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Rare Hillary climbing expedition bag surfaces at auction

A climbing bag once belonging to Sir Edmund Hillary has surfaced at auction in New York.

CHRISTCHURCH:  A rare Sir Edmund Hillary climbing artefact has surfaced at auction in New York.

The faded canvas duffel bag dating to 1946, when a 27-year-old Hillary was busy knocking off some of New Zealand’s most challenging peaks, will go under the hammer at Bonhams auction house later this month.

‘Hillary Expedition 46’ and ‘ropes and slings’ have been handwritten on the 86cm long bag that is estimated to fetch around NZ$2100 – $2800.

The Everest hero’s second wife, Lady June Hillary wasn’t aware of the sale or the existence of the bag.

She wondered where it had come from and doubted that it had been given away by Hillary as a gift or memento, saying: “He wasn’t historically minded that way, although he was with his ice axes.”

“[He] travelled all the time after Everest, and these sorts of things tend to surface from time to time,” Lady June told the Herald today.

The year 1946 would transpire to be an important one for Hillary.

After serving as an RNZAF navigator during the Second World War on Catalina flying boats, the Auckland beekeeper was badly burned in a boating accident in the Solomon Islands in 1945.

Returning to civilian life and beekeeping, having returned to full fitness, Hillary spent every spare moment the following year mountaineering.

He made several tough ascents, including Kitchener, Sealy, Hamilton, Malte Brun, and De la Beche.

At the onset of winter 1946, he also traversed over the range from Awatere Valley to the Clarence River to “put in some high winter camps”.

Hillary also met legendary Kiwi mountaineer and guide Harry Ayres that year, which Hillary would later write in his first autobiography Nothing Venture, Nothing Win as being “perhaps the most important step in my mountaineering life”.

In High Adventure, he later wrote of meeting Ayres: “He took me under his wing and for three marvellous seasons we climbed the big peaks together.”

The pair scaled New Zealand’s highest peak, Mt Cook (now Aoraki/Mount Cook) on January 30, 1947. A year later, they made the first ascent of the imposing South Ridge Direct on 3724m Mt Cook.

On May 29, 1953, Hillary and Nepali Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay became the first to scale the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest (8848m), instantly becoming global celebrities.

The ‘Hillary Expedition 46′ bag goes under the hammer at Bonhams’ ‘Fine books and manuscripts featuring exploration and travel sale’ in New York on September 26.

Last month, a rare postcard signed by the entire 1953 British Mt Everest expedition, including Hillary and Norgay, fetched $1550 at auction in Auckland.

–  NZ HERALD 

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