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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, has died. He was 88.

In 1953, Hillary - a beekeeper by trade - and his team reached the mountain's south peak. But, exhausted by the altitude, most could go no farther. Only Hillary and a native Nepalese climber, Tenzing Norgay, went on. Hillary described the climb just a few years ago in an interview with NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

EDMUND HILLARY: It wasn't we actually - on the summit ridge, there's a step which is called nowadays as Hillary Step, which I climbed just before the summit. It wasn't until I got to the top of that, that I was absolutely convinced that Tenzing and I are going to get to the top.

SIEGEL: And they did.

For more on the life of Sir Edmund Hillary, we've called David Breashears, a fellow climber and a friend of Hillary's.

Tell us, what made him tick? He was a remarkable man.

DAVID BREASHEARS: You know, climbing Everest was what got him all the initial fame and kudos and praise. Of course, he stood there alongside of Tenzing Norgay on May 29th 1953. But his true legacy and what he should be remembered for is his generosity and his tireless, endless work towards uplifting and improving the lives of the Sherpas who he came to know, by not only watching through their villages on the way to Everest in 1953, but of course, climbing alongside a Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay.

SIEGEL: And that was the cause that occupied him for much of the last 50 years of his life?

BREASHEARS: Yeah, really, yeah. He founded the Himalayan Trust in the early 1960s, that's eight or nine years after climbing Everest. And he was there with his hammer in his hand, the humble beekeeper from New Zealand, building schools where there were no schools in the Sherpa villages, 20 miles, 15 miles from Everest; bridges over rivers, air strips, the list goes on and on, reforestation projects. It was his life and he lived a great life. And he's just such a gift to all of us who knew him.

SIEGEL: When you think back on his climb of Everest back in 1953 and compare it with people do nowadays in terms of technical assistance he had in the climb, is it all comparable or was it a totally different era for climbing?

BREASHEARS: Well, it was completely different. I know the route he's climbed. I've climbed it five times myself, the southern route up Everest, up the southeast ridge, and today, well, when I climbed it, there was no fear of the unknown. We knew what was around the corner. We knew somebody else had been there. But when you stand on the south summit at 28,750 feet, and you look across at this knife-edge ridge with an 8,000 foot drop on one side and a 7,000 drop on the other, and it's soaring up into the heavens and there's a rock step barring the way to top. To think that they - he and Tenzing had the courage to set out and finish the ascent, it's just something I can't imagine.

And we called that rock step, the bars the way to the summit, the Hillary Step, and he was the first to climb it. They had heavier oxygen equipment. They had different oxygen apparatus but what they weren't lacking in was skill, determination, experience and an absolute passion for what they were doing.

SIGEL: Well, David Breashears, thank you very much for talking with us.

BREASHEARS: It's a pleasure, Robert, to speak to you even though it's a bit of a sad day for me.

SIEGEL: David Breashears who's a climber, filmmaker and friend of Sir Edmund Hillary who died today at the age of 88.

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