New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary KG, ONZ, KBE (20 July 1919–11 January 2008) was again celebrated earlier this year.
My late mother had kept a magazine featuring Edmund Hillary’s climb to the top of Mt Everest because it was a feat that no-one had ever managed before, and it was achieved by a ‘mere colonial’ – a New Zealander. I found this ‘People’ magazine dated 9th September 1953 in the family archive recently.
She probably also identified with his sense of adventure, since Hillary was approximately the same age as she was. And there may have been the added excitement that here was a focus on positive human endeavour, as the after-effects of World War II were still very much in evidence.
Many young men of Hillary’s age had fought overseas with the ANZAC military troops in one way or another, and the physical and emotional effects were still evident, in the early 1950s, throughout the whole community. My mother herself had ‘done her bit’ in the Women’s Land Army.
Even today, it is easy to imagine the impact of this ‘first’ in the world, and it is also easy to realise how proud the Australians and New Zealanders would have been that it was ‘one of their own’ – a ‘new breed’ of strong, inventive young men, who had succeeded where others of the ‘old school’ had failed.
Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, KG, ONZ, KBE (20 July 1919–11 January 2008), was an explorer and philanthropist. On 29 May 1953 at the age of 33, he and Sherpa (Himalayan mountain guide) Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers known to have reached Mount Everest's summit.
They were part of the ninth British expedition to Everest, led by John Hunt. Hillary was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
The Hunt expedition totalled over 400 people, including 362 porters, twenty Sherpa guides and 10,000 lbs of baggage, and like many such expeditions, was a team effort. Hillary and Norgay were both experienced climbers and were one of two climbing teams under Hunt's direction. The other team was held up but they forged a route through the treacherous Klumbu Icefall.
The crucial move of the last part of the ascent was the 40-foot (12m) rock face later named the “Hillary Step”. Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and the ice and Tenzing followed.
From there the following effort was relatively simple. Tenzing Norgay stated in his narration "The Dream Comes True" that Hillary had indeed taken the first step atop Mount Everest, despite Hillary quoting that both had reached the summit at the same time.
Everest's 29,028 ft (8,848 m) summit
They reached Everest's 29,028 ft (8,848 m) summit, the highest point on earth, at 11:30 am. As Hillary put it, "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top.”
The two had to take care on the descent after discovering that drifting snow had covered their tracks, complicating the task of retracing their steps. The first person they met on the way down was George Lowe, who had climbed up to meet them with hot soup.
As a school boy growing up in Mackay, I remember being taught about Edmund Hillary's enormous feat of human endurance, it was still fresh in everyone's mind.
If New Zealand had not been recognised around the world before Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest, New Zealand was certainly on everyone's lips after the event.
As a Christian theologian, I view this success as a perfect example of how human achievement, in actual fact, has no connection with Salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine if human achievement was the condition of Salvation. Only those of the calibre of Edmund Hillary would be acceptable; or the current 100 metre sprinter or swimmer man and woman world record holders; or the current richest man or woman; or the best behaved person. It doesn't make any sense at all, as it doesn't leave room for the rest of us.
God Himself in Jesus Christ, died for our sin and salvation. There it is. Salvation is not based on anything or any achievement of ours, rather on what Jesus did on the Cross by taking our sin upon himself.
Human achievement therefore falls into a different category altogether. What a remarkable thing it has been to find cures for small pox and polio. How wonderful it is that someone climbed the world's highest mountain. How special it is that we have motor vehicles to get around and aeroplanes to fly internationally.
However, the Scriptures claim that all such endeavours – as well as the more mundane daily endeavours of all of the rest of us - are to be housed and acclaimed for the Glory of the Lord.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at