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If you like Edmund Hillary's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Roger Bannister,
Sylvia Earle,
Jane Goodall,
Richard Leakey,
Greg Mortenson,
Alan Shepard and
Chuck Yeager

Edmund Hillary's recommended reading: The Warlord of Mars

Related Links:
New Zealand Edge

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Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary
Profile of Sir Edmund Hillary Biography of Sir Edmund Hillary Interview with Sir Edmund Hillary Sir Edmund Hillary Photo Gallery

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview (page: 6 / 6)

Conqueror of Mt. Everest

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  Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
You said you read a lot. Can you remember some of the books that were most important to you?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Well my memory for names is absolutely appalling, but I know I did pass through a phase of books like King Solomon's Mines. H. Rider Haggard was the author, and he wrote these great romantic adventure stories. I used to enjoy Georgette Heyer, in which the hero was usually a rather middle-aged gentleman, a very good sword fighter, with a beautiful young lady and all the rest of it. Great sword fighting and all highly romantic, adventurous activity. I used to find these things quite entertaining. I even passed through a phase when I quite enjoyed Western stories. Nowadays, I find them a little on the naive side but, for a period, I found the Western stories quite entertaining light reading. They are very romanticized, as we all know. Later on, I became much more interested in reading biographies, particularly about people who had made their mark in the community. I still enjoy reading books of that nature. I read so many mountaineering books that it's rather put me off reading mountaineering books now. But I read dozens and dozens of books by explorers like Shipton and Smythe and the Antarctic explorers.

It was called, The Worst Journey in the World and it was largely about a trip taken on Scott's expedition when they traveled across an area called the Windless Bight, which has very cold temperatures and deep soft snow. They went out to Cape Crozier during the dark, winter darkness to examine the Emperor penguin colony down there. It was a fantastic story. When I went down to the Antarctic, I had rather simple farm tractors. We re-did this journey, but we didn't do it during the complete darkness. We did it just as darkness was approaching. We did it in our old tractors and we struggled across the Windless Bight and we had very cold temperatures. We were looking for the actual camp that these men had established during the darkness, a most astonishing feat, really. We clambered in our vehicles up on the side of the Cape Crozier peninsula and then we searched around for this old camp which had been established many, many years before. We were unsuccessful and I remember returning back into our tents. I was with Peter Mulgrew and I got out the book, Worst Journey in the World and I read through again, carefully, the pages about when they established their actual camp. I decided that we'd been looking in the wrong direction and Peter also decided we had been looking in the wrong direction, but we disagreed as to which direction it was. So we put on all of our warm gear again and we crawled out of the tent, I headed off in one direction and Peter headed off in the other. It was almost darkness now. Well I happened to be going in the right direction and stumbled down on a low ridge going out across the great ice shelf and I suddenly ahead of me saw a rock wall, obviously made by human beings. And inside the rock wall there were all sorts of bits and pieces of scientific equipment they'd left behind. As a matter of fact, there were literally hundreds of test tubes that had been left there and pieces of clothing and old skis and things of that nature. That really was one of the most exciting moments that I can remember. I called out to everybody at the camp and we all came over. To look on this thoroughly miserable, terrible campsite, where these people had spent several weeks in complete darkness, carrying out their scientific research, it really was an amazing experience. In that sense, I relived, although to a lesser degree, what these heroic figures in that book, The Worst Journey in the World, had described so well.

Good thing you brought the book along.

Sir Edmund Hillary: It was our bible, so we had it with us.

I know you've written an autobiography. What do you think would be the most valuable thing young people might get out of reading it?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: My autobiography was just a narrative, as well as I could produce it, of what had happened to me and what I'd thought and what I had carried out. I think it's probably the best book I have produced, although I don't necessarily say that makes it one of the great books of all time. I would like to think anyway that it would indicate to people that you don't have to be a genius or an exceptional person to take part in interesting activities and to ultimately be successful in them.

Maybe it's an exceptional person that can instill in a young person the idea that motivation or the desire to achieve is very important.

Sir Edmund Hillary: I've never really thought in that particular way. Most of the exceptional people I know are people who have had the mental ability and the physical ability to perform to a high degree of excellence, and I certainly was never in that class. I think as far as determination and motivation was concerned, I was reasonably competent, but I was certainly not a great athlete.

What advice would you give a young person striving to achieve?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I would advise them to aim high. To set their sights at a pretty tough target and don't be too worried if you're not successful at first. Just keep persisting and keep improving your standards, getting better and better and ultimately, you've got a pretty fair chance at achieving your desired goal. I am not one of those people who believe, for instance, that every American could, if they so wish, become President of the United States. I mean, there's a limited number of Presidents of the United States and, obviously, only a few are going to achieve that. But, I do think that virtually everybody that's born has the ability to be very competent at doing something. I think that, in itself, is worthy of aiming towards, just to be competent at doing anything you particularly wish to do.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

As far as adventure goes, what do you think some of the big challenges of this next century are going to be?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I think most of our major challenges are not going to be in the physical field at all. I think they're going to be in the field of human relations, of getting on with each other, of contributing. People accepting that they have to contribute something, their thoughts, their ideas, maybe even their money, towards producing a world society that is perhaps a little bit more honest and reasonable than it is now.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

What would you say to a young person that would encourage them to be involved in such activities and yet, would satisfy their craving for adventure?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: I don't normally preach to young people anyway. Not unless they ask me a question. Even with my kids, I never tried to tell them what they ought to do. I think my wife and I tried to build up in them a love of the outdoors. They enjoyed camping and swimming and canoeing and those types of activities. But as for actually trying to tell them how they should organize their lives and what philosophies they should have, it's for them to discover for themselves. I think it's very hard indeed to impart to a young person what you think they should do.

Do you do a lot of introspection?

Sir Edmund Hillary: I probably used to. I do a lot of thinking. I don't know if that's introspection. I think about the past, I think more about the future. I think about jobs still to be done and I sometimes wish I knew some of the answers to the problems which seem to plague humanity. I think a lot about people and about our environment. There are so many things that are difficult to understand and to overcome, that finding answers for them is not always easy at all. But I suppose if everything was easy, life would be exceptionally boring.

You're a man who always has some goal or another. How many do you have going right now? What do you want to achieve?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: As I've gotten older, my goals have become more solidified. My main concentration is on the welfare of the people I've worked with in the Himalayas and on human welfare in general. I'm also extremely interested in the environment and trying to encourage people to be more concerned about what we're doing to our world. Now I'm just one of thousands and thousands of people who have these same views these days. I think this is one of the great steps forward we've seen in modern decades -- the considerable growing interest that people have in the environment and in keeping it reasonably clean and wholesome. I certainly hope it remains that way.

You see the whole world as full of challenges. What would you say to a young person who says, "Everything's been done"?

Sir Edmund Hillary Interview Photo
Sir Edmund Hillary: I don't think that everything's been done by any means.

There are so many young people today who haven't got their due who see constant challenges in every direction and are doing exciting and adventurous things. The main thing about challenges is that they don't just pop into your lap. You have to have your eyes open, you have to be alert. Otherwise, a challenge may well pass you by and you won't see it at all.

So I think if you are ready for challenges, if you're physically fit and you feel you're well trained and your interests have been turned in the right direction and your eyes are open, you'll see challenges. There are challenges all over the place.

One more question. In your autobiography, you said you hoped that there would be room in space exploration for a different type of man. "Perhaps more like me: resourceful, enthusiastic and even a little irresponsible." What did you mean by that?

Sir Edmund Hillary: Our heroes in space are remarkably competent and well-trained people, but I don't think they're encouraged to be individualistic. They are extremely competent in set routines and they have great ability to carry out these highly technical things and they display great courage and determination in the process. But they are highly trained technicians in their particular field. I just think that maybe there's some place in the future for people who are pretty good at improvising. I think I'm quite good at improvising, actually and I think there are a lot of people around who are not extremely good technicians but are quite good at improvising. I think many businessmen for instance, may not have extremely good university degrees on business administration, but they're exceptionally good at improvising and carrying things through to a successful conclusion. I think, in all aspects of life, the improviser, the person with imagination and perhaps not quite so much technical skill, there is still a place for them. I always think that the bush pilots up in the far north, of course, are very, very competent with their aircraft, but they have great ability to improvise, to land in all sorts of strange places and to do rather daring things very successfully. That's really the sort of thing I was referring to. People who are pretty competent, but not utterly expert, but with the ability to adapt to all sorts of conditions. I have met a number of the astronauts, and some of them seem to me people who are extremely competent, but almost brainwashed into a routine that enables them to respond according to the book, very effectively.

What I'm hearing you say is that the human ability to have spontaneity and originality and creativity is the element that you must add to the knowledge.

Sir Edmund Hillary: Right. To the skills and so on.

Well, Sir Edmund, thank you so much for speaking with us today. It's been an honor.

All right.

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This page last revised on Feb 05, 2008 18:08 EDT