Finally, the Top of the World

A witness to the first ascent of Mount Everest 50 years ago this month recalls Edmund Hillary's aplomb, Tenzing Norgay's grace and other glories of the "last earthly adventure"

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Where will “Sir Ed” celebrate the ascent’s big anniversary? Not at the queen’s London gala. Hint: For decades he has aided the Sherpas.


They call him Burra Sahib—big in stature, big in heart—and they have it just right. Yes, he has had lucrative endorsement gigs with Sears, Rolex and now Toyota (and has led expeditions to the South Pole and the source of the Ganges). But 6-foot-2 Edmund Hillary has mostly devoted himself to the Sherpas, a Tibetan word for the roughly 120,000 indigenous people of mountainous eastern Nepal and Sikkim, India, since he and Tenzing Norgay, the most famous Sherpa of all, summated Mount Everest 50 years ago. “I’ve reveled in great adventures,” Sir Edmund, 83, says from his home in Auckland, New Zealand, “but the projects with my friends in the Himalayas have been the most worthwhile, the ones I’ll always remember.”


Hillary and the Himalayan Trust, which he founded in 1961, have helped the Sherpas build 26 schools, two hospitals, a dozen clinics, as well as water systems and bridges. He also helped Nepal establish SagarmathaNational Park to protect the very wilderness that his ascent has turned into the ultimate trekking and climbing destination, attracting 30,000 people a year.


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