Book Review: Edmund Hillary – A Biography, by Michael Gill

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_edmind_hillary_a_biography.jpgAuthor Michael Gill was a long-time friend of Sir Edmund Hillary’s. He accompanied him for over 50 years on many expedition, and was heavily involved in the Himalayan Trust, building schools and hospitals. The Hillary family gave Gill access to private papers and photos and others that had been donated by the family to the Auckland Museum, which enabled Gill to write probably the most in-depth book ever written about one of our national heroes.

This book looks at Sir Ed’s early life and how he became interested in climbing, telling the stories of his numerous attempts at Everest. Excerpts from letters that Sir Ed wrote have been included in this book, tying in the events surrounding them.

I have long been a fan of Sir Ed and have read every book he ever wrote and watched every television and film documentary made about his exploits over many years. He was my hero right through childhood and into adulthood. His feats to me were astounding.  As somebody who is experienced in outdoor adventures, one of the things that stood out to me was the equipment they carried on the early expeditions, and how far outdoor clothing and equipment has come over the years.

Edmund Hillary was not only a climber of Everest, he was an adventurer, a close friend of many, a son, a brother, a husband and a father to his 3 children. The tragedy of his wife Louise and his youngest daughter Belinda dying in a light air craft accident was an event that shocked the nation and the world. His wife Louise had been his rock and the love of his life for 22 years. The shock of her death sent Sir Ed spiralling into deep depression from which he eventually emerges, some years later marrying Peter Mulgrew’s widow, June. Peter Mulgrew was on the Erebus flight alongside others on that ill-fated flight.  Ed and Louise and Peter and June had been lifetime friends.

I was in my happy place reading this book. It is a fabulous book with many wonderful photos and stories never before published,of expeditions Sir Ed was involved in.  He had a very rich and exciting life that only some of us can dream about .

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Edmund Hillary – A Biography
by Michael Gill
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN  9780947503383


Book Review: Going Up is Easy, by Lydia Bradey, with Laurence Fearnley

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_going_up_is_easyIn this world of great achievements, it’s a real treat to read about Kiwis making a name for themselves on the world stage, against adversity and with attitude. Lydia Brady is one of New Zealand’s top mountaineers and adventurers, and the first woman to ascend Everest without oxygen. In Going Up is Easy, she tells the story of many of her great climbs including the ascent of Mt Everest, giving us a wonderful insight into the world above 8,000m.

One of Lydia’s earlier experiences is hair-raising, as she attempted the climb to Kedernath Dome in India in 1987. Exhausted after days on the mountain and in bad weather, Lydia and fellow climber Jon Muir were swept away by no less than 3 avalanches in a row. Reading how the soft whoosh surprised her and carried her away makes you fearful as you imagine yourself in that situation. Struggling to stay upright and dog paddling to keep her head above the surface, Lydia didn’t know which way was up when she was buried. The pair survived, but they knew they’d used up most of their 9 lives on that trip.

There are risks in mountaineering, but the payoffs are huge. For some people it’s the challenge they can’t find in their everyday life, and for others it’s the sport of it, the connection with the earth and life, and the views that keep them going. Lydia talks of the gap between being a strong, confident and clear-thinking mountaineer and being dead as very small. At altitude you do not always think your best or clearest, so climbing high needs both mental and physical strength, so you know when to go on and when to turn back.

The day-to-day experience is also a memorable part of the journey, not just the success of ascent. Living on what you can carry, making friends, laughing and enjoying the trip, mountaineering can be an addictive pastime. Expect the unexpected too: imagine sitting in a tent high in the mountains, crowding with your mates in a tent telling stories when you hear a ripping sound and a massive dagger-like icicle pierces the tent from a cliff above, missing someone’s head by 3cm. Lydia and the team slept with helmets on that night.


Lydia Bradey on the Minarets, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, photo by Michael Chapman-Smith from

Lydia’s ascent of Everest is a great read, she climbed up on her own and without oxygen, sticking to her plan of rest and rehydration on the way, but unable to take photos at the top because her camera had frozen – this was back in 1988. She allowed herself ten minutes at the top, viewing the various Himalayan peaks around and below her, and keeping her balance in the strong wind.

Lydia also bravely addresses the feelings she had on returning to the wider world’s disbelief that she had actually climbed Everest at all, coming from media as well as those in her own climbing group which included respected New Zealand mountaineer Rob Hall. It took time to prove that she had indeed completed the ascent, but there was more than a few years of disillusionment for Lydia in between.

As one of a group of aspiring mountaineers on a beginner Snowcraft course, I was lucky enough to hear Lydia speak last year. Lydia was leading a technical climbing course based in the same Mt Ruapehu lodge and was very generous in sparing her evening to chat to us about what life was like as a professional mountain guide. Her stories were magnetic and jaw-dropping; covering danger, rescues, medical mishaps, and daring adventure.

I’m pleased to see that even more adventures are covered in Going Up is Easy. I highly recommend it as a great read for anyone, it’ll give you a good injection of inspiration, motivation and encouragement for whatever you aim to achieve.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Going Up is Easy
by Lydia Bradey, with Laurence Fearnley
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)
ISBN 9780143573234

Huw Lewis-Jones at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival

The Octagon seemed like the best place in the world to be this weekend. The autumn sun slanted down through the plane tree leaves, the shadows were deep, and Danish socialism ruled democratically in the Art Gallery.

They came from all over to honour the authors of the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival. Lovers of poetry, lovers of prose. Collectors of anecdote, participants in the human conversation. And along to the left, then up some stairs to the Dunningham Suite in the Dunedin Public Library, shortly after lunch, came those with a mind for mountaineering.

Huw Lewis-Jones is a bearded Englishman pp_huw_lewis-jones(picture from ODT, right). He is a graduate of Cambridge. He looks about twenty-five years old. His PhD thesis was entitled something along the lines of ‘The Geographical History of Thought and Ideas Down the Ages.’ Brilliant. He is an expert in maritime and polar exploration history, an advisor for television documentary makers, and a guide on Polar cruises. In short, he knows what he is talking about. And he talks about it with gusto.

This afternoon he was in Dunedin to shed light on George Lowe’s physical and pictorial contribution to his book The Conquest of Everest (Thames and Hudson) 9780500544235, and to present Lowe’s photos and tales (many of them previously unpublished and untold) from a recently published book of Lewis-Jones’s. That word ‘conquest,’ incidentally, the writer confessed to despising, quoting Edmund Hillary, who stated: “You don’t conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself.”

cv_conquest_everestHuw Lewis-Jones, showing no signs of jet lag, was introduced by a beaming Neville Peat – local natural historian and writer – who launched in by describing Lewis-Jones as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” an accusation that could well be leveled at Peat himself. In fact, the atmosphere of the whole event was one of enthusiastic bonhomie. The audience members were swept along.

Lewis-Jones began by asserting that in the event of a fire, don’t leave the building until we had bought his book. He eased into his lecture proper by acknowledging the recent passing of George Lowe, whom he described as “a beautiful, wonderful man.” He then zeroed in on the origins and ongoing closeness of Lowe’s friendship with Edmund Hillary; it was a mountain climbing kinship that carried them from the Southern Alps to the Himalayas in 1952 and ultimately up Everest in May of the following year.

Hillary’s part in the ultimate ascent is fairly well known, Lowe’s less so. Lewis-pp_george_loewJones’s book, and lectures like this afternoon’s, sought to redress that balance a little. Not that Lowe (pictured right) was troubled by the omission. But if you consider the mind-boggling organization, teamwork and support that went into the 1953 expedition as a pyramid (350 porters, 17 tons of supplies, 15 climbers in the English team and many more Sherpas) then Lowe was at the tip of that pyramid. He spent ten days carving steps up to the South Col (nearly ruining himself) and set up camps for Hillary and Tenzing. He waited by himself and met them first on the descent, to have his ears warmed by Hillary’s famous line, “…We knocked the bastard off!” He photographed them coming down (a descent held in higher regard by Hillary than the ascent, “Going up a mountain is optional, coming down is mandatory…”) and he filmed many stages of the expedition. He really was, as Lewis-Jones noted, ‘the third man of Everest.’

There was a lot to digest in the Dunningham everest cakeSuite as Lewis-Jones lived up to his Cambridge nickname of ‘One More, Huw’ — rattling off opinions and facts, the stories behind the photos, and first-hand comments from the climbers (Hillary on why there isn’t a photo of himself on the summit: “It wasn’t the place to teach Tenzing how to use the camera.” Lowe on the pitfalls of fame: “We were given so many bloody Everest cakes.”) Mind you, nobody was complaining as ‘One More, Huw’ hove on.

Everything though must come to an end and this ended (almost) with the writer responding to questions from the audience about Everest today. He said, “You can’t tell a person NOT to climb if they want to. But I think you must be able to climb under your own steam.” He went on to say that while tourism is a critical part of Himalayan life, what he objects to is that now, people essentially pay money to get to the top, and that has led to other people dying while trying to make it happen. He then once more quoted a blunt Edmund Hillary: “It’s all bullshit these days.”

Then Lewis-Jones really did finish up, with a photo of Lowe and Hillary on a West Coast glacier. On the back of the polaroid is a short note from Lowe to his friend, a sort of haiku on friendship and exploration. It reads:

Shall we?
Can we?
Will we?
Should we?
Could we?
What do you reckon?

The applause wouldn’t die down; the audience clearly reckoned that George Lowe, not to mention the man before us, was the real deal. Neville Peat reckoned Lewis-Jones should come back soon with his wife and daughter. I reckon that in a Himalaya of high-quality Festival events, this was a lofty peak.

Event attended and reviewed by Aaron Blaker on behalf of Booksellers NZ 

Huw Lewis-Jones will be doing an event this evening in Christchurch with the Christchurch Writers’ Festival, and carrying on to the Auckland Writers’ Festival for an event on Thursday 15 May, and another on Saturday 17 May.