Tag Archives: Edmund Hillary

It Is Not the Mountain We Conquer, But Ourselves

Edmund Hillary? George Mallory? Apocryphal?

everest09Dear Quote Investigator: Edmund Hillary and fellow mountaineer Tenzing Norgay were the first two people to reach the summit of the tallest peak on Earth, Mount Everest, in 1953. The grueling expedition required extensive planning and the climbers displayed remarkable self-control during the ascent. Hillary reportedly summarized the lesson of the adventure with this eloquent quotation:

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Oddly, I have not been able to find a good citation would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1998 an interviewer in the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” asked Edmund Hillary about his motivations, and also asked if he had actually employed this quotation. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Q: Oh, OK. So why did you climb it?

A: What I generally say is that it’s the sense of challenge, the attempt to stretch yourself to the utmost and overcome considerable difficulties. If you can do that, you get a great sense of satisfaction.

Q: I have another quote from you — let’s see if you said this: “It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” Did you say that?

A: I think I did say that over the years, and I believe it, too.

QI believes that the situation is more complex than suggested by Hillary’s response. Indeed, QI hypothesizes that the words were incorrectly assigned to Hillary before he embraced them in the 1998 interview.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order beginning with a precursor passage.

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  1. 1998 November 9, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Section: Magazine, Lofty Ideals: Story by Bill Steigerwald, (Continuation title: Sir Edmund Hillary has held onto his lofty ideals), Start Page D1, Quote Page D5, Column 2, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Have We Vanquished an Enemy? None But Ourselves

George Mallory? Edmund Hillary? Apocryphal?

mallory10Dear Quote Investigator: Mountaineers have spoken about the physical endurance and self-mastery required to stand atop a mountain. Here are two similar statements expressing this idea:

1) Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves
2) It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Two individuals have been linked to these quotations. One: George Mallory who climbed several lofty peaks but died in 1924 while attempting to ascend Mount Everest. Two: Edmund Hillary who made history by reaching the summit of Mount Everest with fellow mountaineer Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The first statement was written by George Mallory, and the second statement evolved from the first. QI has created a separate article about the second, and this article will center on the first.

After Mallory successfully climbed Mont Blanc with two companions he wrote about his experiences in the September 1918 issue of a London periodical called “The Alpine Journal: A Record of Mountain Adventure and Scientific Observation by Members of the Alpine Club”. The following passage describing Mallory’s feelings upon achieving the summit included the first quotation. Ellipsis was in the original; emphasis by QI: 1

One must conquer, achieve, get to the top; one must know the end to be convinced that one can win the end—to know there’s no dream that mustn’t be dared. . . . Is this the summit, crowning the day? How cool and quiet! We’re not exultant; but delighted, joyful; soberly astonished. . . . Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No . . . and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction . . . fulfilled a destiny.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1918 September, The Alpine Journal: A Record of Mountain Adventure and Scientific Observation by Members of the Alpine Club, Edited by George Yeld, Volume 32, Number 218, Article: Mont Blanc from the Col du Géant by the Eastern Buttress of Mont Maudit by G. L. Mallory (George Herbert Leigh Mallory), Start Page 148, Quote Page 162, Longmans, Green and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link