Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Mountaineer comes to mountain kingdom

14 April, 2008 - Peter Hillary, as much a celebrated personality as his father, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest, is in the country and Kuensel’s Samten Wangchuk caught up with him as he shared excerpts from a wealth of stories he had to tell from a lifetime of high adventure. He climbed the world’s highest peak twice.

Q1. What brings you here?
I’ve come to the Himalayas many times and Bhutan is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve gone on many expeditions in Sikkim, Nepal, the Indian Himalayas, Kashmir, Ladhak, Northern Pakistan and finally I’m here at the eastern end of the Himalayas.

It just so happened that National Geographic, the group that I’m travelling with, wanted me to accompany this group to Bhutan. My father Edmund Hillary recently died in January this year. I think it’s rather fitting that I come back to the Himalayas.

Q2. How’s life living on the edge?
Sometimes it’s been more difficult than others, there have been some accidents and there have been successful summits and it’s been a lot of fun. But I think the reasons people do it, particularly when you’re thinking of a place like the Himalayas, and I know that mountaineering is not allowed here, but it’s the adventure of going to different place, somewhere you’ve never been to, …. in a way, it reminds me of the opportunity to make of your life what you will. In many ways, a mountaineering expedition is an opportunity to really realise our potential in a very intensive way.

Q3 In Bhutan, we consider the mountains sacred and as such don’t allow them to be climbed. What do you think of that?
As a mountaineer, it’s a shame, but I understand that you have your reasons. Most mountaineers, in fact, are incredibly respectful of mountains. If you go to mountain without respect, it may well take your life. It may be a different type of respect, nonetheless, I think mountaineers have huge respect for mountains.

Q4 Where do you think the line should be drawn between a sense of adventure in conquering nature and a sense of reverence in preserving it?
This is one of the balancing acts that occurs in every country in all sorts of different ways.

In your country, if you feel that these mountains are sacred and that maybe mountaineers have interfered with local beliefs, you’ve to balance things. Perhaps, on the other hand it might be possible to identify some mountains where mountaineers could go climbing.

That’s certainly been the case in a lot of other countries. I think largely it’s being a great benefit to the communities, because mountaineering is a more expensive part of adventure tourism.

Q5 You’ve scaled the highest peak, survived the most notorious, K2, traversed the lengths of many Himalayan ranges, what next?
I’m getting older, I’m 52, but I love going to the mountains. It’s one of the things I’ve been enjoying, waking up in the morning and looking up at a patch of snow on the ridge lines above these beautiful valleys and that’s always a thrill to me.

In June, this year, I’ll go to Alaska to climb mount McKinley, which is the highest mountain in the whole of North America. That will complete my seven summits. The seven summits are the highest mountains on each continent of Antartica, North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Q6 Given the nature of your sport, highly risky, which I assume also heightens your passion and thrill for such adventures, don’t you fear the unseen?
I do fear it, absolutely. But you’ve got to look at everything in terms of the pros and cons of any undertaking. You go to a mountain, you know it’s a dangerous terrain, you have some skills, you think you can keep yourself safe, but there are many very positive thing such as intense camaraderie, going to a beautiful place, seeing sights that no one else ever sees unless you’re on a mountain.

Q7 You’ve appeared on numerous TV shows, received media adulations, you’ve also been known as a highly motivational speaker and co-authored many books, what is it that you try to convey through them?
When I speak in a commercial or corporate sense, obviously I’m not an expert in terms of new manufacturing, leadership or management technique, but what I can bring are anecdotal stories, from up on the mountain top, where really all the same things happen, you need to see leadership, good team work, conflict, resolution between people arguing and you say, well, we’ve got to solve this and keep going, we have a goal which is not an easy one.

My books are simply stories of expeditions, which from reading you could derive inspiration or teamwork and leadership, conflict situations but that wasn’t the aim of telling the story.

Q8 What’s your biggest achievements in life or are you still waiting to achieve one?
Obviously, mountaineering has been incredibly an important part, because it was something the Hillary family loved doing, but for both of us, my father and I, as we got older, it has been going back to Nepal and, at the request of the local villagers, building small humble schools, small hospitals and clinics and giving something back to people who helped us on our expeditions.

That’s probably been the most important thing, trying to help other people fulfill some of their goals.

Q9 Mount Everest is now a giant garbage-heap, if that’s not putting it too strongly, how did your late and great father, Sir Edmund, feel about the Pandora’s box he opened with his conquest of the peak?
In a way, he thought, when he and Tenzing reached the summit, that it was going to be the end of all their struggle to be the first to climb the summit and why would anyone else go there. But lots of people wanted to climb the highest mountain on the planet after them.

In terms of pollution on the mountains, a lot of it has been exaggerated. The Mount Everest base camp, when it was fairly polluted, it was only two or three hectares of rubbish on the glacier, which is not good but it’s also not difficult to clean it up. 50 people could clean it up in a couple of days.

I would definitely want to come to Bhutan again. The Snowman trek is on my list.


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