The History Channel – Thursday 29 May, 8.30pm
Everest is the highest mountain in the world, thrusting 29,108 feet into the sky. A height where human blood thickens to the consistency of treacle, where every move you make, every breath you take, is sheer agony. For the first half of last century Everest was the unclaimed jewel in mountaineering’s crown, resisting expeditions and claiming twenty-two lives until a lanky beekeeper from New Zealand and a beaming Sherpa from Eastern Nepal, roped up together and became a truly remarkable team. However Hillary blossoms into a creature of grace and power in New Zealand’s remote high country. The solitude, the uncompromising physical effort demanded, and the need to be self-sufficient in unforgiving landscapes is deeply rewarding. At last Hillary finds something he genuinely excels in: mountaineering. This film is the story of how he leaves beekeeping to find fame scaling Everest in 1952, overcoming shyness to marry the beautiful daughter of the President of the New Zealand Alpine Club, Louise Rose; how he becomes the first man to cross the Antarctic by vehicle, and how, in his hour of triumph, he loses his wife and daughter Belinda in a tragic helicopter crash. The loss is crippling. Outwardly stoic, Hillary doggedly continues his lecture tours of Europe and North America, raising money for his aid projects in Nepal but inwardly he is broken and despairing. Hillary can offer little solace to his other children, Peter and Sarah. For two and a half years he sinks into an abyss and takes sleeping pills and whiskey in doses that would kill a less powerful man.