BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 00:45 GMT
'My Himalayan climb with Hillary'
Dr Brian Wilkins
Brian Wilkins said Sir Edmund was an "utterly sensible person"

Mountaineer Brian Wilkins climbed with Sir Edmund Hillary, who has died at the age of 88, in the Himalayas in 1954. He told his daughter, BBC News's Lucy Wilkins, Hillary would be remembered for his "utter common sense" and determination.

Dr Wilkins was a young mountaineer chosen as one of 10 climbers in the New Zealand Alpine Club expedition to attempt peaks to the east of Everest.

Charles Evans, who had failed to reach the world's highest summit in Hillary's expedition, was also to climb with Dr Wilkins.

Even though Sir Edmund had won world-wide acclaim and was feted everywhere he went after the conquest of Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay the year before, he did not forget his prior commitments.

He had a tremendous determination. Even though he wasn't eating much, he showed he could go on for hours
Mountaineer Brian Wilkins

"Despite all the demands on his time after Everest, such as writing a book about his life, he kept his promise. In all we climbed about 20 peaks over 20,000 ft," Dr Wilkins told the BBC News website from his home in Wellington, New Zealand.

But it was not all easy going for a man who had achieved a world first.

"The thing that I most remember about Ed, despite the fact that he wasn't at all well and he wasn't eating much, he was still able to go very well.

"He had a tremendous determination. Even though he wasn't eating much, he showed he could go on for hours," Dr Wilkins said.


Sir Edmund's lack of appetite was never fully explained, and Dr Wilkins said he had serious bouts of sickness in subsequent climbs. Once during the NZ Alpine Club climb, he collapsed and had to be carried down to a lower altitude.

But having a celebrity in their midst did not affect the NZ Alpine Club climbers.

Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund enjoyed being among fellow New Zealanders

"We were certainly conscious of who he was - a world-famous mountaineer. But once you're out there in the mountains you're all sleeping in the same tent, you're all part of the same endeavour.

"He was an utterly sensible person. He enjoyed spending time amongst New Zealanders because for him it was being back in the environment that he had worked his way up through."

For Dr Wilkins, a retired scientist, who is still an active climber at the age of 82, his down-to-earth qualities will be remembered as key to one of New Zealand's most famous sons.

"His face appears on one of our banknotes, he was given the highest honours in New Zealand, he was the high commissioner to India, but I think the thing that New Zealanders admired in him most was his utter common sense."

And the Sherpa people around the Everest region will miss him greatly too, Dr Wilkins said, as Sir Edmund set up a trust for building schools, hospitals and bridges which had become "his life's work".

Expedition photographer talks about Sir Edmund

Sir Edmund Hillary dies aged 88
10 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Obituary: Sir Edmund Hillary
10 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Sir Edmund urges climate care
10 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Hillary laments Everest changes
26 May 03 |  South Asia
Everest half-century celebrated
30 May 03 |  South Asia
In pictures: Everest celebrations
29 May 03 |  Photo Gallery

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific