Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
You don't really get the feeling from the chairs in his living room that you're in the presence of the most honored and respected mountaineer to ever walk the Earth.
Nothing special is on the mantle.
"Just an unpretentious house of a grandma and a grandpa," said Steamboat Springs' Tom Sharp. "You wouldn't have ever known it belonged to Sir Edmund Hillary."
Sharp and his college roommate, Jim Pierce, still wonder how the heck they ended up sharing an afternoon with the legend and his wife, Lady June, three years ago in his home perched above the Auckland Harbour.
These guys had nothing close to a real connection that should warrant the invitation. They're more closely related to Kevin Bacon. Pierce's friend's cousin was married to a former Field Enterprises CEO, publisher of World Book Encyclopedia, who sponsored Hillary's 1958 Commonwealth Trans-Atlantic Expedition. Many people forget this first overland expedition to reach the South Pole by motor vehicle, with Hillary blazing his way on a Ferguson TE-20 tractor.
Hillary kept only one visible reminder of his 1953 feat that overshadowed the pole expedition and that etched his name in human history - a small framed print in the living room. The image has no climbers in it. It was just a shot of the "Hillary Step," the final rocky boundary on the Southeast Ridge approach that Hillary and Tenzing Norgay crossed en route to the Mount Everest summit.
Fifty years after the accomplishment, Hillary was not above inviting over a couple of Yankees who had sent his wife an e-mail during their trip to New Zealand.
Just more than two weeks ago, Hillary died from heart failure in his native Auckland.
Sharp still remembers the firm handshake of the then 85-year-old. Pierce still carries around a New Zealand $5 bill marked with Hillary's visage.
The legacy does not end there. The ripple effect of Hillary's devotion to the Nepali people following his peak pioneering reaches all the way to Routt County.
In 2000, Jack and Jo Morrison delivered some donated medical supplies to a clinic in Nepal's Everest region in the town of Phaplu.
Hillary helped build the hospital and its adjacent airstrip, as well as enabling its doctor's education through his philanthropic foundation.
The more that Jack hiked through the region, the more he thought about the hospital and its remote location, a four-day trek to the nearest "motorable" road. He returned home and spearheaded a drive to raise $15,000 through the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs (which was matched by a Rotary Foundation grant) to purchase technical medical equipment including an X-ray machine delivered by helicopter. In 2006, the local Rotary Club ponied up an additional $7,000 to equip the hospital with a satellite system to help Dr. Mingma Sherpa communicate and determine diagnoses.
Hopefully the humble beekeeper's legacy of taking care of the places we explore will continue to resonate locally now that Hillary is gone.