I’ve recently been re-reading some books by New Zealand’s most famous adventurer. It’s been a few years since his passing but my memories of Sir Edmund Hillary are still very clear.

As the patron to two of my expeditions, Sir Ed played a particularly important role in our Antarctica trek. During our preparations, Kevin and I were living just down the road from Sir Ed. We shared a couple of morning teas in his Remuera living room, surrounded with souvenirs from all over the world. Laying the big maps of Antarctica out on the floor, we’d update him on our plans and receive his valuable feedback.

Sir Ed really was larger than life, sharp as a tack, and perhaps just a little hard of hearing. He had some wonderful stories about his own Antarctica tractor expedition in 1956. Apparently it got so cold that the fuel would freeze in the metal lines. They’d pick someone to get a blowtorch and thaw them out while the rest of the group ‘stood well back!’.

He warned us that they’d experienced crevices all the way to the pole. His words resonated when a few months later I saw Kevin disappearing down a wee crack in the ice!

For me the big take away from meeting Sir Ed is just how normal he was. He was good at listening. He loved to tell a story and loved to have a laugh. He didn’t seem to be much different from most good blokes. Although reading his books, particularly Nothing Venture Nothing Win, you learn the most dangerous place in the Himalayas wasn’t a crevice on the Khumbu Ice Fall, it was between Sir Ed and the top of the mountain. Facing absolute real dangers is one thing; the mental resilience to conquer a summit that’s constantly staring down at you is another.

He was certainly passionate about his goals and he was fit and determined. Yet he wasn’t superhuman.

I think we’re pretty keen to make our heroes larger than life and to think that they have qualities that we don’t have. But in a way this does us both a disservice. Sir Ed achieved what he did not because he was genetically gifted or a genius like Einstein, but because he set himself a goal and worked away to achieve it. To my mind that makes his accomplishments even more admirable and much less comfortable for the rest of us!

If a normal bloke like him can achieve what he did, then what’s stopping us from doing great things? To me, that’s his real legacy. A challenge to us all to reach our full potential.

See all posts