As a young boy nothing could thrill me more than a photograph like the one of taken by Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) of Tenzing Norgay planting the flags on the summit of Mount Everest. This past week we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of this first successful assault on the world’s highest peak on May 29, 1953. Yes. it’s all a bit of macho obsession. But these kinds of photographs represent the limitlessness of human endeavor and accomplishment. As Tennyson put it:
“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.”
When asked why there was no picture of Hillary himself on the summit., he responded that “as far as I knew, he had never taken a photograph before and the summit of Everest was hardly a place to show him how. “
About forty years after the event, I had the opportunity to meet Sir Edmund, or Ed as he informed us was his preference. He was warm and unassuming, quite consistent with his oft quoted response upon reaching camp after the summit climb: “We knocked the bastard off.” I remember a long discussion with him about climbing without oxygen and its adverse, even lethal, effects. I think, however, that what really speaks to the nature of the man, and what represents his enduring legacy is his Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation to provide education and healthcare for Sherpa children. To the end he saw no limits on human endeavor and accomplishment.