Remembering a great man
A great man died in January 2008. It was not just that he undertook a truly heroic event in the 20th century; but it was also the work he did subsequently for the Himalayan people. In a world full of media celebrities and “instant heroes”, here is a person we should admire and remember.
Edmund Percival Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest on 29th May 1953. Hillary died on 11th January 2008.
Since this successful expedition led by John Hunt, and with the advance of mountaineering technology and better knowledge of the problems of the impact of high altitude on the human body, Everest has been climbed many thousand times. By 2006 there had been 3050 ascents by 2062 individuals, and the mountain is now a tourist destination for those wanting an extreme experience. In 1978 Reinhold Messner (Italian) and Peter Habeler (Austrian) made a successful climb without using oxygen. In 2005, Frenchman Didier Desalle landed on the summit in a helicopter.
The Himalayan Trust: In the years that followed the 1953 Everest expedition, Edmund Hillary returned repeatedly to Nepal and to his friends the Sherpas, the mountain people of Nepal. They are some of the most friendly, generous and tough people on earth, but their lot is a hard one, living at high altitude, without most resources that we take for granted in the west.
Inspired by his admiration and respect for the Sherpa people, Hillary established the Himalayan Trust in 1960. At that time, the Everest region was very isolated from the outside world and lacked many basic human needs such as education and health care.
During a journey with his Sherpa friends across a mountain pass in early 1960s, Hillary asked if there was anything he can do for the Sherpa people. A Sherpa friend immediately replied, “Burra Sahib (big Sahib), our children have eyes but they are blind and can not see. Therefore, we want you to open their eyes by building a school in our village of Khumjung.” Hillary began to raise funds and was able to build a school in Khumjung village in 1961.
This was the start of the work of the Himalayan Trust in the Everest region. Since then, the Trust has been involved in education, health services, reforestation, building airports, trails, bridges, water supplies and preservation of local cultural monuments.
About the Sherpas: The word Sherpa does not mean mountaineer, guide or porter, but is the name of a race of people. Tibetan in origin, they inhabit the southern flanks of the Himalayan range in north-east Nepal. Few who visit them can remain indifferent to their loyalty, affection and charm or be unimpressed by their remarkable toughness and courage. The Sherpa language is a dialect of Tibetan; their customs and dress are basically Tibetan and their religion Buddhist.
Potatoes are the basic crop of the Sherpas and they rear Yak in Alpine pastures up to a height of 17,000 ft. Deforestation, much of it due to the growth of tourism, is a major problem, it results in the loss of topsoil, threatening crops and contributing to flooding downstream.
Many of their basic needs, such as foodstuffs, building materials and medical supplies, have to be carried for many days over wild terrain on a man’s back – this work is also undertaken by women. Some Sherpa children, eager for education, walk for two hours a day each way to attend school.
Find out about the work of the Himalayan Trust, and support it: www.himalayan-trust.org.np in Nepal, and www.himalayantrust.co.uk in the UK, and www.thesiredmundhillaryfoundation.ca in Canada.