They said it was physically impossible. Unconquerable. A fucking suicide mission only attempted by dumbasses, arrogant fools and the criminally insane. He proved them wrong.
The man who would come to be known simply as "Sir Ed" was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1919. The tall, gangly Kiwi studied Mathematics in college and took a job working as a part-time beekeeper on his father's bee farm, where he basically spent all of his time pissing off bees and wearing sweet hats. Apparently, the summer is the off-season for beekeeping (who knew?), so during these months young Edmund would travel out to the sprawling mountains of his homeland's South Island to seek adventure in any form he could find it - hiking, skiing, having awesome barbecue cookouts and climbing around in the New Zealand Alps. Even though he was kind of lanky and goofy-looking, Hillary quickly learned that he had a knack for mountaineering. He was always the fastest man up the mountain, and his strength, endurance, and ability to function normally in high altitudes meant that he was always the guy standing on the summit first, hurling boulders down at his friends like Donkey Kong trying to make shit difficult for Mario.
Unfortunately, Ed's long relaxing summer days spent clinging to the side of a mountain for dear life trying desperately not to plummet several hundred meters to his death were cut short by a little international tiff known as the Goddamned Second World War. Hillary was conscripted into the New Zealand Air Force, where he served as a navigator on one of those huge-ass awesome airplanes that can take off and land in the middle of the fucking ocean. During a particularly nasty adventure tearing ass over the Pacific, strafing the Japanese like a less-furry version of Baloo from Tale Spin, Hillary's plane caught fire, leaving him a little more medium-rare than most people would like to be. He received his medical discharge and was sent home, where he was once again free to pursue his hobby of making the most formidable mountains in Oceana his bitch. Over time he decided to take on bigger and better obstacles, traveling to the Swiss Alps and later the Himalayas. In 1951 he served as part of the British reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest, and in 1952 he went up the Himalayan peak of Cho Oyu. After these warm-up runs, it would be in 1953 when the 33 year-old Edmund Hillary would make a name for himself as one of the bravest and most badass explorers of the 20th Century. This was the year he would attempt to summit the "unclimbable" mountain - Everest.
Nowadays, I guess climbing Mount Everest is impressive and all, but it doesn't really seem like that big of a deal. In the past few decades thousands of people have made it up to the summit, and it almost seems as though pretty much any jackass in half-decent physical shape with three months of vacation time and an endless supply of money with which to spend on frivolous shit can buy themselves a panoramic view of the Himalayas from the Roof of the World. Shit, there's even a fucking reality TV show about it... how badass could it possibly be?
Well in March of 1953, it was the last frontier in the known world. No human being had ever set foot on the mountain's peak, and many of the world's best scientists and mountaineers believed it to be impossible. In the years since the discovery of the highest mountain on Earth, there had been thirteen documented expeditions - large, well-funded teams consisting of the best climbers on the planet making a push towards the one part of the world that man had yet to stand upon. Every attempt met with epic failure. Sixteen men perished on the mountain, frozen into blocks of ice buried deep in the snow like a bunch of prehistoric neanderthals, never to be heard from again. At best, attempting this mission was an excruciating exercise in futility. At worst, it was suicide. But Sir Edmund Hillary had giant cast-iron balls, and he didn't fucking give a shit. He was going to fucking seek out adventure, attempt the greatest feat of physical strength and stamina that this planet has to offer, and god help anybody dumb enough to get in his way.
So twelve British climbers, along with a couple hundred support crew, marched 190 miles from Katmandu to Everest Base Camp. This alone was probably pretty nuts, considering that I probably haven't walked 190 miles in my entire life combined, let along through the rocky, treacherous Himalayan countryside. On the ascent up Everest, it was Hillary's job to forge a route through the previously-uncharted Khumbu Icefalls. Just so you have some kind of frame of reference, this is the fucking Khumbu Icefalls:
Holy shit, I damn near get fucking vertigo standing on a ladder to hang Christmas lights - and that's even with someone holding the other end of the damned thing. This guy not only went through this shit, but he was the fucking first person to do it. It's one thing to see another dude successfully do something crazy without dying, and another thing entirely to blaze a fucking trail like this. In fact, most of the shit on this expedition was uncharted and undocumented, meaning that Hillary and his crew had to pioneer their own routes, fix their own ropes, and basically risk falling hundreds of feet to a painful death on top of poisonous spikes every single step of their lives over the span of about three months. Thanks to their determination, endurance and luck the climbers finally reached the South Col of Everest at 25,900 feet on 26 May 1953. From there, they prepared for their final assault on the summit.
Just camping out on the South Col is no picnic, let alone working your way up a sheer wall of solid ice with nothing but a rope, a giant nutsack and an ice ax. At altitudes of around 26,000 feet you are in what is known in mountaineering as the "Death Zone" - which sounds like the name of a bad Sci-Fi Channel TV series about a futuristic prison complex run by cyborgs but is actually the height at which human beings are unable to sustain basic life functions. The air pressure and atmospheric oxygen in the Death Zone is about one-third of what it is at sea level, meaning that the act of sitting still is almost enough to make you run out of breath (especially if you're fat and out of shape). Every movement becomes a struggle. You are constantly at risk of altitude sickness and fatal afflictions such as pulmonary or cerebral edema. Your digestive system shuts off since your body can no longer afford to expend the calories necessary to process food (that's bad). Your brain begins to be foggy, and you constantly feel like you've just gone on an all-night opium-and-booze bender and haven't slept for three days. This is a bad situation to be in, especially when you are surrounded at all times by things that can kill you in incredibly painful ways - avalanches, crevasses, black ice, strong winds, and freezing sub-zero temperatures so cold that frostbite can start knocking your fingers off within seconds. In these conditions, carrying 30-pound rucksacks on their back, Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa climbing partner Tenzing Norgay set out on the morning of 29 May 1953 to assault the summit of the baddest motherfucking mountain on Earth.
For five hours they fought up the mountain. Near what they believed to be the top, Tenzing and Edmund came up to a forty-foot tall wall of sheer rock that seemed almost impassible. Hillary forged a path up this obstacle that had no man had set foot on before - a treacherous path of rock and ice known today as the "Hillary Step":
When he started up the Step, Hillary couldn't even see the top of it. He just had to fucking make shit up as he went along, fighting the freezing cold, the insanely high-altitude, and the ripping fifty mile per hour winds that constantly threatened to blow him off the mountain and send him careening to his death like Wile E. Coyote. His experience served him well. At 11:30AM on 29 May 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay officially conquered Mount Everest, kicking the toughest mountain on Earth in its figurative, non-existent ballsack.
Shizurpa 10-zing: omfg d00d i pwn3d u cuz i r r0xx0rzz
The way down was no easier than the ascent. The gusting wind had blown fresh snow over the mountain, covering up their tracks and leaving them at risk of becoming hopelessly lost. After four grueling hours the men returned to the South Col. When one of Hillary's climbing partners came up to him asking how the assault went, Hillary simply said, "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off." Word reached England of Hillary's success on the same day as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and shortly after he was knighted. But Sir Ed was just getting warmed up.
In 1958 Hillary led the New Zealand component of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a British mission to explore the South Pole for some wacky scientific purposes nobody really gives a shit about. After helping set up New Zealand's Scott Base on Antarctica, Hillary and his buddies hopped on some crazy-ass tractors and hauled ass full-speed towards the pole, becoming the first men since 1912 to stand on the South Pole. He was later criticized for putting adventure ahead of the expedition's scientific goals, which is awesome. Real badasses don't let shit like science stand in the way of doing over-the-top shit.
Hillary climbed ten more Himalayan peaks during his career, including a kickass expedition to Makalu in 1960 where he was determined to find evidence of the Abominable Snowman. My guess is that he intended to stake his claim as the first human to ever punch a fucking Yeti in the face so hard that it coughed up blood, but unfortunately his mission didn't meet a whole lot of success. In 1977 he rode a jet ski from the mouth of the Ganges River to the source just for the fuck of it. In 1985 he and fellow badass Neil Armstrong traveled to the North Pole, thus making Hillary the first man to stand and both poles and the summit of Everest, which rocks.
Sir Ed was also pretty badass in that he did great things for the community. In 1960 he started the Himalayan Trust, a community service program dedicated to giving back to his Sherpa homies. Over his lifetime, the Trust brought 26 schools, two hospitals, two airfields and twelve medical clinics to impoverished Himalayan villages. The organization also worked to repair ancient monasteries, build bridges, plant trees, and hook up running water. Even better, Hillary wasn't the sort of motherfucker who was just going to write a fat check and forget about it either - he flew out during the summers, grabbed a shovel, and built some of that shit himself.
Sir Edmund Hillary's adventures earned him numerous awards and medals for bravery, including the highest honors of New Zealand and Great Britain. In 1992 his face was put on New Zealand's $5 bill, which is pretty fucking awesome considering that he was still alive to see it. On 11 January 2008 Hillary died of heart failure at the age of 88. He was humble and modest, but never hesitated to push himself to the max, seek out insane awesome adventures, and make the impossible his bitch.
|"For New Zealanders, Sir Ed was everything a good bastard ought to be - modest and humorous, brave and compassionate, and just grouchy enough to remind us he never sought, nor particularly enjoyed, adulation."
A Man Kiwis Love to Love
TIME Magazine: The Top of the World