Edmund Hillary, 1953: It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves

Everest, Edmund Hillary, British expedition,

‘It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves,’ Edmund Hillary said

“I was naturally very pleased to get there, you can imagine we had some difficulty finding the top. Also because I was very interested in getting back down again,” Edmund Hillary jokily told a BBC radio phone-in titled ‘London Calling Asia’ back in 1953.

“Did the expedition hope to make practical discoveries, or was it sheer craziness?” asked a woman who described herself as “Chinese from Malaya”.

The great mountaineer laughed. “I suppose it was sheer craziness,” he acknowledged.

In the 60 years since Hillary spoke, the world has audibly changed.

The accents on the radio are very different. Women calling in from Delhi no longer sound like the Queen. (Nor do they think it necessary to be.)

The phrasing is no longer as formal. American ways were yet to become hip. That abomination – the baseball cap worn backwards – was some way off in the future, both metaphorically and literally.

In the intervening 60 years, the Times reporter who conveyed the news to a wondering world had changed their sex. James was now Jan Morris. And accepted as such.

And Nepal has got rid of its monarchy.

But reprising the conquest of Everest 60 years on is important for more than sociological reasons. It is a reminder of the practical zeal that the British brought to the business of being world-beaters. For, the successful ‘British mission’ to the roof of the world was, of course, anything but British. It had a Kiwi and a Nepalese set foot on the world’s highest mountain. But the British funded, planned and executed it. Who could then deny the joy with which it was heralded as a “coronation gift” for Britain’s new young Queen?

And who could deny the magic of the moment?