Sir Edmund Hillary, 88

everest conquerors

Allow me to join the millions of other people worldwide who have paid homage to New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary, who died on Jan. 11, 2008 in Auckland Hospital. Hillary was 88 and was a climber to the end: he refused to give up early and reached the apex of his life in his old age.

Climbers know what it is like to be at the summit. I could just imagine the feeling of being atop the “highest peak on Earth,” one of the most forbidding mountains of the world. When, as a young man, I first read about his exploits, my imagination acted up. I closed my eyes and pictured that historic moment on May 29, 1953 when Hillary, together with Sardar Tenzing Norgay of Nepal, stood together at Mt. Everest’s summit. I felt good.

I have climbed my own mountains since I first bumped into the story, told and re-told through the years, on the conquest of the globe’s highest peak. I have stood in many summits and there’s no way I can describe the feeling that blankets me every time. I can therefore identify with Hillary when he wrote about his and Norgay’s experience:

“Another few weary steps and there was nothing above us but the sky. There was no false cornice, no final pinnacle. We were standing together on the summit. There was enough space for about six people. We had conquered Everest… Awe, wonder, humility, pride, exaltation–these ought to be the confused emotions of the first men to stand on the highest peak on Earth, after so many others have failed.”

Everest have been conquered a thousand times since then by many people, including a handful of Filipinos who did the feat last year. But the feeling will always be what the first of these adventurers felt more than 50 years ago: awe, wonder, humility, pride, exaltation. That is why I hate it when people downplay the effort of subsequent Everest climbers. Those adventurers were a rare breed, and among the more fortunate people in this planet.

We who love the mountains feel a certain affinity with this humble New Zealander, who I am sure is already in a place where there are no more summits to climb.

–Bong Wenceslao, January 12, 2008


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