24-30 July 2015 #768

Third generation Hilary

Edmund Hillary's grand-daughter tells how the Hillary Relief Collective is mobilising assistance to earthquake survivors through a network of mountaineers


Amelia Hillary, grand-daughter of Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay were first on top of Mt Everest in 1953, speaks with Nepali Times about her family’s three-generation attachment to Nepal and how the Hillary Relief Collective is mobilising assistance and getting it to earthquake survivors through a network of mountaineers.

Nepali Times: You have been living in Nepal, how did you get involved in earthquake relief work?

Amelia Hillary: Nepal has become second home to our family, it is a country where my grandfather had the most famous success of climbing Everest but actually the one that put me here is the work he did through the Himalayan trails, building the school and hospital. This is the worst disaster to hit our country in over eight decades, and we just had to help. It has never really been a choice for us. I have all this family connection, great friendships and the climbing community but also big personal losses. I lost my grandmother and aunt in this country, my father lost countless friends. The high points and low points of the Hillary family has been in Nepal. But that is life and that’s why we have such a connection to the country.

How did the Hillary Relief Collective come about?

We were already working on schools and medical clinics in Solu Khumbu, and when the earthquake happened it had us thinking we have to do something. We started working with the adventure and climbing community, and set up a fundraising page and that is how the Collective came about. Initially there were also people who needed help with customs, and we found that we could inform people about areas that still needed emergency assistance and of what kind.

So you adapted in trial and error fashion?

Completely. I grew up in a humanitarian family. We had charities and fundraising, but we were not geared for emergency operations. We had to learn as we went along. Couple of days ago when we were in Lidhi it was actually management on ground and physically distributing relief to people, we also worked in medical camps taking first aid and emergency response trainings.

How did the mountaineering community come into the picture?

Damian Benegas, an Argentinean who handles operation in mountains with his twin were on Everest and on Camp I when earthquake hit. They ended up going to Gorkha once they got down and set up a porter operation just among themselves in Laprak and Barpark right after the earthquake. We have Richard Ragan of the WFP who knew all the climbers. Then we got Don Bowie, the Canadian-American who was on Annapurna at the time. He had the mountaineering skills to negotiate high passes and go around the landslides, and got to northern Gorkha to distribute aid. We have Nepali trail builders, and guides who are the best in the world. They go out in teams of two along the trails with GPS and see if the trail can be fixed or we need to make another one. Some have to fixed over and over as landslides keep coming down.

So, the trails provide access for relief and can also help trekking when the season starts in autumn.

Yes, exactly. These trails are life line of people. They use them for daily supplies, the children walk along them to school, so they need to be safe. It’s very important for day to day life.

What next for you?

I’m looking at doing Everest next year with Damian Benegas and Don Bowie as a fundraising climb to help rebuild Nepal. It will take couple of years for Nepal to recover. For the world at large, what happens on Everest represents what is happening in Nepal.

Watch excerpt of the interview here.

Read also:

Blazing new trails in the monsoon, Kunda Dixit

Even more secluded sanctuary, Rinzin Norbu Lama

The benevolent mountaineer, Lakpa Sherpa

Sherpa Hillary, Michael Dillon

Mission far from accomplished, Richard Ragan