In January 1940, with WWII raging, the 21-year-old New Zealand beekeeper and conscientious objector sought a peaceful place to reconsider whether he should enlist. He chose a lodge at the base of Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak, and had a revelation: He wanted to climb. Hillary called it "the happiest day I had ever spent." And so began a quest that culminated 13 years later—after a stint in the air force—with his unprecedented summiting of Mount Everest, which had claimed the lives of at least 16 men who had tried to scale it.
The really interesting thing about the Everest ascent is that it was
debated whether or not it was possible, even with oxygen, to summit the mountain. Physiologists at the time were not 100% sure that it was possible, and only later did a more complete physiological understanding emerge, including how changes in the earth's atmosphere as a result of its geoid shape made Everest "conquerable" during a specific window period each year. But it was Hillary and Tenzing who did a service for everyone, by showing the way to the top of the world, physiological "impossibility" or not.
What do you think about when you're climbing up a mountain and you know that your goal is to get to the top, whether it's Everest or another mountain? What goes through your mind?
Sir Edmund Hillary
: My mind concentrates rather firmly on the job in hand. Certainly, on Everest for instance, we were using oxygen and I was constantly doing mental arithmetic, checking the pressure of the oxygen bottles. I had to convert that pressure over to the number of liters of oxygen that remained in the bottle, and then work out how many hours or minutes of activity we still had left. So constantly, we were dealing with the problems of the slopes and soft snow and crevasses that we have to deal with, but at the same time, constantly ticking over in my mind was the usage of oxygen and how much time we had to get there and get down again.
Jim Whittaker (born 1929) USA. First US ascent Everest (1963).
A great climbing/adventure book is Into Thin Air : A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, by Jon Krakauer.
Everest · K2 · Kangchenjunga
Lhotse · Makalu · Cho Oyu
Dhaulagiri · Manaslu · Nanga Parbat
Annapurna · Gasherbrum I
Gasherbrum II · Shishapangma