Sir Edmund Hillary on top of the world

For kids: more about the first known man to reach the top of Mt. Everest.

Peter Jackson/Reuters/File
They are legend: Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay smile during their first news interview after their ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953. (Everest appears to the right of Hillary's head.)

He was tall (6 feet 2 inches ), and he was strong as a bull. Once he set his mind on climbing Mt. Everest, nothing could get in his way.

Edmund Hillary, who was born on July 20, 1919, grew up on a small farm in New Zealand. He was a quiet man who made his living as a beekeeper. In his free time in winter, he climbed mountains whenever he could.

Then, in 1953, he and another climber were invited to join a British expedition in a summit attempt of Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain.

A few people had already died trying to climb up the ice, snow, and rock that soared into thin air. At the top of the world, there's so little oxygen that it can be difficult to breathe and move.

On May 29, 1953, he made it, and by the time he came down, he was one of the most famous men in the world. The Queen of England made him a knight and called him "Sir" Edmund. (But he preferred everyone to call him Ed.)

He was never really comfortable with fame. He described himself as "an ordinary person with a few abilities which I've tried to use in the best way I can." He couldn't have reached the top of Mt. Everest without his native guide and fellow climber, Tenzing Norgay, a fact that Sir Edmund repeated many times.

Other adventures followed, including more climbs, a trek across the Antarctic on a snow tractor, and a search to see if a hairy beast with big feet – called a yeti or the Abominable Snowman – was real.

But Sir Edmund spent most of his life after his historymaking ascent of Mt. Everest giving back to the native people who lived near the mountain in Nepal.

Climbers depend on the help of these people, called Sherpas. They carry gear and lead the way. They live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but their lives are hard. Many are very poor.

Sir Edmund traveled many times to Nepal to visit his Sherpa friends and their families. Through the years he helped them build health clinics, hospitals, bridges, and schools. Getting to school still isn't easy – some kids walk two hours each way!

When Sir Edmund died last month, he was known by most people as the first man who climbed to the top of Mt. Everest. But he thought his most important work came afterward, lending a hand to the mountain people of Nepal.

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