In 1953 Edmund Hillary reached the top of Mt Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hillary's achievement gave New Zealand mountaineers a secure place in world history. Through the second half of the 20th century, New Zealanders climbed in all the world’s major ranges.
The first New Zealander to climb in the Himalayas was Dan Bryant in 1935. The previous year he had climbed in Switzerland, and he then joined Eric Shipton’s British Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. Shipton, impressed by Bryant’s brilliant ice climbing, would include New Zealanders in his 1951 Everest reconnaissance. A Canterbury Mountaineering Club party was set to attempt Kanchenjunga in 1939, but war intervened.
In 1951 a New Zealand Alpine Club party of Edmund Hillary, George Lowe, Ed Cotter and Earle Riddiford climbed in the Garwhal Himalaya. Subsequently, Hillary and Riddiford joined Shipton’s 1951 reconnaissance of Everest and then Hillary and Lowe joined the successful 1953 British Everest Expedition. In 1955, Norman Hardie was one of the first to climb Kanchenjunga.
Other overseas ranges
New Zealanders first climbed in the Alps in the 19th century, but made a significant mark only in 1968 when Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle climbed six major north faces in the season, proving that New Zealand’s best climbers were the equal of Europe’s.
From the 1960s New Zealanders climbed overseas every year. Several parties of New Zealanders made fine ascents in the Andes, notably in Peru. In 1960, New Zealanders made the first ascent of the formidable Nevado Cayesh in the Cordillera Blanca, and a party that climbed in the Cordillera Vilcabamba in 1962 made no fewer than eight first ascents. In 1975 the Canterbury Mountaineering Club sent its Jubilee Expedition to Patagonia. This was one of the last overseas expeditions organised by a club. After that, most New Zealand mountaineers were active overseas as individuals or in small groups.
In 1988, Lydia Bradey became the first woman (in 2020 she was still the only New Zealander) to reach the top of Mt Everest without using supplementary oxygen. The previous year Bradey had climbed an 8000-metre peak in Pakistan alpine-style (climbing self-sufficiently, and without using fixed ropes or supplementary oxygen) – probably also a world first for a woman.
Two of New Zealand’s best-known climbers of the later 20th century, Rob Hall and Gary Ball, ran a successful business guiding clients in overseas ranges. In 1990, the pair climbed seven summits (the highest peaks on each continent) in seven months. Both later died in the Himalayas.
In 1982 Mark Inglis lost both legs below the knee from frostbite on Aoraki/Mt Cook. Nevertheless, in 2006 he climbed Mt Everest.