakauer's (self-exculpating) Into Thin Air, his personal account of tragedy atop Mt. Everest. This was followed by a quick reading of Dick Bass' (self-glorifying) Seven Summits. Everyone who attempts to climb a mountain anywhere knows about Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa who, with Hillary, ascended Mt. Everest on 29 May 1953. Unlike these books, Hillary didn't even admit that he was the first (of he and Norgay) to reach the summit of Everest. And even then, the confession was in a sort of by the by fashion. From his book, View from the Summit:
We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction.

Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked round in wonder. To our immense satisfaction we realized [we] had reached the top of the world.
Though we had long admired Hillary, reading his obituary, we learned even more of his principled approach to life. He was a conservationist, sought after lecturer, and philanthropic supporter of the Everest region and it's native Sherpas. He even called for "honest-to-God morality" during the political debates in New Zealand in the 1960s.

This summer, when we (what? remember with horror?) remember USA, summer 1968, we should also remember that there were principled people like Sir Edmund Hillary who spoke up for morality--even when it wasn't popular.

*Update 16 January, 12:52PM MST: For more on the horrors of 1968, read Thomas Sowell "Myths of '68."

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