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Mountaineering feats relived in autobiography

12 December 2006

Mountaineering feats relived in autobiography

One of New Zealand’s mountaineering greats shares a life of incredible feats in an autobiography to be launched by Canterbury University Press this week.

On My Own Two Feet: The Life of a Mountaineer is the story of Norman Hardie, the Kiwi climber who was part of a British expedition that made the first ascent of the world’s third highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, in May 1955.

But while that feat may be the pinnacle of the 81-year-old’s mountaineering career, by no means does it stand alone. Hardie’s fascinating life story stretches out like the Southern Alps or the Himalayas themselves with many pioneering climbs, mountain rescues and an interesting range of career posts looming large on the landscape of his life.

Hardie was born in Timaru in 1924 and it was in his local mountains that he learned to stalk and shoot deer, a skill he later used to help pay his way through university. At Canterbury University College he joined the college tramping club and with a strong band of friends began the first of many significant new ascents on major summits in the Southern Alps.

After graduating in 1948 as a civil engineer, Hardie worked on the Lake Pukaki hydro-electricity scheme. While living there he assisted in the La Perouse rescue, an eight-day operation involving many top guides and climbers of that time. It was on that occasion he first met Edmund Hillary, beginning a lifelong friendship with the fellow adventurer five years before Hillary's historic ascent of Mount Everest.

Eventually London and the Himalayas beckoned, and Hardie served as a secretary to the 1953 British expedition to Everest. Two years later he was deputy leader and one of the four who were first to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga, a mountain considered by many to be the most technically difficult to climb of the Himalayan giants.

Hardie played an important part in three expeditions with Sir Edmund Hillary and for 22 years he was on the board of the Himalayan Trust, Hillary’s aid project for constructing schools and hospitals in Nepal. He went to Antarctica three times, as an instructor, surveyor and as the leader of Scott Base.

Hardie was inspired to write his memoirs 18 months ago when the son of one of his climbing friends was making a documentary about his father but needed help with the details.

“I got writing on my word processor and when I found I’d typed up 12 pages of notes for him about those exploits I wanted to keep going. I also gave a lecture tour in India and England last year at the time of the 50th anniversary of the ascent and I felt the need to continue on and record the events in which I have participated.”

Hardie tells his story with clarity and honesty, in a fast-moving, engaging and often amusing style which will have a wide appeal to all adventurous souls.

On My Own Two Feet will be launched at the University of Canterbury’s University Bookshop (UBS) on Tuesday 12 December.

ENDS

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