We hope you enjoy this brief dose of polar history, the fourth in our Famous Antarctic Explorers Series!
Best known for being the first to summit Mount Everest along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary also set records in Antarctica. Something he is a little less famous for, but which deserves recognition nonetheless.
Born in 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand, it wasn’t until he was 20 years old that Sir Edmund Hillary summited Mount Ollivier in New Zealand. He later served as a navigator in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the Second World War.
In 1953, a team led by John Hunt, and totalling 400 people, was the first to successfully summit Mount Everest. Hillary and partner Tenzing Norgay were second in line to the summit when their teammates were unable to summit due to a failing oxygen system. This put Hillary and Norgay next up. Because of bad weather, they were forced to spend two nights on the South Col before finally making the final ascent. Once at the top, they took evidentiary photographs – most famously, Hillary snapped a photo of Norgay at the top of the mountain with his axe.
The final part of the Everest ascent, a 40-foot or 12-metre rock face, was named the Hillary Step in honor of one of the two first men to summit the mountain. He was also awarded, along with his teammates, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal and was knighted.
As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition some five years later, Hillary and the team reached the South Pole on January 4, 1958. This marked the first successful group arriving at the South Pole since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912. However, Hillary and team were the first to reach the Pole using motor vehicles. Another first for Hillary.
But Hillary’s polar adventures didn’t stop there. He joined Neil Armstrong, flying over the Arctic Ocean and landing at the North Pole. This marked Hillary as the first man to summit Everest and reach both the South and North Poles.
In later years, Hillary became an expert in all things Everest and Nepal, as well as Antarctica. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Scott Base in Antarctica, Hillary flew to the base in January of 2007 along with the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Hillary urged the government to help restore both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton’s huts that had been discovered in order to maintain a piece of history intact.
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