Ocean to Sky Interviewees

With Hillary’s descriptions (italics) paraphrased from his book ‘From the Ocean to the Sky

Dr Mike Gill: Deputy Leader, Climber & Cinematographer. New Zealand
Mike’s medical career, like Jim Wilson’s academic one, had been shaped largely by his inability to refuse my invitations to go on expeditions over the past 18 years. Like Jim he was 40 years old. I don’t think anyone took the title of deputy leader very seriously, least of all Mike. But Mike, who lived only a mile away from me, was the natural person with whom to share planning, and our meetings each evening between 5.30 and 6.30 pm over a glass of scotch became an important part of the daily ritual. Sir Ed

Pathologist and climber Michael Gill was a 22-year-old medical student when he read in a newspaper that Sir Edmund Hillary was looking for an additional climber for his next Himalayan expedition. As climber, photographer, doctor and writer, Mike was subsequently a team member on nearly all the Hillary expeditions. In 1961 he was part of the first team to climb Nepal’s Ama Dablam. A close friend of Hillary’s for nearly 50 years, he become heavily involved in Hillary’s aid work building schools and hospitals in the Himalaya. He is the author of Mountain Midsummer, Himalayan Hospitals, and Edmund Hillary: A Biography and Chairman of the Himalayan Trust.

Jim, Waka, Mike Gill

Dr Jim WilsonJet Boat Driver & Climber, Cultural and Religious Adviser. New Zealand
To have gone on a trip up the Ganga without Jim would have been inconceivable. Jim returned from living in Varanasi for 2 years with a disturbed liver, a doctorate in Hindu philosophy and a great love of India. It’s strangeness and diversity, it’s myths and religions, it’s serenely beautiful landscape, the peoples and their history. At 40 years of age he is still a forceful climber and canoeist, fit and powerfully built, completely irrepressible when presented with any crazy scheme.

Of the drivers, Jim alone, with whom I mostly travelled in this white water section, had worry writ large across his features during those first three days in the gorge, for he had less experience than the other two by a long way, and the memory of his sinking in the Arun was still strong. He was tense and his temper flared quickly. He was a person quite different to the easy-going Jim I was used to. But he seemed to have a measure of blind courage and with this he combined strong and rapid reflexes by means of which, often in nerve –rackingly dramatic fashion, he battled his way out again. And as we progressed up river, though the rapids became rougher and rougher, his confidence grew, his mood relaxed, and he drove with a skill and mastery that matched the other two. Sir Ed

An accomplished mountaineer, Jim Wilson studied to be a Presbyterian Minister but then switched to Hinduism, gaining a PhD from Benares Hindu University in India. Jim had been on many pervious expeditions with Hillary, including driving and sinking a jet boat on the Sun Kosi 1967. Jim became one of Ed’s closest friends and was involved with Hillary’s aid work building schools and hospitals in the Himalaya. He also lectured in religious studies at Canterbury University and has written several books.

Sir Graeme Dingle KNZM, MBEClimber, Stills Photographer. 32 years old, New Zealand
Of the climbs that made him famous in New Zealand, many had been done with Murray. His style tended to be idiosyncratic with a pungent turn of phrase. More than a little crazy at times, he made an admirable foil for Jim Wilson when they were in an irrepressible mood. Ding also was inclined to be dashing rather than circumspect, [in his jet boat driving] though his instincts for self-preservation were strong. He established and directed a New Zealand Outdoor Pursuits Centre for introducing teenagers to the world of tramping, canoeing and climbing. Despite a total lack of money when he started, by imagination and hard work he built up a very successful centre – no small achievement. He has also written books on mountaineering. Sir Ed

Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle were the first to climb all six major European north faces (including the Eiger and Matterhorn) and the Bonatti Pillar in one season. An inveterate adventurer, Ding has made a 5000km traverse of the Himalayas in 265 days, a 28,000km traverse of the Arctic, the first winter traverse of the Southern Alps in 100 days and the first transit of the Northwest Passage by snow machine. He served as the chairman of the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre and The Project K Charitable trust and was the founding chairman of the New Zealand Outdoor Assembly.
In 1995, with his partner Jo-Anne Wilkinson, he established the Graeme Dingle Foundation – a leader in positive child and youth development, which now works working with 27,000 five to eighteen year olds throughout New Zealand.

Ding, Peter, Ding, Mike Hamilton

Murray JonesClimber. 32 years old,New Zealand
We would need climbers of considerable skill. Murray Jones was a brilliant climber. A successful climber must always have a combination of skill and determination – Murray had plenty of both and in the climbing expeditions I had organised of recent years, he had been the one who led the hard bits. Murray’s devotion to the mountains was probably more single minded than any of us, and when we reached the peaks of Badrinath he was intent on throwing everything into his climbing. Sir Ed

Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle were the first to climb all six major European north faces (including the Eiger and Matterhorn) and the Bonatti Pillar in one season. He has completed many other climbs in Europe, the Himalayas and Yosemite. In 1975 he undertook the Ocean to Sky reconnaissance trip with Jim Wilson. Another of Ed’s very close friends, Murray became involved with Hillary’s aid work building schools and hospitals in the Himalaya.

Peter HillaryClimber & Son of Sir Ed. 22 years old, New Zealand
In his recent climbing he had teamed up with Murray and I expected the pair of them to be our strongest climbing rope. In many ways Peter had the most difficult position of all, for there were many people, particularly young people, curious to meet him simply because he was my son. It was not the sort of attention Peter enjoyed. Sir Ed

Peter Hillary is a mountaineer, speaker, philanthropist and writer. He summited Everest in 1990, making he and Ed the first father and son duo to achieve this feat. Hillary has accomplished two summits of Everest, an 84-day trek across Antarctica to the South Pole and an expedition guiding astronaut Neil Armstrong to land a small aircraft at the North Pole. He has climbed many of the world’s major peaks including the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. He raises funds for Himalayan Foundations around the world and together with his sister, Sarah Hillary, manages the intellectual property of Sir Ed.

Peter, Murray, Mohan

Cmdr. Mohan KohliMountaineer and Adventurer. India
We stared in blank disbelief. Jon’s boat, Air India, had gone down. But then through the white water appeared a red turban, still tied to its owner, closely followed by the heads of Jon and Mike Gill. They wallowed agonizingly through huge waves, with water washing over the cockpit as they rolled over each crest. It was only a matter of time before they sank. Kiwi and Ganga circled helplessly in calmer water, like mother whales watching the death-struggles of a wounded calf. And then Joh did one of his miraculous saves. “It was a great experience,” said Mohan beaming “I will never forget it.”

As a Sikh, no matter what the conditions, he wore a turban, a maroon one tied with a turquoise band, and the sight of this amidst the tossing white water of the upper gorges was always inspiring. Sir Ed

A famous Indian mountaineer with more than a score of Himalayan expeditions to his credit, including leading the great Indian Everest Expedition of 1965. Ed had met Mohan Kohli through mountaineering circles. He was Air India Manager for East Australasia at the time and through him, Hillary obtained Air India’s sponsorship, transporting the 11 crew and 600kgs of excess baggage from Sydney to India. Mohan joined the expedition for the white water of the Ganges gorges.

Mike HamiltonJet Boat Driver & Jet Boat Mechanic. 26yrs old, New Zealand
Mike Hamilton, with nothing like the same depth of experience as Jon in big water, was nonetheless very much at home in his boat, and seemed to make the right moves instinctively and very quickly. It was hard to know what was going on in Mike’s mind, for he seldom talked about a rapid either before or after the event. As Prem wrote in his diary, “ He is a young man of few words. Bragging is not in his nature.” He solved our mechanical problems quickly, without fuss and in such a way that they never recurred. He proved himself a shrewd and careful driver. At the big boulder rapids of Rudraprayag Michael Hamilton didn’t hesitate. He plunged in, handled the huge unpredictable standing wave without a hitch or hesitation and surged over the top in a magnificent run. “He’s a real cool kid!” said Murray, his features lit up with pleasure and relief.” Sir Ed

Grandson of jet-boat inventor Bill Hamilton and son of star driver, Jon Hamilton, Mike Hamilton has jet boats in his blood. He is the Technical Director of HamiltonJet which continues to produce one of the most advanced and innovative marine propulsion systems in use today, and is at the forefront of water jet propulsion technology.

Michael Dillon AM: Cinematographer, Film Director. 32yrs old, Australia
“He Worked in the interests of the film with monastic devotion.” Sir Ed. In 1977, Sir Edmund took the risk of appointing Michael as cinematographer/director on his Ocean to Sky expedition and he remained Hillary’s filmmaker for the rest of his life. Michael went on to carve out a career as one of Australia’s leading adventure documentary cameramen and filmmakers, winning many international film awards and receiving an AM in recognition of his contribution to the film industry and his humanitarian work in the Himalaya. Ocean to Sky 2019 is his seventh Hillary film.

Waka Attewell: Cinematographer, Sound Recordist & Mountaineer. 22yrs old, New Zealand
We were lucky we found Waka, a 22 year old mountaineer, who had been with Ding on Jannu in the Himalayas and a cameraman who could also record sound if required. He was as agile as a cat and always, good company. Waka had shoulder length hair and generally looked like the sort of person that a customs official would go over with great care. Sir Ed

Cinematographer Waka Attewell has been shooting images of New Zealand since the 1970’s. He began his career at John O’ Shea’s Pacific Films and later established his own production company Valhalla Films, where he has filmed and directed commercials, films and documentaries. His latest film, “Undertow”, will be released in cinemas later this year.

Prem Vaidya: Cinematographer and Interpreter. India
We met him for the first time in Delhi. At the time he knew absolutely nothing about what he was being seconded to. He still had the enthusiasm of youth where his filming was concerned, and at the end of each day would give us details of the day’s filming. “A be-yoo-oo-tiful shot!” he would exclaim. Sir Ed

He was also eager to try driving one of the boats. “What a change from the road drive to the river drive! No traffic, so no traffic police; no horn; no bumpy and jerky road, no gear to change speed. It was just one accelerator under your foot, and the steering wheel. It was like skating smoothly on greasy water.” Prem’s Ocean to Sky Diary

Prem had a distinguished career with the Films Division of the Government of India and, along with B.G. Dewari, was seconded to the expedition as the film was to be a New Zealand – Indian co-production. Sadly, both of these gentlemen have since passed away.