Friday, Sep. 12, 2003

Q&A: Sir Edmund Hillary

In 1953, Mount Everest was conquered, and the names of an Auckland bee farmer, Edmund Hillary, and his Sherpa climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, joined those of Peary, Amundsen and Lindbergh atop the hill of 20th century adventuring giants. Of those five, only Hillary is alive; Tenzing died in India in 1986. Sir Edmund, 81, still lives in Auckland, where he resides with his second wife, the former June Mulgrew.

Since summiting on Everest, Sir Edmund has registered numerous other adventuring triumphs in Asia and Antarctica; has served as a diplomat for the New Zealand government; has become a revered figure in Nepal by leading efforts to build dozens of schools and hospitals; has experienced devastating loss when his first wife, Louise Mary Rose, and one of their two daughters died in a plane crash in the Himalayas in 1975; has shared his son Peter's elation when, on his fourth attempt, Peter conquered Everest in 1990; and has — with a certain degree of reluctance — seen his own persona evolve into that of a living legend.

If I needed confirmation of Sir Edmund's exalted status not only in the adventuring pantheon but in that of the world itself, it came when my taxi dropped me off in the driveway of the great man's comfortable home on Remuera Road. I reached into my pocket and peeled off a couple of bills to pay the fare. They were New Zealand five-dollar notes, and they bore the mountaineer's picture. I was going to interview New Zealand's Abe Lincoln.

Sir Edmund — his friends call him Ed — met me at the door; his wife was out. He is a large, strong man still, larger even than the sinewy climber who scaled the heights. His torso is thick. He has bushy eyebrows and a bushy head of salt-and-pepper hair, as untamed today as it was in all those pictures of him in the wilderness. He looms large, as befits a legend, but he is a gentle man. He invites me in and then, in his sun-soaked living room, gives me all the time I require. He is smart, direct, self-effacing — yet properly proud — just as he was on the occasion of his historic ascent. — Robert Sullivan

Robert Sullivan: Tell us about your youth.
Sir Edmund Hillary: I was born here in Auckland, but the first 15 years of my life we lived 40 miles south in a small village called Tuakau, and I went to primary school there. My mother was a schoolteacher and very keen that I go to a city school, so although it was fairly impoverished times, I traveled every day to the Auckland Grammar School. I found the city rather trying. I was definitely very much a country boy.

I was a really weedy 11-year-old. I grew five inches one year and six inches the next year, and at the end I was large in size. My relationship with the mountains actually started when I was 16. Every year a group used to be taken from Auckland Grammar down to the Tangariro National Park for a skiing holiday. I think we must have had a good honey season that year, because I was able to persuade my father to let me go on this particular trip. We went down to Ruapehu, and I can remember it just as clearly as when it happened. Our train from Auckland arrived at the National Park station and there was snow everywhere, there was snow on the railroad line, and there was snow on the trees. It was a bright moonlit night, and the moonlight was a brilliant, marvelous sight to me, and it was really the most exciting thing that ever happened to me up to that time — us rushing around skiing. I found I was reasonably energetic and I could rush around and make snowballs, whatever. That was really the start of my enthusiasm for snow and ice and mountains in general. For a few years I skied whenever I could.

Downhill skiing?
Downhill. I enjoyed it immensely, although I never became a great skier. When I was 50 years old, I actually decided to draw up a list of half a dozen things that I really hadn't done very well, and I was going to make efforts to improve. One of them was skiing, and I did become a very much better skier.

What were some of the other things?
Mostly adventurous activities I wanted to do in the Himalayas, in Antarctica. I was successful, actually, on all the projects. Even when you're 50 you can make the effort to improve your standards.

After that trip when you were young, did you know you were going to go in that direction, and become an accomplished outdoorsman?
No, I didn't visualize myself becoming a renowned mountaineer. It happened gradually. I did a lot of hiking in the hills outside Auckland, and then I started modest mountaineering, and then I was able to do harder climbs, and finally I became a reasonably accomplished mountaineer in the New Zealand Alps and I did a number of treks. I'm inclined to think that happens to a lot of people. Very few suddenly decide they're going to be a world champion at something.

Concerning the allure of hiking and mountaineering: Some people love it because of the solitude, and choose to do it alone. Some like the teamwork. Some do it because of the thrill. What was it for you?
I enjoyed climbing with other people, good friends, but I did quite a lot of solo climbing, too. If I wished to do something, even if I couldn't find anyone who wanted to make the effort with me, I would go out solo climbing. I did find solo climbing very challenging, and a little frightening. You knew that you were completely on your own, and you had to overcome all the problems and possible dangers. Quite demanding, and quite an interesting experience.

Did you enjoy the tingle of fear?
I think I found fear a very stimulating factor. I'm sure the feeling of fear, as long as you can take advantage of it and not be rendered useless by it, can make you extend yourself beyond what you would regard as your capacity. If you're afraid, the blood seems to flow freely through the veins and you really do feel a sense of stimulation. If you can summon up your determination and motivation to overcome the fear, you seem to have more energy to tackle the problem and overcome it.

Did you find that you were more or less fearful by nature than your comrades?
I used to think that I was more fearful than my companions, but in later years, I discovered that they, like myself, concealed very much their fears. I think most people, when they're in a dangerous situation, or potentially dangerous situation, have that sense of fear. I was almost ashamed at times that I was fearful while my companions seemed to be drumming along. I found out later, in talking to them, that they were just as scared as I was.

Do you remember your first brush with fear?
The first peak I climbed in [New Zealand's] southern mountains was a very old route, but we had to climb up a long, steep snow-slope. I was aware that if I slipped on the slope I could possibly injure myself. I was aware that I had to be careful and there was danger. It was really a very small possibility of danger compared to my later situations, but at that time I was keenly aware of it. Getting up to the top of this little mountain and down again gave me probably as much pleasure as climbing a really difficult mountain did later on.

You became a serious climber on New Zealand's South Island.
Yes, but although I did a lot of climbing in New Zealand and a lot of backpacking and walking around the hills, I was a relatively late starter as a "serious" mountaineer. When I first went to the Himalayas in 1951, I was 31 years old. I really was at my prime, though some would think I was getting on. Himalayan climbers tend to mature fairly late. I think most of the successful Himalayan climbers have ranged from 28 to just over 40. When you're younger you're probably faster, but when you're older you have incredible endurance, and you also have a good deal more experience — you've had more experience being uncomfortable and miserable, whereas the younger person who is all go, go, really hasn't been all that miserable in his life. When you're climbing at high altitudes, life can be a pretty miserable business, and I think the older person is able to put up with this more easily than younger people.

So you had gained experience in the Southern Alps, you were part of a group of talented New Zealand climbers that included your friend George Lowe, you had joined these British expeditioners and, at 31, off you went to the Himalayas?
I was involved in two [Himalayan] expeditions in 1951, and then another one in 1952, before doing the top of Everest. I remember in 1951, we got to Australia to head for the Himalayas and we were interviewed by a large number of press people in Sydney. When we told them we weren't going to climb Mount Everest, they completely lost interest in us. One chap from one of the main Sydney papers, when I told him we weren't going to Everest, his face dropped. He said to me, "Have you ever been close to death?" And I said, "Well, I don't know. I've been scared a few times." He asked, "Has anybody ever died in the course of your trips?" And I said no. And he said to me, "Gosh, nothing exciting?" He was a real tough Sydney reporter. I quite liked him, but he was very disappointed in us.

When you first saw the Himalayas, were you awestruck?
No. When we first saw the Himalayan peaks, I was very impressed — they looked pretty good — but they didn't look all that different from what I'd been climbing in the Southern Alps.

Did you find yourselves up to the task?
Yes, I think so. Our first trip was very much a shoestring operation — we were pretty impoverished and most of our equipment was inadequate. For instance, I had a pair of boots which were very primitive and had rubber soles on them, and they were much too small for me, so I could only wear about one pair of thick socks and one pair of thin socks, which really was completely inadequate for climbing at high altitude in the Himalayas. Even though I had pretty good resistance to cold in my feet, that first trip I definitely had cold feet. But we still made a lot of new summits, and we did extremely well. We weren't using oxygen that trip. The highest mountain we climbed was just over 22,000 feet.

How many mountains were there?
This was one of the great pleasures, really: We were in an area where almost nobody had done any climbing, and we made six first ascents of mountains over 20,000 feet. That sort of experience is very difficult to come by these days. There are still lots of mountains around, but all the big ones have been done. Reinhold Messner was the first to reach the summit of all the 8,000-meter peaks [a feat the Italian mountaineer completed in 1986].

You were known as an aggressive climber in your Himalayan years.
I was quite competitive, and I tended to compete with members of my own expedition. I don't think I was unpleasantly aggressive, but I think I rather enjoyed grinding my companions into the ground on a big hill.

I remember when [Everest expedition leader] John Hunt and I were walking in from Kathmandu to Everest, we crossed over a river and had to climb up a very long, steep hill. We were going to camp at the top of the hill. I always used to enjoy going fast up these hills, and at one stage I caught up to John, who was about a decade older than I was. I passed him. John was very, very competitive, and even though he was older than me, he really put on the pace to try and pass me again. Well, there was simply no way I would permit anybody to pass me, and I put on the speed and left John behind. I always remember looking behind at John, who was absolutely desperate to try and defeat me on this hill, and I really couldn't understand it. Here was the leader of the expedition, the big wheel, why should he be so desperately keen to beat someone who was a great deal younger than he was?

I was physically strong back then, and I acclimatized well, and I had quite a competitive spirit. Technically, I was a good snow-and-ice technician, as far as the standards in those days went. I was a good step-cutter and could climb incredible snow and ice pretty effectively. Things have changed so much that the technical ability of people like Messner is greatly superior to anything that we had. But I wouldn't say the modern mountaineer is any stronger, and he certainly is not more strongly motivated.

The Everest expedition was, by the standards of the day, a very professional one.
I think it was well organized, but I wouldn't have said we were very heavily funded. We were a relatively small expedition.

How many were you?
There were really only 11 foreign climbing members, and then Tenzing, who became a climbing member. So there were really only 12 of us who were climbing Everest, and there were three other people — there was the film cameraman, the doctor and James Morris, the press bloke. So there were only 14 or 15 of us. After us came those really huge expeditions: the Japanese and Italian expeditions, with 50 or 60 people on them and vast numbers of Sherpas. Ours was nothing compared to what came afterwards.

And you were in a competition?
It was definitely a race, and all eyes were on it. The Swiss had two attempts scheduled in spring and autumn of '52, and we were in the mountains climbing around and listening for news. We were really quite concerned as to whether or not the Swiss would be successful. We didn't wish them any harm at all, we were quite respectful of them really. But we just hoped that they wouldn't be successful getting to the top.

The Swiss put in a particularly good effort, getting to 28,000 feet. That's when Tenzing really came into his own. He teamed up with [Raymond] Lambert, and Lambert and Tenzing were a pretty formidable combination.

Postmonsoon, the Swiss had bad weather and didn't get as high.

How did you and Tenzing become a team in '53?
The person I really enjoyed climbing with most was George Lowe, and I still believe that if George and I had been in the final summit push, we would have made it because we were a very strong combination. But John decided George and I were both useful as snow-and-ice climbers, and he split us up and used us with different groups. So I realized I simply wasn't going to be able to climb with George. I looked around and decided that the best and fastest mover around the place, apart from myself, was Tenzing.

I remember once, at lower altitudes, going up to this pass. On the walk up, Tenzing and I really raced up to the pass. I beat him to it. But he was obviously very fit, very strong and I was impressed. Tenzing was very competitive too, he wanted to be up front. That was a good sign. And he was a good, sound mountaineer. He had been on quite a few Everest expeditions. He really started as just an ordinary porter on the north side of Everest, and then, since he was obviously strong and accomplished, he became a very useful technical climber as well.

Was he a congenial mate?
Yes, very, very. It wasn't easy to communicate with him in those days. Although he spoke a certain amount of English, we couldn't discuss the philosophy of life, that kind of thing. But mountaineering decisions and so on, he was able to deal with those.

Do you remember the climb vividly?
I remember it pretty vividly. I remember we almost broke down on the Lhotse Face. George and I and the Sherpas were on the Lhotse Face, and we simply weren't making any progress for a week or so. I persuaded John to let Tenzing and me go up and start things moving again — otherwise we simply weren't going to get anywhere — and finally he agreed. We did that and we shot up. It was Tenzing, me and Wilf Noyce. We climbed to 24,000 feet, and we sort of got things rolling again.

A bit later, when the big lift to the South Col was imminent, the party was making very slow progress, and once again I persuaded John that Tenzing and I should go up quickly and then more or less lead them up to the South Col. John somewhat reluctantly agreed. John wanted me and Tenzing not to wear ourselves out before the final push. But I was perfectly O.K.

We had the meeting to talk about the summit strategy and who would make the final push. It really wasn't tense for me. I would have been very surprised if Tenzing and I had not been given the job of making the final assault.

We established our last camp at just under 28,000 feet. I can remember there were some very fierce gusts of wind whistling around the mountainside. We would hear it coming before it actually hit our cotton tent on this sloping, snowy ledge, and Tenzing and I were inside and it seemed to us that the main thing holding the tent down was our weight. We didn't know anything about windchill factor in those days, but the windchill factor must have been very considerable. And I really felt that night, with the wind blowing as it was, that we might have trouble with the summit. I have never been the sort of person who is absolutely confident that he is going to reach the summit of any mountain. I was always very much aware of the fact that weather conditions or snow conditions could make getting to the summit difficult or even impossible.

But early in the morning the wind eased off. There was still wind all the way up, but it wasn't anywhere near as severe. I looked out of the tent about 4:30 in the morning, and there were clouds around, but it was a good deal clearer, so I realized that we had a good chance to put in a push towards the summit.

I was absolutely certain that Tenzing and I could do this. Tenzing was keen to go. We knew that the conditions were good enough, so we just made our preparations and pushed on.

I wouldn't say the final push was fun. It was jolly hard work, actually, and the long slope up to the South Summit had soft snow, and we were very concerned about the potential avalanche. But, you know, as I've said many times, this was Everest, so we felt we had to push it a bit harder than maybe we would ordinarily.

Once we climbed that step on the ridge, which is now called the Hillary Step, the ridge sort of ran away, almost out of sight. You couldn't really see exactly where the top was. We couldn't find the summit. It wasn't until we came to a place where we could see that the ridge ahead dropped away, and we could see Tibet in front of us, that I realized we must be pretty close to the summit. Up above us the snow rounded off into a dome, and we realized that that must be the top. It's not a really sharp summit — the sort you hold your hands around. It's a summit that you can stand on reasonably comfortably. Six or eight people could probably all stand together. A nice summit.

I took my oxygen off and took photographs down all the leading ridges, just to make sure I had plenty of evidence that we had actually got to the top. Then I looked across at Makalu and I can remember assessing the routes up Makalu, which hadn't yet been climbed. I began mentally working out a potential route to the summit, which was actually the route by which it was finally climbed.

You never stopped working.
No, even on top of Everest, I was still looking at other mountains and thinking of how one might climb them.

When we got to the top, I didn't really have a tremendous feeling of ecstasy or joy. I didn't leap around or throw my hands in the air or something. We were tired, of course, and I was very much aware of the fact that we had to get safely down the mountain again. I think my major feeling was one of satisfaction, I really did have a feeling of "Well, we've finally made it." I know I had a little feeling almost of surprise, too, because there had been a lot of other very good expedition attempts at Everest, and they had not been able to get to the top, and here finally Tenzing and I were there. I certainly didn't have an arrogant feeling.

Before we came down off the mountain, Lowe met us on the South Col. He said, "How did it go?" And I said, "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off."

When you got down, everything got crazy quickly. The knighthood came through almost immediately.
I had nothing to do with that.

You didn't want it?
If I'd been given the choice, I wouldn't have had it, no.

Why is that?
Well, I didn't really think I was the right material for a knighthood, and it had never been something that I had any ambition to have. But I found in later years that if you're philosophical about it, it really can be quite useful in a way — useful for getting support for other activities. And then there was all that confusion about Tenzing getting on top first.

When we got back to Kathmandu Valley, we were met by communists — there was quite a strong communist movement on the mountain and in the villages. Now, I'm not anticommunist by any manner or means, but there was no question they felt that it was most important that they should stress that Tenzing had got to the summit first. Whereas to the ordinary mountaineer, of course, it's a matter of complete indifference. So they got Tenzing aside, and they really batted away at him, and I think they frightened him to death, quite frankly. And he, even though he couldn't at that stage read or write, signed a document that they presented to him, which indicated he had got to the top first. As he said afterwards, he had no idea what he was signing. It really was quite an uncomfortable time. In the end, Tenzing and I agreed that he did not get to the top first, and we agreed that we would say that we reached the summit together. That is basically what happened. Who actually set foot there first is a matter of complete indifference. But people still ask me the question.

Your life changed profoundly.
It was certainly the occasion that brought me to public notice. The media created a Hillary and Tenzing that really didn't exist. They made us into heroic figures, and it didn't really matter what we thought or said or did.

The main thing was that as long as I didn't believe all this rubbish that was written, I would be O.K. I never did believe it. And I think I've survived reasonably well. I never deny the fact that I think I did pretty well on Everest. On the other hand, never for a moment have I ever suggested that I was the heroic figure that the media and the public were making me out to be. The public really like heroic figures that they can look on with great admiration, and whether it's true or not doesn't seem terribly important.

Were you stunned by the reception?
No. George and I actually thought it was a bit of a scream. We all went to Britain and there was a tremendous reaction. I can remember walking across the street and a London taxi stopped and the taxi driver — he was a tough-looking cookie — came out and said, "You're Hillary, aren't you?" And I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Congratulations. You know, you've done a great job for us!" He got back in his cab and drove off. Now, the contrast was when we arrived back here in New Zealand. There was a big crowd — Mayor of Auckland and all the rest of it. I was put in this great big limousine to be driven off, and the window was down and a big hefty farmer-looking type thrust his hand in, grabbed me and shook me by the hand and said, "Good on you, Ed!" He said, "You did very well for yourself." Completely different. In England they thanked me for all we had done for Britain, but over here, in rather New Zealand fashion, they complimented me for having done well for myself. It never really let up.

How do you feel when you go down to the grocery store and pass a five-dollar note with your picture on it?
I don't spend a great deal of time thinking about that sort of thing.

You never stopped adventuring.
As far as I was concerned, the climb at Mount Everest really was a beginning rather than an end. It gave me the opportunity to do lots of interesting things.

You speedboated down the Ganges, you climbed Mount Herschel on Antarctica, you went on that three-year tractor expedition to the South Pole. What was the allure of Antarctica?
It was a very good challenge. Vivian Fuchs wanted to cross the Antarctic and carry out the task that [Ernest] Shackleton had tried. He invited me on the expedition, I think mainly because he felt that would enable him to get support from the government. It was a good challenge. And it was snow and ice, which I enjoy.

Was it harder than Everest?
Oh, no. It was very different in many ways. The problems of snow and ice were similar, but on a big mountain like Everest, there were more immediate dangers — the possibility of avalanche or falling off the mountain or going down a crevasse. In the Antarctic, the temperatures on the whole were colder, the distances were vast and it was a much longer sort of business, really. So in our trip to the South Pole, we were under constant tension, for long, long periods. For hours we'd be under great tension. Whereas on a big mountain it would be for short periods.

I enjoyed it. I had been keen to get to the South Pole.

And while you were doing the adventures, you became involved with Nepal, building the schools and so on.
I had built up a very close friendship with the Sherpa people, and it was obvious that they lacked so many of the things that we took for granted — there were no schools, and certainly no medical attention available. I liked the Sherpas and I admired them and I just thought, well, maybe there's something I can do. Once I've decided to do something, I do usually try to carry it through to fruition. So once the Sherpas said that the main thing they wanted was a school, I was determined that I would raise the funds. So we went ahead and built a school and hospital in 1966. We now have 30 schools and a couple of hospitals and a dozen medical clinics.

And you became a diplomat as well as a school builder.
I became the New Zealand ambassador to India — high commissioner, as we call it — and I was also high commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassador to Nepal.

We had four and a half years in Delhi from [1985 to '89] and we really enjoyed it. June and I on many occasions were invited along to quite important functions in which we would be the only foreigners, and we loved that. I like India, it's a really interesting place. I think it's doing very much better. When I first went to India in 1951, India was very different — much greater poverty, dead people in the streets. Now that's very rare.

But along the way there was tragedy. Tell us about Louise Rose.
I married Louise shortly after the Everest expedition. Louise was a good deal younger than I was, but she was a keen mountaineer. She was very much involved in the out-of-doors, and was lots of fun. We did a lot of family treks, we really enjoyed them. They weren't really extreme, they were more camping trips, but pretty energetic trekking. We were very keen that the kids should learn to enjoy the out-of-doors, enjoy swimming and camping and walking around the hills and all the rest of it. But I never at any stage really tried to persuade them — even Peter — to become a mountaineer.

And then Louise and your daughter Belinda were killed in Nepal in 1975. It must have been awfully hard to recover from that.
Well, of course it was tremendously difficult. It changed everything. My life disappeared, and I did drift for a time. I didn't really believe that time would heal the loss. But after five or six years, I found I was getting interested in some new things. Time did heal things. But things have always remained different.

What did you think of Peter's continuing to climb?
That was entirely up to him. He decided he wanted to do it and he went off. I've never climbed with Peter on a big mountain. He did more and more of it and became surer, a much better technical climber than ever I was. He was always trying difficult routes, wasn't interested in climbing easy routes. He had quite a few accidents. He nearly killed himself once, and I think four members of his parties died on the mountains. So I felt relieved when he finally did climb Everest. It was up the same route we had used. He telephoned me from the summit of the mountain, quite an unusual experience.

What did you talk about?
Oh, we talked about all sorts of things. We had a very good discussion. One thing that rather pleased me was: He complimented me on the Hillary Step. He said it was more demanding than he expected it to be.

What about all the climbing traffic on Everest these days?
Well, I've been sort of fairly outspoken on this. I think, A, that too many people have been permitted to go on the mountain at one time and, B, that there's too much rubbish being left on the mountain. The commercialized trips and the overcrowding were what caused the tragedy [in 1996, when eight died on Everest after summiting late and getting caught in an afternoon storm — the incident chronicled in Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, among other books]. It was inevitable. I've been forecasting a disaster of that nature for some time. And it will happen again. You see, with so many climbers on the mountain, climbers are practically queuing up for the difficult parts. What happens then, quite a few don't get to the top till three or later in the afternoon. And then, like in this instance, the late weather comes sweeping in.

Are the leaders of these guided expeditions sufficiently talented?
They're usually pretty competent. But the climbers are certainly not as competent. I met one of Hall's groups. [New Zealander Rob Hall, a commercial guide, died in the 1996 storm at 28,700 feet, along with a client, an American named Doug Hansen.] One of Hall's clients told me that he'd never been on a mountain. But he had paid his $65,000 — or whatever — and felt he was going to be taken to the top and back safely for that money.

You could tell he was a poor climber?
He told us he wasn't a good climber.

What did Hall say when you asked him about taking such a guy up?
Rob Hall was a firm believer in the fact that he could get them up and down safely.

Did this thinking get Hall killed?
Well, I'm sure if he had been on Everest with a serious expedition, he'd have got himself off. But ... who was that man with Hall?

Hansen. Now, apparently Hansen had been on the mountain the previous year and had got quite high. But he couldn't handle the atmosphere well and was lucky he got off. To take a man who had had trouble back up a year later is taking a very big risk, a considerable chance indeed.

What was your reaction when you first learned of the tragedy?
While I expected it, I was obviously shaken. We actually heard a man dying on the mountain, talking to his wife as he was dying. [Hall had been patched through from just below the summit, and a tape recording of the telephone conversation was made.] This was very dramatic, very sad stuff.

My own personal feeling — I would have preferred to die peacefully alone and let the world find out about it later.

You say you expect it to happen again. Can anything be done to prevent such occurrences in the future?
Well, I certainly put some responsibility [for the tragedy] on the Nepalese government. I think they should allow only two or three expeditions a year. But I'll bet you they don't do it. To them, the money's too important. They have said they would reduce the number of expeditions and increase the cost to go on the mountain. Now, I don't agree with the vast sum because it makes it become essentially only a sport for the wealthy or the extremely well sponsored. On the other hand, I do agree with them cutting down on expeditions — but I'll bet you they don't do it.

Has the nature of mountaineering itself changed, and if so, does this add to the danger too?
There has been an erosion of mountaineering values. It used to be a team effort. Nowadays, it's much too everybody-for-himself. Tenzing and I got to the top together, it wasn't first one, then the other. Now it's every man for himself. Not much you can do about it. That's the way people are these days.

With a traffic jam on top of the mountain, can these climbers possibly get the same kind of joy out of summiting that once was available — that was available to you?
I don't think they do get the same type of joy. I think we were the lucky ones, really. We had to do everything, we had to establish the route, we had to carry the gear up, we had to pioneer upper parts of the mountain. So we were really, in many ways, the fortunate ones. I mean, those sorts of challenges simply don't exist anymore.

You were born at the right time for what you wanted to do.
We were born at the right time.

Do you still go walking?
Almost every day. June's a keen walker, and we have a route here in Auckland that we do. And we have two cabins, one in the bush and one near the shore. I love to go walking there. I still love to go out. My health is excellent — I'm not quite as lively as I used to be, but I'm still very active. I travel often, do lots of lecturing. I'm sort of a guest of honor at many of these events.

Such as the ones coming up for the 50th anniversary. Are you looking forward to all that?
I'm looking forward to seeing my many friends in all those places, and I think it's nice that people feel Everest was important. I expected there to be interest in it, but my involvement is geared to making certain the Sherpas are kept in people's minds. That's how I'd like to be remembered, you see: not for Everest, but for the work I did and the cooperation I had with my Sherpa friends.