The Theft of the Mona Lisa

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• Part 2: Familiar with the Territory
• Part 3: Success and Worldwide Fame

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Edmund Hillary, an unassuming beekeeper from New Zealand, was one of the first two known people to stand atop Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain. His companion was Tenzing Norgay, a devoted sherpa who wanted nothing more than to do what made him most famous. The two men followed different paths to the top of the world, but both leaned heavily on each other throughout their historic journey.

Hillary was born on July 20, 1919, in Auckland, New Zealand. His father, Percival, had survived the disastrous Gallipoli campaign but had endured a severe face wound. A passionate man, Percival Hillary quit his job as editor of a newspaper after a disagreement with the board of directors. He then turned to his hobby full-time. His hobby was beekeeping.

Edmund, meanwhile, went to Auckland Grammar School and had a severe inferiority complex, mainly because of his small size and shyness. He considered himself awkward and uncoordinated in physical activities at school and preferred reading, where he could escape into places fired by his imagination.

When Edmund was 16, he went on a school trip to Mouunt Ruapehu and found that he liked snow and mountains. He also discovered that he was good at climbing and had more natural endurance than other youths his age.

Following in his father's footsteps, he made his living as a beekeeper. Her served in the New Zealand Air Force, as a navigator, but left after an accident. He returned to beekeeping but also found time to pursue his true passion, mountain climbing. He began by climbing mountains in his home country and then progressed to the Alps and finally, the Himalayas. In the world's tallest mountain range, he climbed 11 different peaks that were 20,000 feet or taller. Then, he set his sights on Everest (known as Chomolungma to the Nepalese), the tallest of them all.

The summit, which is 29,028 feet above sea level, had been the target of several major expeditions between 1920 and 1952. None had succeeded. Many people died on these expeditions, including the famous explorer George Leigh-Mallory, in 1924. Causes of death included accidents, avalanches, and altitude sickness.

Hillary was a part of two of these expeditions, in 1951 and 1952. Neither made it to the top. In the meantime, a team of Swiss climbers had reached the south peak, 1000 feet from the top.

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David White