Sir Ed’s son Peter: Embrace your fear’

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Two of the greatest names in world mountaineering told their story in Queens­town last weekend. Philip Chandler reports

The son of New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer says a bit of fear is a good thing. 

Peter Hillary – whose father Sir Edmund made the first summit of the world’s highest peak Mt Everest – told a Resource Management Law Association conference in Queenstown last Saturday that fear focuses the mind. 

Hillary, sharing a platform with Nepalese climber Apa Sherpa who’s summited Everest a world-record 21 times, said: “It’s understandable, we don’t like being scared, but I think in a way a bit of anxiety in our lives is a good thing. 

“It makes us perform, it makes us focused. 

“When I think about it, we’re all going into the unknown, we don’t quite know what’s going to happen next. 

“And, in a way, it’s why we go to the mountains, to confront a bit of the unknown – and an environment like Mt Everest is constantly changing.” 

Hillary – who was with the Sherpa when they both first climbed Everest in 1990 – told the conference themed around confronting risk that society tries to do away with the idea of fear too much. 

Hillary said his late father suffered a lot of trepidation when summiting Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953. 

As a little boy, Hillary recalled his father relating at the family dining table how he and Norgay both starting having doubts on the way up. 

“He’s glowering down the table. 

“He said, ‘It suddenly came to me and I said to myself, ‘Ed, my boy, this is Everest’. 

“Sometimes you’ve just got to go 110 per cent, sometimes you’ve got to push yourself a little bit harder in your risk management and your risk analysis.” 

Hillary said he had doubts himself when climbing Everest for the second and last time in 2002 after he and other climbers had to scurry back to base camp as a jet-stream storm came in. 

“It was very close that a lot of people weren’t killed. 

“Not surprisingly, half the people decided they weren’t going to go back up for a second go.” 

Hillary said he was set to bail, too, when he decided to call his wife back home on a satellite phone. 

“She came right back to me, I knew she would, and she said, ‘What do you mean you’re not going to give it another go?’” 

“Talk about family support,” Hillary quipped. 

Hillary recalled that on the way down he slipped badly. 

“I ended up in this inelegant position with my crampon boots facing the sky over Tibet and my head pointing straight down towards a hanging glacier in Nepal. 

“I started thinking about things my father had said, namely, that a posthumous success is over-rated. 

“That’s one of the key things about being up there – you do have to be truly self-reliant. 

“In a way, I think that’s the best bit of risk management there is.”