A long-time friend of Sir Edmund Hillary based in Nepal says his death is a huge loss to the local people, but his work will continue.
Sir Edmund Hillary died this morning in Auckland Hospital of a heart attack, after being ill for some time.
He visited Nepal for the last time in April last year and with Elizabeth Hawley, the unofficial chronicler of expeditions in the Himalayas for 40 years, met the 2007 SuperSherpas Expedition in Kathmandu.
Ms Hawley, an American who moved to Nepal in 1960, said today from Kathmandu that Sir Edmund was not very active on his last trip, during which he met with Sherpas and friends.
"He obviously was old and not very strong," she said.
"But he was cheerful and he was smiling and laughing and chatting away."
Ms Hawley was friends with Sir Edmund for more than 40 years and had kept regular contact him with him through emails, she said.
"I started helping him in his work on behalf of the Nepali people in the middle 1960s even before his Himalayan trust was formally organised."
She continued working with him on the trust.
"It's been fun. It's been very much worthwhile because he's done wonderful things for the people of Nepal."
Sir Edmund had helped build schools and hospitals and his passing was a big loss to the community, she said.
"It's an enormous loss for everybody. Starting with the sherpas of Nepal and Nepal in general, of course New Zealand and all of the world.
"A very fine person has just passed away."
She described Sir Edmund as a "warmhearted" man who "loved a good laugh.
"He was very loyal to his friends and very concerned about Nepal.
"He was the finest person I ever knew."
She said his work in Nepal would continue.
"With his death the Himalayan trust does not die. It will continue for years doing what he laid the foundation for."
He had been highly revered for his work by people in Nepal area, Ms Hawley said.
"He did wonderful things for people and made that area of Nepal, which is around the Everest region, a very highly developed part of the remote north of Nepal - much more developed than any other remote northern part of the country."
Hillary flew to Nepal dozens of times until altitude sickness put an end to it in the 1990s.
Hillary was given honorary Nepalese citizenship in 2003 on the golden jubilee of his Mount Everest triumph to honour his services to the people and the Solukhumbhu region where Everest is located.
In Nepal today members of the alpine community and people who had benefitted from Hillary's work in the mountain kingdom mourned his passing.
"He was a hero and a leader for us. He did a lot for the people of the Everest region and will always remain in our hearts," said Bhoomi Lama of the Nepal Mountaineering Association in Katmandu.
"I lit butter lamps and offered prayers for his reincarnation as a human being," said Ang Rita Sherpa, 60, an old friend who has worked for 23 years with Hillary and his Himalayan Trust that implements development projects in Nepal.
- NZPABy Sarah McDougall