Te Papa recently acquired a pendant featuring a rock Hillary collected from the first successful summit of Mt Everest / Chomolungma. History curator Stephanie Gibson tells us more.
Alongside Nepali Tenzing Norgay, Hillary achieved the first successful summit of Mt Everest / Chomolungma, the world’s highest mountain, on 29 May 1953.
Before they descended from the summit, Hillary collected stones to take home. He gave these stones to friends, family, and expedition members.
The particular stone, now in Te Papa’s collection, was originally given to his brother Rexford (Rex) Hillary.
Either Ed or Rex had it beautifully mounted by a Nepalese jeweller. The mount is made of silver and the gemstones appear to be turquoise and coral.
This pendant is so special because it brings together the world’s most evocative peak, the first highest climbing ascent, Hillary’s personal story, and his close connection to friends and family.
What type of rock is found at the top of Everest?
Marcus Richards, Associate Research Fellow from the Geology Department at the University of Otago, visited Te Papa this week, and was excited to see the stone up close.
He confirmed that the rock was once soft mud on the sea bed which had been compacted and lithified (i.e. turned into stone) and thrust to the top of the Himalayas by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian continental plates. This is a process which began 50 million years ago and continues today.
So a rock at the top of the world used to be at the bottom!
A personal connection
Seeing the pendant was very exciting from a personal point of view, as I had travelled with members of the Hillary family to Nepal for the 50th anniversary of the climb in 2003.
I trekked with Sir Ed’s daughter and grandchildren in the Khumbu region – here’s a picture of me at a viewpoint above Everest Base Camp. Everest was starkly beautiful and really stood out from the surrounding mountains.
After our trek, we joined Sir Ed in Kathmandu where he was celebrated by the Nepalese and the world’s mountaineering communities.
Sir Edmund Hillary (1919–2008) became one of the most famous New Zealanders on the world stage. His achievements on Everest and later in Antarctica were greatly respected and his portrait is even featured on New Zealand’s $5 note.
His subsequent humanitarian work, particularly in Nepal, cemented his place as an iconic and much-loved New Zealander.