You might think twice at the name Peter Hillary, but with Mt. Everest about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of its peak, 8,848m above sea level, any confusion is quickly resolved. Peter is the son of Edmund Hillary -- "the bee keeper from New Zealand," as he was described in contemporary news releases -- the first man to reach the highest point on the Earth's surface and live to tell the tale.
Indeed, Edmund Hillary did very much more than that. He is currently chairman of the Himalayan Trust, a group doing great and good things in the Everest region of Nepal, and his son, on a promotional tour of Europe, Asia and the US, hopes to raise awareness of what has been achieved and also what remains to be achieved.
As a celebration of this event, the National Geographic Channel (NGC) has put together a series of 13 episodes on ascents of Everest, led by a brand new program entitled Surviving Everest, in which a second generation of climbers scales Everest's peak, lending continuity to the achievements of that first ascent back in 1952.
In Surviving Everest, Peter Hillary joins with Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Sherpa Tenzing -- Hillary senior's legendary guide -- in a modern ascent, reliving one of mountaineering's great achievements. The program itself, scheduled to premiere worldwide on April 27 (9pm Taiwan), is a celebration of the promise that Sir Edmund Hillary, a boy from the Dominions, made to an illiterate Sherpa. It is a story of friendship -- one not without difficulties, for there was more than a little agro over who actually set foot on the summit first -- and the power to face difficulties and dangers together.
"Ultimately, that's what it's all about," said Peter Hillary in an interview with the Taipei Times. "It is when life is stripped down like this -- a tent, a cup of hot tea, the company, really that's all you need."
Of course, this is the romance of mountain climbing, which combines the ingredients of teamwork, long-term commitment, and an acceptance of the harsh realities that nature imposes on the lives of climbers. Everest has claimed its share of lives, and this is why the Sherpa people, who seem to benefit so plentifully from the tourist trade it brings into the impoverished kingdom of Nepal, see it both as a gift as well as a fearsome god, a being not to be treated lightly.
The ascent of Everest is now achievable by anyone with the money and the time -- the practice of "short-roping" tourist climbers up the mountain means that anyone with time and US$60,000 to spare can get up there, regardless of experience; there are currently more inexperienced people on the mountain than ever before. Everest was the scene of a hecatomb back in 1996, when eight people lost their lives in a single day of bad weather. But at the same time, the desire to see the Himalayas has brought money and, more valuable still, education and opportunity, to the Sherpas of the Kumbu region.
The camaraderie that mountaineering engenders and what has been achieved in the Kumbu by the Himalayan Trust are two of the more poignant and memorable themes of the series. They should touch the hearts of regular NGC viewers, and with any luck, bring a new understanding of that very special kinship that binds those who will walk with nature and accept all the risks that that entails.