Hillary‘s first major climb, at age 20, was Mount Ollivier, also in the Southern Alps. He studied math and science at the University of Auckland, but he also joined outdoor clubs, which fostered his interest in climbing as well as holistic health. Despite conscientious objections, he eventually joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II and suffered a serious burn in a boat accident.
But he had determined to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, so returned to his love of mountain climbing after the war. Like their father before them, Hillary and his brother Rex became beekeepers, which allowed time to pursue the sport in the winter. He scaled New Zealand’s highest peak in January 1948.
This gave him the credentials to join the 1951 British expedition to Everest. Although that failed, the ninth British expedition to Everest, in 1953, led by John Hunt, was successful. After the team carved a route through the Khumbu Icefall and the South Col, the first duo assigned by Hunt had to turn back due to exhaustion. So Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, who carried extra oxygen, were the first to summit the 29,029-foot peak on May 29, 1953, at 11:30 am.
They spent about 15 minutes at the top of the world, with Hillary photographing Norgay holding his ice ax strung with flags from Britain, India, Nepal and the United Nations. Norgay dug a hole and filled it with sweets while Hillary buried a crucifix.
The conquest of Everest was announced on the eve of Elizabeth II‘s coronation, and the new queen knighted Hillary when he returned to Britain.