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Ed’s road to Everest ’53

Members on the Orion headed for Colombo

Ed’s journey to the Summit of Mt Everest was a long one, but a fortunate decision along the way meant that he was positioned to be placed on the Everest Summit expedition.

This story begins in 1951 when Ed embarked on the New Zealand Alpine Club Garhwal Himalaya expedition.

It was a tough expedition where the Kiwi (New Zealander) team learnt why the Himalayas has such a fierce reputation. They had challenges with acclimatisation and equipment, where their New Zealand mountaineering skills were tested in the bigger, colder Himalayan environment. Nevertheless, Ed’s strength and alpine skill shone through. He was a tough climber whose natural strengths had been honed on the mountains of New Zealand’s Southern Alps like Aoraki Mt Cook.

But it was this early expedition – 2 years before Everest – where Ed learnt that mountaineering is about more than just fitness and physicality. Mountaineering is about resourcefulness and tenacity.

This Garhwal Himalaya expedition to the 7,000 metre tall Mukat Parbat was where Ed learnt the essence of his famous quote:

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”

As the team retreated from the mountain they arrived in the town of Badrinath. Mail was waiting for them: a clipping from a London newspaper telling of Eric Shipton’s four man Everest Reconnaissance expedition. It wasn’t until a month later in a town called Ranikhet that a cable was retrieved from a mail bag that read “any two can join Everest Reconnaissance.”

This caused a stir amongst the team about who should go. Riddiford (one of the expedition members) wrote that “Ed Hillary should go as he had been outstandingly fit throughout the expedition.” With Cotter stepping back, there was a tough decision between the final two members, Lowe and Riddiford.

A decision was eventually made, with Riddiford being chosen as he was the Gharwal Expedition leader. Hillary and Riddiford scrambled off to catch up with Shipton as his party was already on its way through Nepal heading for Everest.

This reconnaissance expedition was Ed’s stepping stone to the 1953 British Mt Everest Expedition.

Once they caught up with Shipton’s team, they ascended into the Khumbu and eventually right up to the Khumbu icefall itself. During this reconnaissance they climbed high up on the flanks of the adjacent peak of Pumori and gazed into the fabled Western Cwm. For the first time, they could clearly see that there was a southern route on Everest.

Alexander Hillary
Himalayan Trust NZ


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