A son's tribute to his father

My father, Ed Hillary, believed in enthusiasm as the root of motivation and he liked to see it in people. He felt enthusiasm was infectious and worth catching.

My father crammed into his 88 years an astonishing variety of expeditions; of course there was Everest with Tensing Norgay, the South Pole with Vivian Fuchs and then the building of 42 schools and hospitals at the foot of Everest but there were also jet boat trips up the Ganges river with a team of Indian and antipodean expeditionaries. Antarctic climbs and exploration, high altitude physiological research, yeti hunting in the Himalaya and a flight to the North Pole with Neil Armstrong and Stephen Fossett. I was fortunate to accompany him on some of these expeditions and these shared experiences are some of the best memories I have. They certainly inspired me and, now, my father and I are the first 'two-generations of one family' to have climbed Everest, established new routes across Antarctica to the South Pole and to have shared an aviation journey to the North Pole. And of course our charitable work in the Himalaya continues to be a common theme to both of our lives.

For both of us the Ocean to Sky jet boat expedition up the Ganges river was the finest adventure of them all. The people, colour and culture of India as we roared up the sacred river in our jet boats gave the expedition a richness beyond compare. We swam in the Ganga with street urchins at Varanasi and visited quiet little villages far from the hectic beat of life of industrial India. There were sadhus who challenged the jet boats to a tug-of-war with some cunning rope dynamics! And the refuelling of the jet boats drew huge crowds of some hundreds of thousands with the crowds covering the distant landscapes.

On 22 January 2008 a State funeral was held in New Zealand which was televised around the world and on 29 February, the 49th day after his death, we scattered his ashes upon the Waite Mata Harbour just north of our old family home. We stood on the deck of the three masted sailing ship tossing roses into the water, free at last from the great responsibility he felt for so many people.

Dad loved sharing his adventures with a wide range of people and happily gave his time to helping others; he epitomised the values of his generation. My father was a man who was never happier than when he was planning his next journey and he was perpetually planning his next journey! He would write these plans quickly with a pencil on a pad of paper and whistle his favourite tunes while he worked ... Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte ... My father's journeys galvanised many significant friendships and many important causes of which the schools and hospitals around the foot of Everest were what he considered his greatest achievement.

In early April we went to London for a special service by Queen Elizabeth at St Georges Chapel at Windsor Castle for a thanksgiving ceremony. This was our final farewell and a last chance for his grandchildren to share an extraordinary connection to their humble grandpa.


(See full obituary by George Band, Article 4 in this journal).

Sir Edmund Percival Hillary

Sir Edmund Percival Hillary


'Gerr' Finch, who died a venerable 96, led an adventurous, distinguished and varied life both as a soldier and mountaineer. Born in Southport on 26 February 1911 he was educated at Rugby but broke with the family's legal tradition by reading engineering rather than law at Caius College, Cambridge before entering the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich from where he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1929. Arriving India in 1934 aged 23 to join the Bombay Sappers and Miners he was first posted to 17 Field Company Royal Engineers at Quetta. This ancient, mountain girt frontier fortress was then the capital of British Baluchistan and the main garrison town guarding the Southern passes into Afghanistan. Although Quetta had been the Indian Army's Staff College since 1907, Finch's Sapper Company had neither wireless nor telephone so messages were still sent by runner. Their most effective form of transport was by mule imported from Argentina.

Brigadier John Richard Gerard Finch

Brigadier John Richard Gerard Finch

For the remainder of his peacetime service in India, Finch took every advantage of local leaves to explore little known mountain areas in Tibet, Sikkim, Chitral and Kullu. In 1935 he visited Gyantse fort in Tibet where the British Trade Agent's Indian Army escort was mounted on shaggy Tibetan ponies. On returning to Quetta via northern Sikkim, he found the place devastated by the disastrous earthquake that claimed over 20,000 lives. In 1937 he was posted to Chitral the most spectacular and romantic of all North West Frontier provinces renowned for its polo playing tribesmen; its hundred peaks of over 6000 m and Tirich Mir at 7688 m the monarch of the Hindu Kush. Then as now, Chitral was the buffer zone that guarded the northern passes through the Hindu Kush and Pamirs into the Indian sub-continent.

In 193 8 with world war looming, Finch returned to England for two years training before being posted back to Bombay in September 1940 to command the Depot Battalion of the 45 Army Troops Company. In 1941 he took over the newly raised 91 Field Company RE and in March 1942 joined the 23 Indian Division at Ranchi in Bihar Province to prepare for Burma operations. Initially, there were no weapons available for his company and no transport save one air-compressor truck. Three months later they moved on to Assam after taking 48 hours to cross the flood swollen Brahmaputra passing en route streams of refugees only to find Imphal in chaos with the pathetic remnants of a demoralised Burmese and Chinese Army. For the next fourteen months Finch served under Lt. Colonel J H Williams, the famous 'ElephantBill' whose Sappers and Elephants built the infrastructure, roads and bridges that provided a launch pad for Slim's Burma campaign under persistent Japanese harassment. In July 1943 he was recalled to the Quetta Staff College and in March 1944 transferred to the Italian theatre taking command of 21 Field Company during the final stages of 4th Indian Division's engagement at Monte Cassino. Zigzagging across Italy in pursuit of the retreating Wehrmacht, he met John Hunt in the Maiella mountains and thus began a lasting friendship that was cemented later that year in Greece when Finch was appointed Chief Royal Engineer 4th British Division in Athens. In Cyprus he was largely responsible for rebuilding Limassol in the face of EOKA terrorism. Returning to England after the war, his appointments alternated between the War Office, Nigeria, Egypt, Cyprus and the USA. He commanded 35 Field Engineer Regiment both in the Canal Zone and in Cyprus where he had the dual responsibility of rebuilding the RA base; combating ENOSIS and dealing with civil unrest.

Tall and powerfully built, GerrFinch's mountaineering enthusiasms were fostered at Cambridge. He was already a powerful and competent rock climber by the time he reached Quetta so was soon co-opted to lead senior officers on climbs on the nearby 3300 m Takatu mountain. While on local leave in Sikkim in 1935, he investigated an approach to the 6400 m peak of Lacksi from the NE and the following year made a serious attempt to climb that same mountain which he had to abort just short of the summit due, in his own modest words, to 'inexperience'. On this same expedition, he narrowly failed to climb another Sikkimese peak Lama Anden due to foul weather. Three years later, now emboldened by experience in the Alps during home leaves, he conceived the altogether more ambitious aim of reconnoitring a route up Tirich Mir (7688 m) which had first been investigated by Charles Bruce when establishing Chitral as a forward military base with Francis Younghusband in 1893. Finch's modest recce party, consisting of himself and two Chitrali porters, made lodgement on the mountain's south ridge before going on to explore the south and north Barun glaciers. They then crossed the Pharsan An to make a bold attempt on the 6400 m Buni Zom only to be frustrated by illness. Their subsequent recce of the 5800 m Pushari cut short by an accident. Finch's last Himalayan venture was to Kullu in 1941 with his wife Tricia whom he had married in 1939.

During his post-war tour in Cyprus, Gerr teamed up with his Regimental Chaplain Fred Jenkins (subsequently the AC's unofficial lifelong chaplain) to share many mountain adventures together. Finch was already an active member of the Climbers Club and climbed frequently in North Wales with his AC seconder Lt. Colonel Gavin. His election to the Alpine Club in 1953 was warmly supported by John Hunt and it was their friendship that led to Finch's close involvement with the establishment of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme and the Ary Mountaineering Association. In the immediate post-war years, Gerr regularly attended Alpine Club meets - as often as not with his family giving moral support from base camp - until his knees and hips lost their youthful pliance and he turned to sailing. Gerr's lifelong enthusiasm for skiing was sparked in India.

At Quetta he had met a fellow skiing and mountaineering spirit in Eric Gueterbock a subsequent President of the Alpine Ski Club and first Chairman of the National Ski Federation of Great Britain who became his AC proposer. During home leaves in 1937 and 1939, Gerr made ski ascents of the Monch, Fiescherhorn, Grunhorn, Mont Blanc de Seilon, Pigne d'Arolla and Monte Rosa and in 1938 undertook a pioneer ski ascent to the head of the Pushkari glacier in ChitraL. He also played a vital supporting role to Alan Blackshaw's first British Alpine Ski Traverse in 1971 and became the Alpine Ski Club's President in 1982. Finch was a modest, perceptive man of outstanding courage, initiative and determination. Writing about his time in the Canal Zone, a comrade in arms Major General Fursdon, subsequently the Daily Telegraph's Military Correspondent, described Finch as a 'towering figure' whose commanding presence and massive clasped hands placed firmly on an otherwise empty desk at his Commanding Officer's orders left miscreant soldiers in no doubt about the firmness but fairness of his judgements. He conducted ASC committee meetings with that same quiet authority and a wry humour. Having served his country with distinction and outlived almost all contemporaries, Gerry's memory will be cherished by all those who knew him and particularly his children and numerous grandchildren.

In compiling this obituary I am indebted to his son Sir Robert Finch latterly Lord Mayor of London.


H.C.S. RAWAT (1933 - 2008)

Harish Rawat was a gentleman mountaineer with a glorious heritage. He spent an eventful life full of personal achievements, a remarkable career and noteworthy contributions. He was born on 3 July, 1934 at the hilly village of Munsiary, facing the Panch Chuli range. His father Sher Singh Rawat had served as Chairman of the District Board, Almora. He studied at Almora and Lucknow before joining the Govt, of India.

H.C.S. Rawat

H.C.S. Rawat

Rawat belonged to the illustrious family of 'Pandit Brothers' who made history in mountaineering in the 19th century. Rawat's grandfather, Rai Bahadur Kishan Singh, known as 'A.K.' Pandit, and his grandfather's cousin, Nain Singh, were both in the Survey of India and can be considered as pioneers of mountaineering in this country And their explorations are well recorded.

I first met Rawat in 1964 when I was to lead the Pre-Everest expedition to Tirsuli and Nanda Devi East. He was included in the team on the advice of Sonam Gyatso who had climbed Hathi Parvat (6727 m), with him. the previous year. Short, round, with a small paunch and moon-like bespectacled face he looked to me more as a Japanese business man than climber.

On our 1964 Tirsuli expedition, we enjoyed visiting his ancestors' village of Milam on the Tibet trade route. When we established the summit camp and planned to send the first team to the virgin peak, Rawat was in the forefront. Unfortunately the night before there was heavy snowfall. There was an overhanging glacier near our camp and there was danger of its breaking under the weight of fresh snow. Early next morning I ordered withdrawal. There was some opposition but Rawat agreed cheerfully. Immediately after we had left the camp, an enormous ice - avalanche hit the camp burying our camp.

On Nanda Devi East, along with J.C. Joshi and Balwant Sandhu, Rawat fell some 100 m in an avalanche but walked away unhurt. The following year he was an important member of my team to Everest and climbed the peak on 29 May, 1965 with Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia and Assistant Sherpa Sirdar Phu Doiji. During this climb, he was paired with Harsh Bahuguna, who unfortunately, fell sick and decided to go down. The second pair of Ahluwalia and Phu Doiji had already moved up. Gallant Rawat decided not to give up and moved all alone and caught up with the others before reaching the top.

After return to India, when I was asked to lead the Indo-USA expedition to Nanda Devi, Rawat became an important member of my team. Though it was meant to be a short affair it turned out to be eight expeditions, one after another, one to Mount McKinley, three to Nanda Kot and four to Nanda Devi. Rawat was in the forefront of this special Mountaineering endeavour which has been described in detail in Spies in the Himalayas.

Later Rawat worked with the Indian embassies in Bhutan from 1980 to 1985 and in Nepal from 1985 to 1988. In 1992, he retired after a long government service. He was recipient of Padma Shri, Aijuna Award, Police Medal and the IMF Gold Medal.

In 1989, Rawat vice-president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and made significant contributions. He frequently visited his home town of Kausani where he helped the local community in marketing their woolen products in an honorary capacity.

During autumn 2007 he accompanied the IMF Scientific expedition to Chota Shigri, to select the site for a weather-hut to house the monitoring equipment. When he returned to Delhi, he was full of enthusiasm. But in November he felt uneasy and was admitted into a hospital. After a while it was diagonised that he had cancer of lungs and liver. He passed away peacefully on 27 January, 2008, leaving behind his nearly 100 year old mother, his wife Kaushi and three sons Dhirendra, Jitendra and Birendra.


ROBERT H. BATES (14 January 1911-13 September 2007)

Bob Bates, teacher, pioneer expeditionary mountaineer, first Peace Corps Director in Nepal and honorary president of The American Alpine Club, was the most beloved mountaineer in America. Although he was not a member of The Himalayan Club, he was fond of the mountains and peoples of Asia.

Bob climbed in Alaska, the Yukon and the Karakoram at a time when those mountains were remote and rescue was difficult. In 1937 Bob and Bradford Washburn, a fellow Harvard mountaineer, flew into Mt. Lucania, 17,150 feet in the Yukon, then the highest unclimbed peak in North America. They landed on a glacier at the base of the mountain and got stranded when the plane, bogged down in wet snow, could barely take off even without them. The only way out was up to the saddle between Lucania and Mt. Steele, climb over the top of 16,650 foot Steele, down its 9000-foot east ridge and then hike a hundred miles out over glaciers, across rivers and through the bush to Kluane Lake. They barely made it, while climbing Mt. Lucania on the way.

Although Bob made many other climbs and expeditions, his reputation was cemented by his two expeditions with Dr. Charles Houston, another Harvard mountaineer, to K2 in 1938 and 1953. K2 was not only the second highest mountain in the world; it was in the back of beyond. It took a tremendous effort in 1938 to reach the mountain from Srinagar, and an even greater effort to pioneer a route up the Abruzzi ridge putting in eight camps and reaching 26,000 feet to establish what is still the hardest regular route up any 8000-metre peak. The summit was almost within their grasp but changing weather and a lack of supplies persuaded them to turn around. It was a highly successful reconnaissance, a remarkable result at that time and place.

Robert H.Bates

Robert H.Bates

The 1953 expedition, again with Charlie Houston, resulted in one of the most legendary episodes in the history of mountaineering. The entire party was trapped in a storm at over 25,000 feet in the high camp when Art Gilkey became critically ill. Despite the extreme risk of trying to get anyone off the mountain in a storm, the other climbers including Bob decided they had to try. When one man slipped, live falling men plus the weight of Art Gilkey came onto Pete Schoening's belay. Somehow Pete held and everyone survived the retreat except Art, who died in an avalanche.

Bob was an invaluable member of an expedition because he was always positive and cheerful. He was a morale booster and never spoke a bad word about anyone. He also had a vast knowledge of vaudeville songs and was always singing. A Bates expedition was a happy expedition.

I got to know Bob well when we put together a joint Chinese American expedition to climb Ulugh Muztagh, in the Kun Lun range of northern Tibet. It took ten years to get the permission, but with Bob it was fun. He always could turn frustration into laughter. At 74 Bob could only carry light loads on the mountain, but his determination to contribute was an example that inspired success.

During World War II, Bob was assigned by the Army to develop clothing and equipment for the mountain troops. He tested designs while making the third ascent of Mount McKinley. He also was sent to Anzio, Italy, to demonstrate the equipment to the soldiers.

After the war, Bob returned as an English teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy where besides imparting knowledge, he injected confidence into generations of students, many of whom would relate how Bob had changed their lives by getting them involved in outdoor activities. Later when he served as Director of the Peace Corps in Nepal he had the same effect on the volunteers working with him.

In 1994, he published his memoirs, The Love of Mountains is Best: Climbs and Travels from K2 to Kathmandu, and he co-wrote the books K2, The Savage Mountain and Five Miles High.

Bob married Gail Oberlin, the first staff member of the American Alpine Club, in 1954. She shared his sense of adventure and for years the two of them travelled together to remote mountain areas around the world including the Andes, the Karakoram and the Himalaya. She also shared his affection for the peoples of south Asia. They brought a Tibetan refugee from Lhasa to study at the University of New Hampshire, a young woman who became a member of his extended family. Their house in Exeter was a haven for countless foreign visitors. The president of The American Alpine Club from 1959 through 1961 and from 1988 the Club's second Honorary President, Bob Bates was the heart and soul of American mountaineering and a staunch friend to mountaineers around the world. He will be missed.