First Everest Climb Leader Dies
Nov. 08, 1998
LONDON (AP) _ John Hunt, who led the British expedition that enabled Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal to conquer Mount Everest, has died. He was 88.
Hunt died at his home in Henley-on-Thames west of London on Saturday, said his daughter, Sally Nesbitt. The family's announcement Sunday said only that Hunt died following a brief illness.
As leader of the 1953 expedition, Hunt decided it was his responsibility to remain at base camp while Hillary and Tenzing climbed the last 400 feet to the summit of the world's highest peak.
Hunt recalled that he wept for joy when he heard Hillary's boast _ ``Well, we knocked the bastard off!'' _ as he returned from the summit May 29. Hunt said it was the greatest moment of his life, even though there was a sense of personal disappointment.
``It was my ambition just as much as everybody else's in the party to be first at the top,'' he said in an interview with the Evening News in 1978.
``I thought about it a lot and concluded that it was important for the leader to be in a position where he could exercise some control if necessary. It did not seem that I could do both.''
In fact, Hunt and two other team members made the first attempt but stopped 400 feet short of the summit. They left their equipment and supplies for Hillary and Tenzing to make the second attempt.
Had they failed, Hunt said he was prepared to lead a third assault on the peak.
``What he achieved with us on Everest was that he had a group of prima donnas who all wanted to be the first to the top and he made us a team,'' said expedition member George Lowe.
``The Ascent of Everest,'' the book Hunt published shortly after the expedition, reflected his belief that it would be wrong to boast of a conquest.
``The relationship between a man and what he does on a mountain is one of humility,'' Hunt once told The Guardian newspaper. ``They make you feel small ... therefore, to feel that you've conquered them is a presumption.''
Hunt was a colonel in the British Army when he was tapped to lead the Everest expedition.
He was knighted in 1953 and elevated in 1966 to the House of Lords. He also was an adviser to Prime Minister Harold Wilson during the Nigerian civil war in the late 1960s and directed British relief missions to that country.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were ``very sad'' to learn of Hunt's death, Buckingham Palace said.
``The conquest of Everest was an early landmark of the queen's reign and Lord Hunt brought the same spirit of adventure and leadership to many other areas of national life,'' the palace's statement said.
Hunt is survived by his wife Joy and their four daughters. Funeral arrangements were not announced.