Dear Kid,

Once upon a time (by which I mean 1919) there was an ordinary man (well, in 1919 he was an infant, but eventually he became a man) named Edmund. Ed was a bookworm as a kid, but then had the great fortune of growing up—way up—to be 6’5” tall. He was born in New Zealand (which is important because that’s where Kyle is studying at the moment. It’s also important because that’s where Ed’s parents were.).

Ed became a bee keeper like his papa. Edmund was a conscientious objector, but the bees didn’t support that so he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (during WWII) until he was seriously burned in a boat accident. The bees did not approve of Ed being injured and gave him a severe buzzing-to about being more careful in the future.

As a young man, Ed decided that gravity and oxygen were fine, but not the limiting factors people assumed them to be (the bees supported his decision to ignore gravity by flying around a lot). Ed discovered that he liked climbing and at 20 completed his first major climb, scaling Mount Ollivier in NZ’s Southern Alps. In January 1948, he climbed NZ’s highest peak and the climbing legend of Sir Edmund Hillary began (except that he wasn’t a “Sir” at that point).

Sir Edmund Hillary reaches the top of Mount Everest May 29, 1953Because he was such an exceptional climber, Hillary joined the 1951 British expedition to Everest. That’s the cool thing about bees. They don’t work in the winter so neither do the bee keepers. And when you’re in the southern hemisphere, your winters are the summers of the north so you get your climb time off (I hope you’re following this). The 1951 expedition failed, but on May 29, 1953, Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest—the top of the world (song cue) or at least 29,035 feet above sea level. Interestingly, Hillary wasn’t slated to be the first dude to the top, but the first team assigned to reach the summit had to turn back because of exhaustion or a malfunctioning oxygen system (depending on which account you read).

Life lesson #1: Never give up. You never know what will happen.

Life lesson #2: Carry extra oxygen. It might help you get to the top.

  • Mount Everest is on the border between Nepal and Tibet.
  • The English named the mountain after Sir George Everest, a 19th-century British surveyor of South Asia.
  • The summit of Everest reaches two-thirds of the way through the air of the earth’s atmosphere—at about the cruising altitude of jet airliners. Oxygen levels there are very low, temperatures are extremely cold, and weather is unpredictable and dangerous. Not recommended as placed to take your mom on vacation.

The news was announced in London on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The bees (and the world) were abuzz.

Having gone up, Sir Edmund then decided to head down, and in 1958 reached the South Pole. He was among the first to climb Mt. Herschel in the Antarctic in 1967. Then with Neil Armstrong (of astronaut fame) Hillary flew to the North Pole, making him the first person to stand at all three Poles (north, south, and Everest—the Third Pole).

Note: Hillary was knighted (hence the “Sir”). Norgay received the British Empire Medal (he was not eligible for knighthood since he was not a citizen of a Commonwealth nation).

The bees continued to buzz.

Hillary was devoted to helping the Sherpa people and, on the 50th anniversary of his climb, he was made an honorary citizen of Nepal.

Sir Edmund Hillary died on January 11, 2008.

May you reach the top of all your mountains, today and always. But never forget that there’s a lot of great stuff along the way.

Love, Mom

The Song