Waspish, accessible and prone to an inspirational quote, Sir Edmund Hillary isn't just known as the first man to climb the highest mountain on Earth. In celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday today, Paul Little looks at 100 of his achievements, adventures, and passions.

1. On May 29, 1953, as part of a British-led expedition, and accompanied by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, Ed became the first person to summit Mt Everest, the world's highest peak at 8848m.

2. Always reliable for an inspirational quote, Ed never bettered: "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."

3. He pioneered more permissive standards of language with his first words on the descent: "We knocked the bastard off." These were reported around the world. His mother, Gertrude, was reportedly appalled.

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Sir Ed and sherpa Tensing Norgay after their ascent of Mount Everest. Photo / File
Sir Ed and sherpa Tensing Norgay after their ascent of Mount Everest. Photo / File
Queen Elizabeth on her coronation in 1953. Photo / File
Queen Elizabeth on her coronation in 1953. Photo / File

4. Depending on how you look at it, he either stole the Queen's thunder by summiting Everest the day before her coronation, or added to the lustre of the event with some mutually reflected glory.

5. His first exposure to mountains came at the age of 16 when he went on an Auckland Grammar school trip to Tongariro National Park. His father's permission was granted only after a prolonged campaign by Ed – early evidence of his determination when mountains were involved.

6. Ironically, as the years went by, Ed was prone to altitude sickness which interrupted climbs on several occasions.

7. Took jiu-jitsu and boxing classes at university.

8. Made his first ascent of Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1946.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir John Hunt, leader of the Everest expedition, the day they were knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Photo / File
Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir John Hunt, leader of the Everest expedition, the day they were knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Photo / File

9. In 1948, fellow climber Ruth Adams slipped and was badly injured while climbing with Ed and a party on La Perouse. He dug an ice cave for shelter and protected her for three days until help arrived. He was always of the view that human lives were more important than any mountaineering goals.

10. Narrowly missed becoming a figurehead for the vaguely new age Radiant Living movement, of which his family were members and for which he worked as a young man.

11. Studied maths and science at university but didn't pass an exam. He did, however, join the tramping club.

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12. Prior to knocking the bastard off, Ed also achieved many New Zealand climbing firsts, pioneering routes in the Southern Alps in particular.

13. As a young reader devoured not just adventures books such as John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and Edgar Rice Burroughs The Warlord of Mars.

14. Despite his father's efforts to keep him out of the conflict, Ed served in the RNZAF during World War II as a navigator on Catalina flying boats in the Pacific. His service ended after he suffered serious burns in an accident when his speedboat caught fire.

Sir Edmund Hillary talks to the Media after his arrival in Antarctica in 2007. Photo / NZPA
Sir Edmund Hillary talks to the Media after his arrival in Antarctica in 2007. Photo / NZPA

15. Could be a little waspish, as when, responding to yet another claim that British climber George Mallory might have reached the top of Everest and disappeared on the descent, Ed said: "It would be quite appropriate if it would prove he was successful. Of course, he didn't get down again, so he didn't quite complete the job fully".

16. He's getting a symphony for his birthday – yet another achievement not many people can claim. The Hillary Centenary Steering Committee commissioned the symphony from composer Gareth Farr. The work, titled, Roar of a Thousand Tigers will reflect major events in Ed's life, including Everest, personal tragedies and his work in Nepal, and the world premiere will be performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra

17. Although no great fan of organised religion himself, Ed believed firmly in other people's right to their beliefs. When pressure was put on some Buddhist boys who had won scholarships to a Catholic school to convert, they complained to him and he had them transferred to a school where they could continue to practise their own faith.

18. On religion: "I have no particular religious beliefs at all, but I am interested in all religions. In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the strongest features is that they believe that everyone must choose their own path in life."

19. In 1961, in response to requests from Sherpa friends, he built his first school in Nepal, at Khumjung.

Children at a school in the Himalayas, founded by Ed. Photo / File
Children at a school in the Himalayas, founded by Ed. Photo / File

. In 1966 The Himalayan Trust's first hospital was opened at Kunde. Within a short period, thanks to the introduction of iodine treatment, goitre and cretinism, till then widespread in the area, were eliminated.

21. Took down a sign that had been erected reading "Hillary Khunde Hospital" and insisted it be replaced with one that did not bear his name.

22. On his unsought knighthood: "I had never approved of titles and couldn't imagine myself possessing one."

23. On his legacy: "I would like to be remembered for the schools and hospitals and bridges and all the other activities that we did with the Sherpas. Unquestionably, they are the things I feel that were the most worthwhile of everything I was involved in."

24. He didn't live to get a telegram from the Queen on his 100th birthday, but Her Majesty acknowledged him frequently during his life. In 1995 he was made a member of the Order of the Garter, established in 1348, the highest order of chivalry she can bestow and one of the rarest, limited to 24 living members. Knights (or ladies) must provide a coat of arms, and Ed's included a kiwi holding an ice axe, chevrons evoking mountains, prayer wheels representing Tibetan (Himalayan) Buddhism and two emperor penguins.

25. Whether in his single-minded determination to get to the top of mountains or to get what he wanted for the people of Nepal, Ed made a virtue of being stubborn. In his words "I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed."

26. On aiming high: "People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things."

27. Although people loved to give him credit, Ed was quick to give credit to others. When asked to provide an introduction to an account of the Everest ascent written by expedition leader John Hunt, he wrote "Never in the history of Himalayan mountaineering has the responsibility for success been so widely spread amongst members of the expedition."

28. No anti-vaxxer, in 1963, Ed came across an epidemic of smallpox in Nepal. He radioed the Red Cross, requesting an air drop of vaccine, and in less than a week, 3000 people were vaccinated.

29. He was sceptical of his own public persona: "The press and the public have created an image of Ed Hillary, hero and explorer which simply doesn't exist. They've painted a picture of me as a heroic type, full of enormous courage, tremendous strength, undying enthusiasm and all the rest of it. But it's all really just a story."

30. He wasn't always the most famous New Zealander in the world. At the time of Everest a Daily Mail headline read: "The Crowning Glory – Everest Conquered. Edward Hillary plants the Queen's flag on the top of the world".

31. Was firmly opposed to wealthy people paying huge fees to effectively be dragged to the top of Everest: "I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying."

32. Used the Everest ascent as the basis of a unique career and made a living off it. It was said when he became high commissioner of India it was the first "proper job" he had ever had.

Sir Ed, when he was the NZ High Commissioner in India 1987. Photo / File
Sir Ed, when he was the NZ High Commissioner in India 1987. Photo / File

33. Was named in a 1996 survey as the person who best embodied "the spirit and essence" of New Zealand.

34. Several times topped the Reader's Digest poll of most trusted person in New Zealand.

35. Apparently refusing to lie down, Ed was also named in a poll as the greatest living New Zealander 18 months after his death

36. Has lent his name – or had it borrowed – by numerous local streets, parks and institutions, from Hillary Collegiate to Ed Hillary Retirement Village.

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in Otara. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in Otara. Photo / Jason Oxenham

37. Much further afield, two geographical features are named after him: the Hillary Coast in Antarctica and the Hillary Canyon, which is underwater in the Ross Sea.

38. Even further afield, in 2017, the International Astronomical Union confirmed the official titles Hillary Montes and Tenzing Montes for two mountains on Pluto.

39. And in 2013 the Hillary name was posthumously licensed for a range of breakfast cereals and spreads: Hillary Cereal & Nuggets, Cereal & Nuggets Banana & Honey and spreads Peanut+ and Peanut+Honey. Although he never aspired to fashion greatness himself, an eponymous outdoor clothing brand was launched in 2018.

40. As well as his numerous volumes of autobiography and memoir, along with several book-length accounts of his life written by others, Ed appears in fiction as a character in Laurence Fearnley's award- winning novel The Hut Builder.

41. In 1987 Ed was among the first people to receive the inaugural Order of New Zealand, limited to 20 people at any time. It was said then: "It would have been a question of Ed and who else to give it to."

42. The 75km Hillary Trail, running from Titirangi to Muriwai in Auckland's Waitakere Ranges, was opened in 2010.

Te Henga Walkway, also known as the Hillary Trail, from Muriwai to Te Henga (Bethells). Photo / Natalie Slade
Te Henga Walkway, also known as the Hillary Trail, from Muriwai to Te Henga (Bethells). Photo / Natalie Slade

43. Did Everest co-conqueror Tenzing Norgay proud by refusing to say which of the pair first set foot on the top. Anyone who knew his sense of fairness would have worked out that if it had indeed been Norgay, Ed would have said so.

44. Quietly endured people thinking the iconic top of Everest photo showed him when it was of Tenzing Norgay. Ed said he didn't get a photo of himself because Norgay couldn't use a camera.

45. Among his many titles one of the most significant would have been the name by which the Nepalese knew him - Burra Sahib, meaning "big in heart".

46. In 1962, spent 10 weeks on a road trip in the USA as the world's most over-qualified tent tester, trialling camping equipment for US department store chain Sears, Roebuck. The journey was amusingly recorded by his wife Louise in her book Keep Calm if you Can.

Sir Ed and his first wife Louise.
Sir Ed and his first wife Louise.

47. Was ambivalent about statues. Although disappointed to see one erected to him in Nepal, he signed off on one at Aoraki/Mt Cook which shows him gazing towards the site of one of his earliest mountaineering successes.

Sir Edmund Hilary statue at the Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki Mt Cook. Photo / NZPA
Sir Edmund Hilary statue at the Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki Mt Cook. Photo / NZPA

48. In an unprecedented – and highly choreographed - meeting, the first person to set foot on top of Everest and the first person to set foot on the Moon met in the appropriately adventurous setting of the North Pole in 1985. Ed said he thoroughly enjoyed meeting Neil Armstrong.

49. This "summit meeting" made Ed the first person to have stood at both Poles and on the top of Everest.

50. At the time of his death Ed's international honours included the Order of the Gurkha Right Arm, the Everest Medal in gold, the David Livingstone Medal of the Scottish Geographical Society, the American Geographical Society of New York Medal, the Belgium Le Soir Medal, the Geographical Society of Chicago Medal, the Hubbard Medal of the National Geographical Society, Washington, D.C., the Cullum Geographical Medal of the American Geographical Society, the John Lewis Gold Medal of the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, the French Geographical Society Medal, and the Distinguished Services to Geography Medal of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, The Polar Medal and the Fuchs Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, London, the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, London, the French Order of Sports Merit, the Order of the Golden Ark of the Netherlands, and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

51. In 1964 Ed constructed an airstrip at Lukla to bring in building materials for a hospital. It is now the main gateway to Everest for travellers and the second busiest airport in Nepal.

52. Candid to a fault, at an anniversary dinner at his old school, Auckland Grammar, he spoke at length about the bullying he had endured there. Wife June reported it was received with "a deathly hush".

Sir Ed with his wife Lady June Hillary before the graduation ceremony where Sir Ed was awarded an honorary doctorate, at Founders Theatre in 2006. Photo / NZPA
Sir Ed with his wife Lady June Hillary before the graduation ceremony where Sir Ed was awarded an honorary doctorate, at Founders Theatre in 2006. Photo / NZPA

53. Although he dropped out of university himself after two years, Ed received an honorary doctorate from the university of Waikato in 2006 and was patron of the institution's Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship Programme

54. Ed was certainly the world's most famous beekeeper – that being the family business. At a loose end after Everest he returned to beekeeping briefly with brother Rex in 1954.

Sir Ed was a beekeeper. Photo / File
Sir Ed was a beekeeper. Photo / File

55. The 1956 Trans-Antarctic Expedition saw Ed break ranks with expedition leader Vivian "Bunny" Fuchs, exceed his brief and become the first person to reach the South Pole by vehicle and the first person to do it overland since Scott in 1913.

56. Ed appears to have at worst ignored, or at best misunderstood instructions not to go all the way to the Pole, possibly introducing the now widespread "I can't hear you, sorry …. You're cutting out" excuse, among his other pioneering achievements.

57. Ed immortalised the Massey Ferguson tractor by choosing it as the vehicle for his Antarctic crossing.

58. When choosing a team for the Trans Antarctic Expedition, Ed had a choice of two radio operators. He chose the one who didn't call him "sir" during the interview – Peter Mulgrew.

59. When one Everest team reunion was held, Ed was the only one without his official jacket, having worn it out rather than archiving it. Everyone else had theirs and he had to borrow one for the photo.

60. By 1975, the Himalayan Trust had built and was maintaining 23 schools.

61. Ed narrowly missed dying on Air New Zealand Flight 109 on Mt Erebus. Frequently employed as a guide on the Antarctic sightseeing flights, other commitments saw him replaced late in the day by his friend Peter Mulgrew.

62. "I've always regarded myself in a sense as a competent amateur."

63. Was named high commissioner to India in 1985, serving with distinction for three years, accompanied by June Mulgrew, who later became his wife.

64. Ed had almost no sense of entitlement. According to Naomi Lange when he was appointed high commissioner to India, Ed asked David Lange if he got a car with the job.

65. The choice of Ed to appear on the $5 note in 1992 defied all the protocols of paper currency, under which living people who are not heads of state are never chosen. The reason being that they might commit some heinous act and bring themselves into disgrace. It was felt this risk was as good as negligible in Ed's case.

A $5 note signed by Sir Ed.
A $5 note signed by Sir Ed.

66. Ed was consulted in the design of the note and insisted Aoraki/Mt Cook rather than Everest be represented.

67. Was famous for always planning his next adventure, and indeed reported that on Everest "I can remember …looking across at Makalu – and … worked out how it could be climbed and that was the actual route by which it was climbed later".

68. In 2007 he made what he knew would be a final trip to Antarctica and arranged to spend a last night not in comfort but in a simple hut, with dinner cooked over a Primus stove and reminiscing.

Sir Ed on his final trip to Antarctica. Photo / P Reid
Sir Ed on his final trip to Antarctica. Photo / P Reid

69. Survived – after a long period of mourning – the deaths of his first wife Louise and daughter Belinda in a plane crash in 1975.

Sir Ed with his first wife Louise and their children Peter, Sarah and Belinda. Photo / Archive
Sir Ed with his first wife Louise and their children Peter, Sarah and Belinda. Photo / Archive

70. Was made an honorary citizen of Nepal in 2003, Although this was the Everest 50th anniversary, the award was for his work building schools and hospitals in the country.

71. Inspired son Peter to such mountaineering achievements as summiting Everest twice, making the first traverse of the Himalayas and climbing the highest peak on all seven continents.

Sir Ed jokes with Sherpa members of the Himalayan Trust and their Headquarters in Kathmandu in 2003. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Sir Ed jokes with Sherpa members of the Himalayan Trust and their Headquarters in Kathmandu in 2003. Photo / Paul Estcourt

72. Support of the pro-Labour, anti-National Citizens for Rowling campaign put him on the back foot with the Muldoon Government at a time when public figures were meant to keep their politics to themselves.

73. A formidable public speaker, Ed remained modest about his talent in this area too. Once told that he had reduced an audience to tears, he asked what he had done to upset them.

74. Had an instinctive understanding of the photo opportunity. Leaving his club to attend an Everest dinner in London he was seen by a photographer who asked where his car was. Ed didn't have one but just then a Rolls pulled up, and when the occupant got out Ed hopped in and a photo was taken.

75. "We're not gentlemen. We're New Zealanders," was his explanation for declining to pay for some expedition expenses when he was told that in the British tradition this was expected of gentlemen.

76. "I think global warming is a very real problem for our world. I've seen the changes that have taken place in the Antarctic, in the Himalayas, where the natural ice has sort of faded away," Ed in 2008.

77. In 1999 was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th century.

78. Inspired numerous super-achieving adventures from New Zealand and the rest of the world, including Graham Dingle, Lydia Bradey, his son Peter and many others.

79. Inspired generations of regular people also to pursue their dreams. "You don't have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things, to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals."

80. Struck a blow for academically average students by showing school records did not necessarily determine long-term success.

81. After much lobbying by Ed, Sagarmatha National Park, which includes Mt Everest, was established in 1976 with help from the New Zealand Government.

82. In 1962, appeared on the popular US TV panel show What's My Line in which Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf and Merv Griffin failed to guess his identity by asking a series of 20 yes/no questions.

83. One hundred years later, is still the most famous person to have spent their childhood in Tuakau.

Sir Ed, aged about three, in Tuakau. Taken from the book, Sir Edmund Hillary: An Incredible Life. Photo / Supplied
Sir Ed, aged about three, in Tuakau. Taken from the book, Sir Edmund Hillary: An Incredible Life. Photo / Supplied

84. "If you have plenty - more than enough - and someone else has nothing, then you should do something about it."

85. Has inspired his granddaughter Lily to attempt to climb Everest next year.

Lily Hillary, granddaughter of Sir Ed, is training to climb Mount Everest in 2020. Photo / Doug Sherring
Lily Hillary, granddaughter of Sir Ed, is training to climb Mount Everest in 2020. Photo / Doug Sherring
Sir Ed with his grandchildren Lily, Alex and George. Photo / Supplied
Sir Ed with his grandchildren Lily, Alex and George. Photo / Supplied

86. "I believe that if someone starts out on a challenging activity, completely confident that they're going to succeed, why bother starting? It's not much of a challenge."

87. Was an early adopter of the sponsorship model of making a living, with the aid of Field Educational Enterprises and Sears Roebuck.

88. Less known than Everest or the "race for the pole", the Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition, of 1960-61 was a massive endeavour. It included a search for the yeti, a physiological study of existence at high altitudes, and an attempt to climb Makalu without oxygen.

89. The yeti "hunt" got the world's attention and helped with the funding, although it's doubtful Ed ever gave the notion any credence, once saying: "There is precious little in civilisation to appeal to the yeti."

90. Will be honoured with a centennial stamp issue this year.

91. Kept his number listed in the phone book his whole life and was known to talk to children and journalists who called.

92. Was made a life member of the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1953.

93. Inspired granddaughter Amelia to move to Nepal to live and work, meaning she was on hand to assist in the effort to get things back in shape after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit in 2015.

Peter Hillary and his daughter, Amelia, speaking during Sir Edmund Hillary's state funeral. Photo / John Selkirk
Peter Hillary and his daughter, Amelia, speaking during Sir Edmund Hillary's state funeral. Photo / John Selkirk

94. In 1977 he planned and led a 2400km journey by jet boat up India's Ganges River to its source in the Himalayas. Millions lined the riverbanks to watch the expedition's progress.

95. Ed and the Himalayan Trust rebuilt Tengboche Monastery in 1993 after it was destroyed in a fire.

96. He really did prefer to be called Ed.

97. The Himalayan Trust launched its teacher training programme in 1997. Thousands of teachers have been through it.

98. His state funeral on January 22, 2008 was broadcast live on television. Thousands of Aucklanders lined the streets to watch the funeral procession pass.

Lady June Hillary and her family follow Sir Ed's casket during his state funeral in 2008.
Lady June Hillary and her family follow Sir Ed's casket during his state funeral in 2008.

99. Posthumously, the work of the Himalayan Trust has continued to provide the likes of clean water and earthquake-resistant school buildings in the region.

100. Ed will preside in spirit over a fund-raising centennial gala dinner to be addressed by Peter Hillary and Sir Ranulph Fiennes on July 17. Money raised will go to the Himalayan Trust.

101. In his centennial year has inspired the Summit Challenge, a fundraising venture in which participants climb the equivalent of the height of Everest - 8848m - in one month.