Edmund Hillary Interview
by Richard Salisbury & Elizabeth Hawley
If you were climbing Everest today, what would you do differently? [RAS]
Well at first I would say that we were extremely fortunate as being [among] the first people on Mount Everest. We were enthusiastic mountaineers and the challenges that we had to overcome were very important to us. We had to establish the route up the icefall, we had to establish a route up the Lhotse face, and we had to get our loads up onto the South Col and put in our high camp on the southeast ridge. And then finally Tenzing and I had to push to the summit. In other words, we had to do everything ourselves. We had to meet the challenges, overcome the problems, battle against the difficulties and ultimately with the whole expedition working as a very good team, we were able to reach the summit.
Today of course things are completely different. The icefall, which was one of the more difficult parts of the climb, is now just a walk. The route is established up it and the ordinary expedition member just trudges away up the steps made in the icefall, climbs the aluminum ladders, or clambers up thousands of meters of fixed rope in order to reach the cwm. On the Lhotse face itself, once again there are thousands of meters of fixed rope and the majority of expedition members on the mountain are following in the footsteps that other people on the mountain have already established. They are not pioneering at all.
So I believe that I wouldnÕt change anything. Now that is because we had the whole challenge ahead of us. We had the problems to overcome; we had to tackle these problems; we had to overcome the crevasses in the icefall; and it was a struggle for us of course. And then we had one other major problem that no other expedition has had to meet. And that is that we did not know if it was possible to reach the summit of Everest and survive. Many physiologists had grave doubts as to whether it was actually possible. So we had this enormous psychological barrier to overcome to reach the summit which of course no expedition since then has had to meet.
Except for Messner and Habeler when they did it without oxygen. [EAH]
Well that was a different stage again. And even with Habeler and Messner, you have to remember that they did not establish the route up over the next position. Following in the footsteps of members of their party, they were doing a remarkable thing in doing it without oxygen of course.
They had a tremendous psychological barrier again. [EAH]
And they had the psychological barrier, so there are [different] psychological barriers at different times. But not to say that they were incapable of doing it, they were very accomplished team, but they didnÕt really have to pioneer the route. They were essentially following in the footsteps of their expedition. So their challenge was different. Their success in climbing the mountain without oxygen was seen as another step forward. And that was a big challenge.
Do you think it would have been possible to climb Everest without oxygen in 1953? [RAS]
When Tenzing and I camped in our highest camp around about 28,000 feet, I felt sufficiently strong and was able to do all the things necessary then. I did have the feeling that if it really was necessary, we could probably give it a pretty good shot at getting to the top without oxygen.
And you would have done it; you would have tried it? [EAH]
Well, we didnÕt need to try it.
But if necessary, were you prepared to try? [EAH]
Well, my feeling was slightly different in that we had our camp at 28,000 feet. When we arrived there, the weather was very patchy, very fierce gusts of wind and we didnÕt really know what the weather was going to be later the next day. My feeling was that if necessary we could spend an extra night at that high camp and then attempt to push on the next day and reach the summit. As it happened we did not need to do that. But my thoughts were not really with the trying to climb without oxygen the next day. It was more of using what limited supplies we had of oxygen and had it been necessary we could climb it on that extra day. So I just thought about it was a potential thing. But I canÕt ever remember that at any stage thinking that maybe we could have a crack without oxygen, because at that stage we didnÕt need to.
You said you would not do anything differently since 1953, but in anyway did you wish that the logistics had been handled differently or the attempt to overcome challenges been done any differently? [EAH]
Oh yes, I think that was definitely true. Our expedition almost came to grief on the Lhotse face in that we had George Lowe and a Sherpa up on the Lhotse face trying to establish the route for quite some time. And the British newspapers I think called them the heroes of the Lhotse face and all the rest. In actual fact, I constantly felt that not enough effort was being put into the breaking of the route through from the Lhotse face. I talked to John Hunt and suggested that a couple more of us should go on up and give an extra boost. And finally when he agreed, Wilf Noyce and I went up the Lhotse face and came to George LoweÕs camp. It wasnÕt all that bad a day, but they sort of had run out of steam. And I can remember George sitting outside his tent having a bit of a meal of sardines. He had fallen asleep actually with a sardine hanging out of his mouth. They had just been there too long. We should have rotated people more. There is no doubt at all. The other two of us who came up climbed really easily. Of course we had the advantage of the tracks made by George and the Sherpa, but then we carried on. I carried on actually with a load up quite a distance further without too much difficulty really and established a dump of food. So obviously having someone fresh and energetic to go up just broke through that barrier. Then all Sherpas were sent up to the camp. We were very concerned about as to whether or not they would carry on the next day and reach the South Col.
John Hunt was a very good organizer and determined to conserve the strength of his men. But I could see personally that if they didnÕt carry on the next day, then it would really be a disaster for the whole expedition. It would collapse. But I talked to John again and suggested that Tenzing and I should go on up and join the gang so that Tenzing with his great influence over the Sherpas could give an extra boost and enable them to carry on. Once again John Hunt was very reluctant. He was looking on Tenzing and myself as the summit team and he didnÕt want us to wear ourselves out. I knew, I was absolutely confident, that there was no way we were going to wear ourselves out. ÒHere goes an arrogant person,Ó I thought, but I was absolutely confident. He finally agreed that it was a toss-up between not getting all the loads to the South Col and maybe Tenzing and I getting tired. But it was better to get the loads to the South Col, so Tenzing and I that same afternoon went all the way up and joined the gathering. We went up very smoothly and without too much problem. There was no question at all that his presence made a terrific difference to the psychology of the Sherpas and the next day when we started off, they really were different people. Tenzing and I lit off up the Lhotse face and GeorgeÕs Sherpas followed us. A couple of them fizzled out, but the majority carried on and loads went up to the South Col. That was really the major turning point in the expedition.
Had those Sherpas been up with Swiss before or was this a different group of Sherpas? [RAS]
No, I donÕt think any of those Sherpas that I can remember had been up with the Swiss. One of those Sherpas had been up with Wilf Noyce. They had made a break-through and had reached the South Col, but I donÕt think they were carrying any loads. But they had at least made the route through to the South Col which was a big step forward. But a few days later when we had all the real build-up, all the Sherpas came halfway up the Lhotse face. It was a very vital moment, we simply had to get to the col with the loads, or the whole expedition might collapse. I believe that it was the getting of Tenzing up there and his impact on the Sherpas that made everything move so well. It was I that actually persuaded John Hunt that we should do this. But once we got there, it was TenzingÕs impact on the Sherpas that made all the difference.
When you got up to the top did you really hit the optimal weather time? Currently most expeditions shoot for the middle of May. [RAS]
We were definitely getting towards the end of time really as far as climbing the mountain was concerned. We reached the summit on May 29 and came on down and by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain again to base camp, the weather packed up and the monsoon started moving in. I think it would have been extremely difficult for us to make another attempt. John Hunt, a very determined person, always claimed that if we had failed, he personally would have made another attempt. But he had carried a load up the southeast ridge and dumped it up there. He arrived there absolutely exhausted and there was simply absolutely no way that he could have carried on and done another assault to the summit.
But did the calendar getting later into May worry you? That it was May 20th, May 22nd, May 23rd and you were not on the top, did that worry you? [EAH]
I donÕt remember particularly worrying about the onset of the monsoon or anything like that. We were at that stage making reasonable progress. We put our loads on the col and the first assault party had moved up and Tenzing and I were moving up. Things at the stage seem to be going reasonably well.
Tenzing and I also carried loads and put them on the col and then we came all the way back down to advance base camp. So obviously we were very fit and strong.
Given that the Himalayas and Everest have changed so much in the last 50 years, how do you think that mountaineering should be conducted now and what regulations should be changed? [RAS]
Well, we have passed through various phases on Mt. Everest. For a while, the expeditions that were carried on like the Swiss  and the American  ones were similar to ours. They had quite large expeditions, well equipped and good team effort, etc. and they were all successful. Then we started getting the alpine-type attempts, just two or three people attempting to climb the mountain extremely lightly loaded and making a shot to the summit. These people were on the whole very strong mountaineers, very determined and a goodly proportion did extremely well. I think this was another stage on Everest. The alpine climb was another step forward in how the mountain could be climbed and could be done with a minimum of equipment just using strength, skill and motivation.
But then the next big change was when all the commercialization of the mountain took place. To me I have always regarded this as something of a disaster in the sense that you would have a small group of experienced guides who would conduct frequently inexperienced people up the mountain. The inexperienced people would have spent $65,000, so they would have had a pretty strong motivation to try and reach the summit. But a lot of them did not have any particular experience. But at least they followed in the footsteps. They didnÕt themselves really cut a step or establish a route. They had expert guides to do that for them. In the icefall for instance, some groups of climbers devoted themselves to establishing routes through the icefall and charging expeditions to travel through it. So immediately one of the most difficult and dangerous parts of the climb was removed because these people could go up the fixed ropes and the aluminum ladders. They didnÕt really have to think too much about whether it was safe or not because the route had been established for them.
This is in many ways the situation today. We have a combination of what I would call good mountaineering expeditions who do their own thing, but they still donÕt really have to overcome the problems in the icefall. And then we have the commercial operations where the main problem of the guide is to get their people to the summit. And they make mighty hard efforts to achieve this because they have been paid very large sums of money. This has produced quite a few disasters of course as far as accidents are concerned. But there have always been accidents on Mt. Everest. Even when you are following in other people's footprints, there is always the potential for disaster, for storms creeping in, for avalanches, falling down crevasses and all the rest of it. So Everest never really can be treated lightly as a mountain.
There has always been a lot of talk about which is the hardest climb, K2 or Mt. Everest. My feeling is that K2 is technically probably the more difficult climb than our southeast ridge on Mt. Everest, but there is an extra 700-800 feet and that 700-800 feet on Mt. Everest is an area where your mental faculties are definitely affected. Even the guides themselves arenÕt thinking as clearly or behaving as clearly as they would at lower altitudes. So I think that extra bit of height on Mt. Everest still makes it a very formidable mountain indeed, certainly in the upper regions. But K2 of course is still a great climb to overcome.
And there are lots of other much smaller mountains in the Himalayas where you donÕt have the problem of altitude, but you do have extreme technical difficulties to overcome. So this is a vast variety of mountains that you can tackle. I still think that if you really want to get to the top of the highest mountain in the world Everest takes a little bit of beating.
Would limit the number of teams permitted on Everest at the same time? [EAH]
Yes, I would. Quite a few years ago I talked to the Nepalese government and suggested to them that only two expeditions should be permitted on any one route on the mountain at the same time. I got a quite sympathetic hearing from the Foreign Secretary, I think it was, but money won the day. The money that the Nepalese government gains from these expeditions to them is very substantial. They couldnÕt care less about the lives of the people involved. Most of the people here in Kathmandu, certainly government officials, donÕt really care too much how many foreigners lose their lives on the mountain, but they are very interested in the $10,000 that each climber has to pay on the mountain. So my suggestion was that for one year they did in actual fact close the mountain down, but then of course the Sherpas started complaining that they were losing their jobs. It was a combination of the impact on the Sherpas plus the vast sums of money that the government was losing that just wiped [away] any thought of limiting the number of people on the mountain.
When we were up in the Khumbu last year [spring of 2000], there were 25 expeditions at base camp and 25 expeditions at the camp on the Tibetan side of Everest. ThatÕs 50 expeditions. So there were hundreds of climbers and porters all milling around hoping to climb Mt. Everest. With the result that the mountain is absolutely littered with bodies. In August there were 180 up there. Sometimes you hear 200, sometimes 180 bodies up on both sides of the mountain. So itÕs a dangerous procedure, particularly I think when you have a conducted expedition.
But of course there is another big group of people who are coming through, the really hot-stuff climbers. They are not interested in climbing the routes that we climbed on the mountain by. They want to climb the really hard routes. They want to climb the south face of Lhotse and quite a few of them do die in the process. But they donÕt seem to care too much. They just throw themselves into these desperately difficult climbs. But some of these very good climbs are successful. So this is a constant challenge, not to the commercial climber, but to the really enthusiastic climber who wants to do a very hard challenge. There are still challenges left and they will attempt them and it is a little bit of a do-or-die procedure, as quite a few of them die even the most brilliant mountaineers. They take risks and get wiped off in avalanches, fall down crevasses and do all sorts of things. But they still want to do it because it is a tremendous challenge.
Now those are the people that I would say are getting the same challenge from climbing Everest on these very difficult routes. But of course they have very sophisticated equipment, they can move very fast with this equipment, their techniques are excellent, but they still do make mistakes. But they are getting the same challenge in doing it as we with our much more modest equipment and experience got in climbing Everest the first time on the southeast ridge.
So I think thatÕs why they do these very formidable climbs. To them itÕs a first, nobody has ever done it before and they get the same sensation as we did, Tenzing and I, when first setting foot on the summit of Everest.
Do you think the peak fee should be raised higher to limit the number of expeditions? [RAS]
I have always had the philosophy of many mountaineers that restrictions on the mountain are not good things to have. But still on Everest itÕs just becoming a little bit too ridiculous. With the numbers of people involved, the disasters that have occurred, and so on, perhaps some sort of control must be exerted. However also having a very close relationship with Nepal and its government, I know that itÕs extremely unlikely that the Nepalese government is going to lose out on finance by restricting the number of expeditions on the mountain.
If you raise the peak fee to get more money, then you make it more difficult for these very experienced climbers to do their thing. [EAH]
I strongly oppose increasing fee so that only the very well to do can raise the necessary money and climb the mountain. The most worthy climbers are often those who are very impoverished, but are skilled mountaineers and who have the right approach to the mountain, who love climbing, who want to overcome the problems and hope to be ultimately successful and reach the summit. To me that completely removes the whole really good philosophy of mountaineering and I personally very much regret, I mean goodness me they charge enough now, but if they increased it many times over people would still climb it, thereÕs no doubt at all. Most of the big expeditions now of course get money from corporations and television companies. They would still get their money, in fact the more expensive it is, probably the more eager these enormously wealthy companies would be to support it. But I donÕt like it. I like to think that a good expedition that is experienced, has the right spirit, wants to meet the challenges, and doesnÕt want to be constantly walking in other peopleÕs footsteps, almost has a right as it were to at least be in the line for a climb on the mountain. And they probably will do it a good deal better than a heavyweight expedition with whole a lot of customers traveling along behind them.
Would it be feasible on Everest to have a surcharge on the popular southeast ridge route and let the other routes that are more difficult be cheaper? [RAS]
They do charge more now for the South Col-southeast ridge. [EAH]
You have to remember that I am an old-timer, so my philosophy sort of epitomizes the philosophy of those ages. We loved the mountains. We wanted to test ourselves against them. We had to overcome the difficult problems and with all going well we would reach the summit.
Now things have changed enormously in that many of the people on the mountain, I am not talking about the commercially conducted people, but the many high-powered climbers are very much prima donnas. They just want to get up the mountain, reach the summit as quickly as possible, come down again and become big heroes on their return. I remember talking to a lady in North America at the end of last year whose son had climbed Mt. Everest. She was absolutely furious that after her son had climbed Everest and had come back to a small town, the local newspaper had only about an inch about his great ascent of Mt. Everest. She really expected a ticker-tape welcome in the town and all of the rest of it.
But itÕs not like that any more. The great climbs of peaks like Everest and K2 using the really hard routes are more noticed by the mountaineers now. And if you are in a group of mountaineers as we were in Chamonix not too long ago with very famous mountaineers who have done some spectacular things, and if you talk to them and if they say the climbed K2 or something, you say Òwhat way did you do it by, which route did you use on Everest?Ó ItÕs not just getting up there, itÕs how you got up there, and by what route you got up there. ThatÕs really what counts. It was different in our day in the sense that nobody had been up there and nobody knew whether you could get up there. So that our route was one of the two or three easier routes up the mountain, it was a first and we found it hard enough for ourselves at the time.
For commercial climbs, what more do you think the companies and their agencies should be doing and what responsibilities should their clients have themselves before undertaking a climb of Everest? [RAS]
I would think myself that it would be very good advice for the guides to require that every customer have climbed another Himalayan peak, not necessarily one of the great peaks of the world, but at least have been at high altitude. And that their guide be familiar with his skill and ability to get around so that he would have confidence that when he went to great altitude that he just would not collapse. One of the constant dangers of high altitude is the fact that in the thin air people simply are not as mentally alert as they are lower down. If you have a background of experience, if you have an almost automatic knowledge of what you are doing at high altitude, there is a much better chance that you will successfully get on the top and get safely to the bottom again.
Do you think that too many of commercial clients now are under-prepared? [RAS]
Of course I havenÕt been up there to base camp, but we met a group who a just got off the plane at Lukla and there was one of them who was a rather aggressive sort of character. I talked to him asked him, Òwhat sort of mountaineering have you done.Ó He said that he hadnÕt done any mountaineering at all, but he was a strong man and all the rest of it, and he said ÒIÕve paid $65,000 and I expect to be taken to the top.Ó It was foolish just to listen to him bulging on. ItÕs not as easy as that. The mountain is formidable; you can make mistakes and even the best of guides, people like Rob Hall and Gary Ball who were very good guides and very good climbers, made mistakes too and people died.
And they died! [EAH]
They both died.
Gary died of altitude sickness. [EAH]
You see once again, here is a man who was a really good climber and the year before he had been on Dhaulagiri and had been affected by altitude and returned down. So that he knew that the altitude was having an affect on him. But he was determined to climb this mountain and so the next year they went back again. He just died from altitude sickness that indicated I think that the altitude was having a severe effect on his mental ability and he just carried on when he shouldnÕt have done so.
Once you have had a severe problem with altitude, do you think that it is permanent from that point on? [RAS]
I that think once you have been affected by altitude, itÕs a danger that you must accept and to keep coming back again, again and again hoping that you wonÕt be affected by it next time is a little na•ve. A very well known climber [Robert Anderson] still hasnÕt got to the top of Mount Everest, but he has tried again and again to climb Everest. He seems to have a barrier at around 26,000 ft and he just canÕt seem to get beyond it.
He wrote a book about the seven summits and I wrote a forward for it [I write a forward for every book on Mt. Everest], but the only thing was that I wrote the forward just before he was heading off to Everest. And he never got to the top. But he still put my forward into the book.
So my feeling is that if you have tried a number of times and altitude has sort of closed down on you, then that is about as high as you should go. ItÕs good common sense not to try and push it further and further. I think the same thing happened with Rob Hall.
Now Rob Hall failed to obey his own rules. [EAH]
No, I wasnÕt thinking of Rob but the chap he had with him [Doug Hansen].
He tried again and again.
And Rob felt very responsible for getting him up that time when he died. [EAH]
Well I think that was a foolish thing. The man had tried again and again and had not been successful. To constantly try to push it to the top, itÕs almost inevitable that something would have happened.
What are your feelings about speed climbing, summit camping, snowboard descents and the other forms of stunt climbing that are occurring these days? [RAS]
Well, I think a lot of the things theyÕre doing are really fantastic, but they are what I would call Ògimmicky.Ó Many are them are just showing off. Some of the things they do are pretty amazing, but for some such as running up the mountain and getting to the top faster than anybody else, what possible value is there in that?
You can become a hero in Kathmandu! [EAH]
You might become a hero in Kathmandu, but I bet you that anywhere else in the world they never heard of him.
The chap [Davo Karnicar] who skied down from the summit [of Everest], which side did he ski from?
He skied down the normal route from the southeast side. He came down the Hillary Step toward the southwest face side. [EAH]
There was snow down there?
Yes, he had good snow. It was autumn. He didnÕt ski straight down; he sort of down-climbed on his skis. He never took his skis off. He got to the Lhotse face and of course did turns. [EAH]
So he skied down the valley from the Lhotse face where the Japanese [Miura] did?
Miura went straight down and damned near killed himself, but Karnicar made the curved turns and braked himself. [EAH]
Miura had a parachute behind him. He just went down and he fell.
But the winds can be quite turbulent in the cwm and the parachute was really a menace for him. [EAH]
I have to admit that I do greatly admire (as I was a pretty good skier in my day) that anybody skiing down from the top of Everest is doing pretty well. How did he get up there?
He climbed. When he came down to the icefall area, he went just under the southwest face, between the face and the icefall. Now thatÕs very dangerous from avalanching. And I asked him even before he went, Òwhat about the terrible danger [of the icefall]?Ó And he said, ÒI ski very fast.Ó And he went like crazy in that area. And he was lucky! [EAH]
I was in India when I read in the papers that he skied down Everest, I was impressed.
What about the youngest and the oldest? [RAS]
All of the old ones have almost invariably been on conducted expeditions and [used] lots of oxygen. They all have been led up virtually by the hand as it were.
We have always felt, and this is in the days when climbing was really climbing, that perhaps the best ages for really high-altitude climbing were from 28 to 42. In that sort of group there, people were strong, very experienced and knew what they were doing. And to me I have always felt that was ideal age where people are were more likely to be successful than either the very young or the very old. Except that the very old, of course, have the advantage of just being conducted up and down.
WouldnÕt you say that was true?
Absolutely! Going to 42 I would of thought was a little old even then. [EAH]
There have been a number that were over 42. I was in the prime of life when I was 33, Tenzing was 38 and we did pretty well.
Yes, you did! [EAH]
Do you think that a 14- or 15-year old really has the strength to climb Everest? [RAS]
We know itÕs a challenge. Once again itÕs very gimmicky for a youngster to want to climb Mt. Everest, even with companions, at a very, very young age. And I think itÕs highly irresponsible of their families and the people conducting the thing. There was a fellow last year wasnÕt there who was a 15 year old or thereabouts?
He was 14 when he started and he was 15 when he got very high. [EAH]
How high did he get?
He got almost to the South Summit, but he got frostbite and had a few other problems. He got the frostbite at the South Col when he was tying his laces before he went on up. [EAH]
Did he get severe frostbite?
But he wants to go back! Not enough said! [EAH]
They all want to go back really.
On the whole apart from the exceptional cases, I donÕt really like gimmicky activities. The next thing is that someoneÕs going to walk backwards all the way up to the top, or they will do something of that nature. I donÕt regard that as doing anything particularly noble and certainly bears no relationship to mountaineering.
I admire that straight and honest mountaineer who has trained himself, is skillful, has good gear, good judgement, plenty of determination and just wants to overcome the problems and hopefully get to the top.
You know, occasionally, when I meet an expedition before they go to the mountain, they will ask me, ÒwhatÕs the best route?Ó They have never seen the mountain; they may not have even seen many pictures of it; they donÕt know where in the hell theyÕre going. Messner, on the other hand, he always looked at his mountain before he went there. Sometimes he even did a recce climb of it. He studied the records, he read everybody elseÕs reports and looked at the pictures like crazy. He knew where he was going. [EAH]
I have always remembered Reinhold Messner. He was up in the Western Cwm and his plan was to climb Lhotse. Lhotse was one of the few 8000m peaks he hadnÕt climbed. And we were in the area quite a long time and we happened to be at Thyangboche Monastery. The weather had been absolutely terrible. Down the valley came Reinhold and his beautiful lady friend.
The German woman or the Canadian? [EAH]
The Canadian, PeterÕs friend. SheÕs rather beautiful, I must say. But they came down the hill and they were just gorgeous to look at. Reinhold is an extremely good-looking bloke. Small, but a beautiful physical specimen. She is a beautiful girl of course. They were stuck up in the Western Cwm for a month. I said to Reinhold, Òhow did it go?Ó He said, Òthe weather, it was too bad, but thereÕs always another time.Ó And this is what I really felt epitomized a great climber. He wasnÕt going to kill himself just straight away by trying to force it. He knew there was always another time.
Reinhold Messner may not be regarded technically the best climber in the world, but there is no question that he is the greatest of all the high-altitude climbers. I like old Reinhold.
Now he is a politician, for heavenÕs sake, in the European parliament. June and I were in Austria [with him] to give presentations. And his presentation was absolutely outstanding. He walked back and forwards across the stage, pictures appeared (he speaks very good English now), and it was really an absolutely fantastic presentation. But my God, when I first knew Reinhold many years ago, he was a bit of a gruff sort of character.
He was a country bumpkin! [EAH]
He was a country bumpkin. But heÕs sure not that now. HeÕs pretty remarkable.
He didnÕt have a castle then. [EAH]
He didnÕt have a castle to fall off, either. I have great fun all the time with Reinhold.
What worthwhile challenges are left in Himalayan mountaineering? [RAS]
Well even in the big mountains like K2, there are one or two routes on K2 that are exceptionally difficult. On the Tibetan side of Makalu, there is a most fantastic face that looks actually impossible to me and IÕm sure a few people will die on it, but it certainly would be a remarkable climb.
There are still hundreds of mountains, particularly in China, that havenÕt been climbed. Even in Nepal there are a lot of 21,000-foot peaks that are still very challenging.
The only trouble is that in order to raise money for an expedition, you need to have the biggest and the best in order for people to support you. But there are some great peaks, and great routes in particular, that really are good expedition [material] that could stretch them to the utmost.
Do you think some of the great traverses such as Nuptse-Lhotse-Everest could be done? [RAS]
I would say thatÕs a mighty good climb, fantastic. But someday it will be done, but it might be fifty years, who knows? But itÕs going to tempt the mountaineers.
But right now, do you think the future is on the hard routes of the lesser peaks under 8000m? [RAS]
I not suggesting that the smaller peaks are better than these fantastic unclimbed routes on the great peaks, but I do think that if money werenÕt such a factor, that there are some really good 21-22,000-foot peaks and particularly routes on them that still remain to be climbed. Over the years a lot of them will be climbed. But they wonÕt get the publicity that they get from climbing Kangchenjunga, Everest or K2.
So youÕve got to be prepared to attempted something for the love of it, and perhaps for the respect of your fellow mountaineers, rather than for a ticker-tape welcome on Broadway.
You mentioned Reinhold Messner, but what other climbers do you admire? [RAS]
Oh there are vast numbers of them, but I couldnÕt remember all their names. I know them personally, but I am really terrible on names. There have been some exceptionally skilled climbers that have done these routes. It seems to me that most of them donÕt last very long. Who was the fellow that tried to climb the south face of Lhotse?
Jerzy Kukcuzka. [EAH]
WhoÕs the little Frenchman that climbed so many summits ten years ago?
Benoit Chamoux, but he claimed he made some ascents he never made. [EAH]
Oh, did he? I always understood that he was a pretty hotshot climber.
He probably was a good climber, but he didnÕt always get to the summit, but in order to keep his sponsorship going, he said he had. [EAH]
Well, you see youÕve got to ask Liz all these things. I am a very innocent person. If someone says theyÕve climbed this route, then IÕm inclined to believe them.
IÕm inclined to believe them until its put in my face they didnÕt. [EAH]
The way it is now, you donÕt get credit for a climb unless Liz agrees. [RAS]
Well, sheÕs the Sherlock Holmes of the mountaineering world.
ItÕs a good thing she wasnÕt here in 1953 or you would have had to prove that you climbed Everest. [RAS]
Well thatÕs one thing that at least I knew. I was fully aware that it was a very disbelieving world. And I made sure that I took a photograph down every bleeding ridge of the mountain. And they all came out absolutely [clear].
Nobody will forget the picture of Tenzing and you holding the ice axes with the flags. [EAH]
There was a chap [Goswami] in Calcutta who wrote a book saying that it [the picture] was a fake because when you see Tenzing on the top, the actual top rises a little bit beyond [which is] because I had to come down the ridge [to take the picture]. And he wrote this book and said that it all had been propaganda really. It was just a gimmick that had been organized by Winston Churchill. I was at my home in Auckland and I was rung up by the editor by the main Melbourne newspaper in the middle of night. And he said, Òwhat do you think about this?Ó I said, ÒI think the fellow is making a bloody fool of himselfÓ and hung up. Well, in Australia, if you say a fellow is making a bloody fool of himself, itÕs quite offensive and they donÕt like it very much. So he changed it and he said that Hillary said Òthat this fellow is making a bit of a goat of himself,Ó which is pretty inoffensive in Australia. However, this went all around the world and in India when you say, Òyou are making a bit of a goat of yourself,Ó this is highly offensive.
So this fellow [sued me]. In those days, the old commonwealth days, the courts in Calcutta could send something to the court in New Zealand, and it would be presented by the police there and I would have to reply to it. And due time a policeman came to my door and I couldnÕt remember [anything about] it. And he was really embarrassed, obviously, and he handed me over a book and a document saying that they were suing me for breach of promise or something pretty awful. And I read his book. It actually was quite presentable. He got all the newspaper things and pointed out that it had all been organized by the British government, Winston Churchill without any doubt, and that we really hadnÕt got to the top, but it had just really been a method of boosting the rule of the crown. Anyway, a day or two later the same chap in Melbourne rang me up and said, Òwell IÕve seen of copy of this too and what do you think about it?Ó And I said, ÒI still think the fellow is making a bloody fool of himself.Ó He sent that all around the world and I never heard anything further about it.
Who do I admire the most? ItÕs really impossible to say because at various periods of my life [it differs.] Eric Shipton to me epitomized what a really good climber should be, because he was an explorer-climber. In those days in New Zealand, all our climbing was exploring climbing too. There was no access into the mountains. We had to backpack 80 pounds in, cross over ridges, crevasses and glaciers, and all the rest of it, to get even to the foot of the mountain. This was the sort of thing Shipton was doing all the time. So we had a great admiration for him. And then I had the good fortune to be invited by him on the Everest reconnaissance. He was great fun and we became very close friends. But as a technical climber, he was pretty competent, but I discovered, I was much younger of course, that I was really a much better technical climber at that stage than he was. But that does not stop me from admiring him and all the great things he had done which I never would have done.
Undoubtedly the greatest explorer that I have ever admired was the great Antarctic explorer Shackleton. To me Shackleton was the greatest hero of all time. He never actually fully completed one of his expeditions, but he never lost a life and didnÕt put his people into unbelievable situations. He was a wonderful man. And also he was a very independent person.