Himalayan Journal vol.09
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Kenneth Mason
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  6. The Ascent of Siniolchu and Simvu North Peak
    (Dr. Karl Wien)
    (H. W. TILMAN)
    (LIEUT. J. R. G. FINCH)
  16. NOTES



Members of Mount Everest Expedition, 1936. Base Camp, 27th April

Members of Mount Everest Expedition, 1936. Base Camp, 27th April

Owing to the cordial relations happily existing between the Tibetan and British Governments, permission to renew the assault on Mount Everest was received in the spring of 1935, some eighteen months after the return of the 1933 Expedition. The Mount Everest Committee was not unprepared, but clearly there was not sufficient time in which to organize a pre-monsoon attempt on the mountain in 1935. It would have been a pity, however, to lose any opportunity, so the Committee sought and obtained permission to carry on operations over a period of a full year from June 1935 to June 1936; they then sent out a reconnaissance expedition under the leadership of Mr. Eric Shipton. The full account of that reconnaissance expedition has been related by Mr. Shipton in vol. viii of the Himalayan Journal; but it would be as well to recapitulate here the main objects:

(1) to collect data about monsoon snow conditions at high altitudes and to investigate the possibility of a monsoon or post- monsoon attempt;

(2) to examine possible alternative routes from the west. Two new routes had been suggested: the north-west ridge which rises from the head of the Central Rongbuk glacier; and the almost unknown 'Western Cwm' which is really a tributary of the valley which contains the Khumbu glacier;

(3) to report on the ice formations on the North Col. This would be of use in deciding what equipment would be necessary for the expedition in 1936;

(4) to try out new men as suitable members for the 1936 Expedition and to secure for them some preliminary acclimatization;

(5) to investigate the all-important question of provisioning high- altitude expeditions, and to make experiments in food and equipment;

(6) and lastly, to carry out a stereo-photogrammetric survey of the immediate neighbourhood of Mount Everest, and to extend the survey of the reconnaissance expedition of 1921.

The reeonnaissance was conducted with notable ability and success; and in the course of it 26 peaks of over 20,000 feet in height were climbed. From the point of view of the main expedition which was to follow, the chief results obtained, taking the above-mentioned objects in their order, were:

(1) The certainty that monsoon snow conditions in the Mount Everest region are impossible above 23,000 feet. It would appear that these conditions continue into the winter and that they preclude the possibility of a monsoon or post-monsoon attempt.

(2) No likely alternative route direct up the mountain exists from the west. It should be mentioned here that this dictum applies chiefly to the great north-west ridge and to the unknown Western Gwm; no full examination appears to have been made of the western side of the North Col, and at this time it was probably not considered necessary.

(3) The ice formations on the North Col had changed considerably since 1933. That was only to be expected.

(4) Of the five new men tried out, three were found to acclimatize well; they were Messrs. Edwin Kempson, Charles Warren, and E. H. L. Wigram.

(5) The party maintained form well on a diet consisting chiefly of fresh food; and Mr. Shipton holds very strong views on this subject.

(6) Lastly, Mr. Michael Spender made a most valuable stereo- photogrammetric survey of the immediate neighbourhood and of the north face of Mount Everest.

Few young men can afford to spend two consecutive seasons so far afield as the Himalaya. While the reconnaissance party was away, Mr. F. S. Smythe took a number of parties to the Alps, where, though he could form no opinion as to their reaction to high altitude, he could at least test their mountaineering ability and their general adaptability to camp life. The result was that by October full data were available on which to base selections. The Mount Everest Committee gave the leader a very free hand in this matter, and he lost no opportunity of full consultations with both Smythe and Shipton. We agreed that this time the party should consist of twelve, as against sixteen in 1933. The Medical Board of the Royal Air Force again most kindly undertook the medical examination of selected candidates; and a test as nearly approximated to this as possible was demanded of candidates resident abroad. The examination unfortunately resulted in the rejection of two first-class men; the Board of course does not claim infallibility for its test so far as Everest candidates are concerned, but it would be illogical to go to the best authority in England and then ignore their findings. The upshot was that the following party was recommended to, and accepted by, the Mount Everest Committee for the 1936 Expedition: F. S. Smythe, E. E. Shipton, P. Wyn Harris, E. G. H. Kempson, C. Warren, E. H. L. Wigram, P. Oliver, J. M. L. Gavin, G. J. Morris, G. N. Humphreys, W. R. Smijth-Windham, and H. Ruttledge.

The first eight names are those of the men who were considered to be potentially capable of reaching the summit. Of these, six had already been to Mount Everest, and three had attained a height of 28,000 feet or over. Oliver had climbed Trisul in the Kumaun Himalaya. The only man who had not been to the Himalaya before was Gavin, whose report from the Medical Board of the Royal Air Force indicated that he had exceptional staying powers. Of the remaining four, who were not expected to go high, only Humphreys had not been to Everest before; he had, however, led the Oxford University Expedition to Ellesmere Land, and that was sufficient proof that he was a tough traveller.

Smythe, Ship ton, and I put in about four months of hard work at the Royal Geographical Society's House, preparing for the expedition. There is not space in which to deal at full length with our preparations. Suffice it to say here that general improvements in equipment were carried out. These included new types of high- altitude tents, new sleeping-bags, and new boots. The problem of oxygen was not forgotten: Sir Leonard Hill has continued to press his opinion that it is not safe to attempt the last 1,000 feet of Mount Everest without an artificial oxygen supply. After much discussion with him, we referred to the experts of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. We were particularly impressed by the results of their experiments upon pilots in their decompression chamber, which showed that above a certain height unconsciousness comes on quite unexpectedly and without warning. We knew, of course, that acclimatized men can reach a height of 28,000 feet or over without coming to grief. But there are no data available to enable one to judge what will happen above that; and I think that no Committee and no leader with a sense of responsibility will send an expedition to Mount Everest without an artificial oxygen supply. Whether this is to be used or not must, I think, depend upon the opinion of a given assaulting party. The apparatus taken this year weighed 35 lb. and allowed for six hours' climbing; it was tested at every possible opportunity, and appeared to give quite good results. Against that must be set the undoubted danger of a break-down of the apparatus at high altitudes, and of climbing difficult slabs with a heavy weight on the hack. Several of our best men still think that the mountain can and should be climbed without its aid.

In the matter of food, although I agree in general with Shipton's views that fresh food should be supplied so far as possible, I know how difficult it is to obtain this for a party of any size when crossing the Tibetan plateau; therefore it seems necessary to take a considerable quantity of preserved food; we obtained the very best possible, with the kind assistance of Mr. G. Scott Lindsay, a fellow member of the Alpine Club. Packing arrangements were in the hands of Mr. R. G. England, who made up the boxes in average gross weights of 40 lb. for porter carriage later on.

To obviate waste of time and money, the expedition was brought out to India this year in echelon; the preliminary work at Darjeeling of selecting porters and arranging for transport was done mainly by Morris, Wyn Harris, and the leader. The collection of equipment and stores at Kalimpong was carried on by Shipton and Morris, with the help of other members of the party as they arrived. We can never forget the help and hospitality which, as in 1933, we received from Mr. and Mrs. Odling of Kalimpong. Mr. W. J. Kydd again most kindly undertook to look after our interests at Darjeeling. Sixty-five Sherpa and Bhutia porters were recruited there, and recruiters were sent out to bring over 100 men to meet us at the base of the mountain later on.

It was decided to avoid if possible the bleak horrors of the Phari plain in the early spring, by forcing the two 17,000-foot passes in the north of Sikkim and proceeding direct to Kampa Dzong. This programme was made possible by the close co-operation of His Highness the Maharaja of Sikkim, and of Mr. B.J. Gould, the Political Officer in Sikkim; to them our most cordial thanks are due. Accordingly the expedition moved over to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and made its real start from there on the 19th March. Before that I had called a staff meeting of our most experienced men-Smythe, Shipton, Wyn Harris, and Kempson. At this meeting our plans were most fully discussed and the following tentative programme was drawn up:

(1) The Base Camp was to be reached somewhere about the 24th April.

(2) Camp IV on the North Col was to be established about the 22nd May.

(3) Three camps were to be placed above the North Col instead of two as in the past; Camp VI to be at the foot of the 'yellow band’; Camp VII to be near the foot of the 'first step5, at about 27,800 feet.

(4) Oxygen was to be carried up the mountain and used at their discretion by the first two assaulting parties. If a third assault became necessary, it would definitely use oxygen.

(5) As, naturally, our very best porters would be employed to establish the highest camps, they would be trusted to find their own way down from these camps in any but the very worst conditions.

(6) A deliberate stay of several days was to be made at Thangu, the highest rest-house in Sikkim, with a view to a partial preliminary acclimatization of the party.

Space does not permit a full description of the march to the Base Camp. It was on the whole uneventful; but we very nearly lost the services of Morris at Lachen, when he went down with a particularly severe attack of malaria. Happily his case yielded to careful medical treatment, and he was able to accompany us across Tibet. Though terribly weak after his illness, he never allowed himself any rest, and the smooth working of our transport and the happy relations established with our porters were very largely due to him. It makes an immense difference to have in the party a man with a first-class knowledge of Nepali.

Work was allotted at a very early stage of the expedition. Smythe, my second in command, undertook with Wigram the work of running the mess; Morris and Oliver ran the transport; Ship ton made himself responsible for the selection of porters for work high up and for their general welfare; Wyn Harris, as in 1933, kept the accounts, with the capable assistance of Jemadar Lachhman Singh Sahi of the 1/3rd Q.A.O. Gurkha Rifles; Humphreys and Warren, in addition to their medical duties, took a special interest in physiology and botany; Smijth-Windham had to work the wireless single-handed this year and most competently did he do it. He had a very good understudy in Gavin, who learnt the Morse Code and the intricacies of the wireless apparatus in very quick time and later on ran the telephone exchange at Camp III with the utmost efficiency. Kemp- son made himself responsible for our postal arrangements, and it was no fault of his that a dishonest link in our chain of communication resulted in the loss of between 500 and 700 of our expedition letters.

Conditions on the Tibetan plateau were noticeably less rigorous than they had been in 1933. The wind was fairly strong at times, and the dust as usual all-pervading; but temperatures were noticeably higher and we endured very little real hardship. I must not, however, forget to mention that we often saw disturbed weather at work in the Everest region, a point worth noting, as there has been criticism of our comparatively late arrival at the Base Camp. Everywhere our reception by the Tibetan authorities was so cordial as to encourage a hope that we shall in future be received as friends rather than as travellers on sufferance. Rongbuk was reached on the 25th April, on a day when Mount Everest could be seen in absolutely perfect condition. The old Lama received us with the utmost friendliness; he blessed the whole expedition on the morning of the 26th, after which we established Base Camp at the old spot four miles farther up the valley. So far everything had run with the utmost smoothness and our prospects appeared to be very bright indeed. I may say here that the meteorologist at Alipore had given me the cautious, tentative suggestion that we might reasonably hope for better conditions this year than we had had in 1933. He thought that the monsoon might be normal or possibly even delayed; there was nothing to show that it would arrive early. We must, of course, expect western disturbances from time to time; some of them of great severity. But they probably would not last very long. This forecast was corroborated by local Tibetan opinion; both officials and lamas agreed that we might reasonably expect at least a month of really fine weather, and possibly more. It will be understood, therefore, that we set ourselves to the task of making our camps in a spirit of considerable optimism. There was no delay: Smijth-Windham and Gavin set off on the 27th to establish Camp I, where we had decided to make our real head-quarters this year, and where Smijth-Windham was to have his wireless set up. This involved very heavy carrying work by our porters; both the Darjeeling men and the new men brought over from Sola Khombu direct put up a splendid performance and there was no grumbling. By the 30th April, Smijth- Windham had got into communication with Darjeeling, and almost the first message he received was a warning from Alipore that a disturbance might be expected. That same afternoon we had quite a heavy fall of snow at the Base Camp; it did not worry us because this seemed to be the usual type of western disturbance, which was bound to deposit a certain amount of snow which would, we thought, be driven away at once by the north-west wind. Everest immediately turned from black to white, and little did we think that never again this year should we see her in a climbable condition. Meanwhile there was nothing to interfere with our advance, and Camp II was quickly established at a spot discovered by last year's reconnaissance: in the main trough of the East Rongbuk glacier and farther up than the old site. This was a much better place, easily reached by laden porters, and on the direct line to the site of Camp III. We suffered no reverses whatever at this period; Camp III was fully established on the 7th and 8th May, and so well stocked as to be practically independent of Base Camp for a considerable time to come. Here Gavin almost single-handed set up his wireless telephone exchange. The camp was sited this year about a third of a mile nearer to the North Col and about 500 feet higher than on past occasions. Close by was the place where the body of Maurice Wilson had been found last year. On the whole I think we were less exposed in this position than in the old one, and we were so near the foot of the North Col slopes that there was no need to establish a Camp IIIa as we had done in 1933; the carry to the crest of the North Col, once the route had been made, was perfectly within the capacity of both climbers and porters.

Camp II, East Rongbuk Glacier, 7th May 1936

Camp II, East Rongbuk Glacier, 7th May 1936

 gavin on serac, near Camp II, 7th may 1936

gavin on serac, near Camp II, 7th may 1936

The condition of the party at this time was so good that, after a staff meeting, it was decided to advance our programme by about a week. This meant that we could expect to occupy the North Col (Camp IV) on the 15th May. The first assault would be made as soon as convenient after reaching that point. In 1933 it had taken us the best part of a fortnight to make Camp IV, in conditions of exceptional severity. This time the work was carried on without any serious interruption, and our programme was strictly adhered to. On the other hand the ice-formations had changed considerably, and the old route was no longer practicable. The ice-wall which gave much trouble in 1933 appeared to have doubled in height, and there were avalanche debris below it. These debris may have been part of the great avalanche which gave last year's reconnaissance so much food for thought. This year a route had to be found away to the right, the first 500 feet pretty straight up, and then a long traverse to the left above the ice-wall, ending in a very steep ascent up to the crest of the Col. The little ledge which was used in 1933 was no longer in existence.

Smythe, Shipton, and Warren made the first 500 feet of the route on the 9th May, cutting steps and fixing ropes. The complete route up to the crest was finished by Smythe, Wigram, Oliver, and Gavin on the 13th. A full share in all this work was taken by selected porters, whose bearing was beyond all praise. As a result of these two days' very hard slogging, the route was now safe and practicable; on the 14th Wyn Harris and Kempson took up a large number of porters and established Camp IV, coming down the same evening. The next day Smythe and Shipton, who were to make the first assault on the mountain, went up with forty-two men and occupied this Camp. Thirty-six porters remained with them to make the carry to the higher camps. Thus, on exactly the same day as in 1933, Camp IV had been occupied, and we were now in a strong position. Wyn Harris and Kempson were to go up to Camp IV the moment the first pair left for Camp V. Smythe had with him light wireless receiving and transmitting sets, so that he was able to keep in constant touch with me down at Camp III.

Unfortunately the mild conditions which had enabled us to establish Camp IV with a minimum of hardship were anything but favourable for climbing the mountain. There was hardly any wind, the snow was not being removed from the upper reaches of the mountain. Indeed, quite a lot of snow was coming down, and we had a heavy fall on the 17th. Smythe reported that although his party was, generally speaking, in good form, the sardars admitted that some of the new Sola Khombu men were beginning to get a little anxious; in any case it would be inadvisable to attempt to establish the higher camps in these conditions, as they could only result in the premature exhaustion of our very best porters. Our experience in 1933 had also convinced us that a prolonged stay at Camp IV was inadvisable, as there would be no improvement in acclimatization, whereas deterioration would certainly set in. Even on that very exposed place, the crest of the North Col, snow was lying now to a depth of between 18 inches and 2 feet. Higher up on the north ridge of Everest it would probably be even deeper. On the morning of the 18th May, Smythe, after consulting Shipton, gave his definite opinion that it would be wise to come down at once. I am sure he was right. The new snow and generally mild conditions made the descent a decidedly dangerous one; Smythe led off in order to test the snow for himself, especially on the traverse. The situation, although dangerous, was not without its little touch of humour: Smythe thought he had tied himself on to the porter Ondi, and when the rope pulled him up with a jerk and he was unable to proceed he turned and abused poor Ondi for not letting him get on; he then found that by mistake he had tied himself on to one of the fixed ropes. At one point he got on to wind-slab which cracked ominously, but fortunately held. The party got down in safety to Camp III, but I could see that several of the porters were a good deal shaken.

Most of us had now been at Camp III for a period of eleven days, and it seemed decidedly advisable to take the whole party down to Camp I for a rest and change of occupation. I think that the mild conditions had affected us even more than sterner weather and plenty of hard work would have done. Shipton and Humphreys had bad throats, and Gavin had a cold in the head. Morris and Smijth- Windham, who welcomed us down at Camp I, agreed that the party looked a bit the worse for wear. The immediate effect of the return to a lower altitude was most apparent. Appetites improved and everybody slept well.

A severe shock awaited us at Camp I; news came through on the wireless on the 19th May that conditions favourable for the formation of the monsoon had appeared off the coast of Ceylon. This was, of course, totally unexpected, and plans had to be made at once. A staff meeting was called, at which it was decided that we had better make our way back up the glacier, as soon as possible, in case there should be opportunity for making at least one assault on the mountain before the monsoon should arrive. We expected, of course, that the monsoon would take about a fortnight to reach the Everest region from Ceylon; it was also possible that the first burst would expend itself on the Darjeeling foothills and that we should get a fair interval in which we could make our attempt.

Traverse on North Col slopes, 15th May 1936

Traverse on North Col slopes, 15th May 1936

Upper section, North Col slopes, 15th May 1936

Upper section, North Col slopes, 15th May 1936

 Camp IV, North Col, 18th May 1936

Camp IV, North Col, 18th May 1936

We lost no time, and were back at Camp III by the 24th May. Everything now turned completely against us: the monsoon rushed up from Ceylon to the Everest region in four days, a thing which I believe has not occurred before within living memory. The only possible explanation seems to be the total failure of the north-west wind to stem the monsoon current. Things were so bad that we could not even consider approaching the slopes of the North Col; I find from my diary that at this time I threw out the tentative suggestion that we might examine the west side of the North Col, with a view to satisfying ourselves whether there was a less dangerous approach from that direction. We knew, of course, that Mallory had condemned this side in 1921, and those members of last year's reconnaissance who saw it were by no means keen on the project, so the matter was dropped for the moment. Then a wireless report came in that a really severe storm was on its way up from the south. I therefore ordered a second retirement to Camp I on the 28th. There was not the slightest possibility of the mountain clearing for several days, and we might as well be down below. We went down through pretty bad weather.

Mount Everest had not yet finished amusing herself at our expense; on the morning of the 29th May we awoke to find a splendid northwest wind blowing hard. In great excitement several of us went off down to the corner where the East Rongbuk glacier meets the main glacier, and where we could obtain a view of the mountain. There we had the satisfactory spectacle of the snow being blown off the north face in tremendous sheets. We came back in high jubilation, to find a delighted Smijth-Windham with a wireless telegram in his hand. The purport of this telegram was that the monsoon was weakening, and was driving off towards Assam on the east. This was splendid news, and the party, both climbers and porters, made no bones whatever about getting ready to go up the glacier again at once. It really did seem that our chance had come at last. We were off early on the morning of the 30th, but even then the north-west wind seemed to hesitate, and by the time we reached Camp II heavy snow was falling. For the next two days we were completely weatherbound. On the morning of the 3rd June the north-west wind appeared to have resumed its activities, and although snow lay heavy everywhere we decided to move on up to Camp III to see how things were there. On arrival it seemed that a great deal of snow had been blown off the slopes of the North Col, and an investigation was made next morning by Smythe, Shipton, and Kempson, who returned with the report that, if the very greatest precautions were taken, it might be justifiable to attempt to reoccupy Camp IV next day. It was, of course, fully realized that a further ascent of these slopes now that the monsoon had arrived was a distinctly dangerous business; so the attempt was organized most carefully. The climbers were to work in pairs, and Smythe was to accompany each pair on a rope and make his decision from time to time as to whether the conditions justified any further progress. The porters were divided into parties of ten, each under a first-class man, and were put under the general control of Shipton. At the time these preparations were being made Mount Everest was certainly not in climbable condition, but the wind was pretty steady and strong, and there was the possibility that it might in the course of the next day or two sweep the north face clear.

A very early start was made on the morning of the 5th June; Wyn Harris and Kempson leading off, followed closely by Smythe. The leading pair soon discovered that even the lower slopes of the Col were not in very good condition, although a good deal of snow had been blown away. The old steps and the fixed ropes were not to be seen. After about an hour of climbing they found themselves on the debris of a small avalanche which had fallen from the shoulder of the North Peak. They halted and consulted with Smythe, who decided that it would be justifiable to go up the first 500 feet of the North Col and see what conditions were like along the traverse. Warren and Wigram now took over the work, accompanied by Smythe; Oliver and Gavin halted the leading porters a little farther down, and Shipton was still farther below with the main body. As soon as the beginning of the traverse was reached, Smythe had no difficulty in making up his mind that further progress along the traverse would be absolutely suicidal. He has since told me that he realized at this moment that if the party turned back now they would never again set foot on the North Col this year. He therefore made the somewhat desperate decision to try to force a way straight up to the crest of the North Col from the point at which the traverse begins. From where he stood the climb did not look altogether hopeless, though very steep. Seen from farther away at Camp III, the place looked almost impossible. There were two very steep bands of hard ice, and between them and above lay snow which must certainly be in the worst condition. Possibly the climbers might have been able to get up, but I feel quite certain that they could not have taken the porters up with them. Fortunately after about half an hour of work Smythe realized that the game was up, and ordered a retreat. Shipton meanwhile was in the very greatest anxiety on behalf of the porters, and he anticipated Smy the's order to begin the descent. This was conducted with the utmost care; a warm wind had come up from the south, and even those parts of the slope which had been fairly safe in the morning were by now definitely dangerous. Only one man was allowed to move at a time, and the descent of only 500 feet or so took the greater part of the afternoon. It was an enormous relief to have the whole party back again at Camp III safe and sound.

We had really shot our bolt now, and we knew it; but conditions at Camp III always seem favourable to argument of the most virulent type, and the discussions that night bore full witness to the justice of this obiter dictum. The wind was blowing tremendously hard, and we had a pretty cold night. This added some force to the arguments of those who considered that yet one more attempt should be made to reach the North Col. Next morning Wyn Harris came to my tent and asked if he and Shipton might have one more look to see what the result of the night's weather had been. Both men are thoroughly competent mountaineers, and I agreed, provided that the very greatest precautions were taken. Nothing could be done during the morning, when the wind seemed harder than ever, but after lunch the two men set off. We watched them with considerable anxiety from Camp III. They seemed to make fairly rapid progress at first, and reached the beginning of the traverse without any adventure. Then real trouble began, owing to the treacherously benevolent aspect of the slopes. The loose surface snow had all been blown away, and the surface seemed to present good foothold. Shipton, having roped up with Wyn Harris, led out across the traverse. Wyn Harris had just begun to move, when a loud crack sounded about 200 feet farther up, and the whole slope began to slide down, breaking up as it did so into the ice-blocks characteristic of a wind-slab avalanche. Shipton was at once upset on to his back, and carried down partly submerged among the blocks. It seemed as if the party was doomed. Wyn Harris reacted with the rapidity characteristic of him: he leapt back to the beginning of the traverse, jamming in his axe as he did so. His left hand, which held the loose coils of rope, was crushed against his axe-head, and he had to let go. He in his turn was upset on to his back, but making a desperate effort he managed to recover his footing and jammed the axe farther into the snow with the rope round it. Very soon the strain came, and the rope sang like a bow. The axe- head was being gradually but surely pulled out of the snow in spite of Wyn Harris's full weight on it, when a miracle happened: the avalanche slowed down and stopped within a few feet of the edge of a 400-foot drop over the ice-precipice below. It cannot, of course, be supposed that Wyn Harris could by his unaided effort have arrested the fall of many hundred tons of ice and snow; but it is just possible that there was a slight easing off of the slope before the final drop, and that Wyn Harris, by taking his own weight and to some extent that of Shipton and the ice-blocks off the avalanche, contributed to arrest its descent. Anyhow he did the right thing at the right moment. The party pulled themselves together, and descended without further trouble.

It was now perfectly obvious, even to the greatest thrusters, that the North Col must not be meddled with any more during the monsoon. The evacuation of Camp III was ordered, and carried out next day. It was quite clear from the wireless weather reports and from the evidence of our own eyes that Everest could not be climbed this year; but it did seem worth while, before the arrival of transport from Shekar Dzong, to go round and up the main Rongbuk glacier and have a look at the west side of the North Col. It would be an interesting little piece of exploration, and we might find something of use to future expeditions. No time was lost, and the entire party started up the main Rongbuk glacier next morning. Our first halt was at a delightful place which we have called Lake Camp. Here we found a little oasis of grass, with a lake. Grass and flowers at 18,000 feet, and in the middle, by the side of a small boulder, a lark's nest with two eggs in it. The hen was sitting, and hatched out those two eggs while we were farther up the glacier. From this point the mountain looked very grim indeed, and even the greatest optimists realized that to climb it was out of the question. The route lies up the right bank of the main Rongbuk glacier and is rather hard work owing to the very rough going over boulders; but there is nothing to stop a party with laden porters. We established our highest camp at about 18,500 feet, close under the south-west shoulder of the North Peak.

Morris and Humphreys had remained at Lake Camp to botanize, but on the morning of the 7 th June the rest of us went out on to the upper part of the main Rongbuk glacier towards the Lho La to obtain a view of the west side of the North Col. Turning the last corner of the North Peak, we came in full view of this. The moment was somewhat dramatic, for I think none of us quite expected what we saw: perfectly easy glacier in front, then a broken ice-fall up which there was obviously a route to be found, and then the final slope up to the crest, certainly steep but by no means impracticable. It had been supposed that we should find on this side a very long and steep ice-slope. Actually the place did not look anything more than a fairly difficult piece of ice and snow work, serious only in the upper reaches. Clouds were already coming up, but the climbers set out without delay to make as close an inspection as possible. As was usual during the monsoon, very bad weather set in during the afternoon, and the party who returned to North Face Camp that evening were only able to report that they had reached the bergschrund under the final slope without any difficulty and that they had been unable to see a way farther up owing to the clouds. So much snow was now lying on Everest that a serious assault was out of the question; and it did not seem worth while to employ the whole strength of the party in the examination of the final slope. Shipton had always been anxious to renew the assault on the North Peak which had been defeated by bad monsoon snow last year. It was now arranged that Smythe and Wyn Harris should take a light camp up to the foot of the bergschrund on the west side of the North Col; that Smijth- Windham and I should remain in support at North Face Camp, and that the rest of the party should go round up the East Rongbuk glacier again and try the North Peak.

Telephotograph of Mount Everest from North Face Camp, main Rongbuk glacier, 12th June 1936

Telephotograph of Mount Everest from North Face Camp, main Rongbuk glacier, 12th June 1936

 Mount Everest from the north east ridge of North Peak, 24th June 1936

Mount Everest from the north east ridge of North Peak, 24th June 1936

After a day's rest, Smythe and Wyn Harris started up. The mornings now were invariably hot and enervating, but every evening there was a heavy fall of snow. The party with seven good porters had no difficulty in establishing a camp close to the bergschrund and out of the reach of the many avalanches which were falling from the North Peak. The condition of the snow rendered it impossible for them to get on to the final slopes to the Col, but they were able to have a very good view of them from their position. They came to the conclusion that there should be no serious difficulty in reaching the crest by this route; a way could probably be forced straight up the snow, but in any case it should be possible to escape from the slope up a diagonal traverse of rock which would land the party a few hundred feet up the north ridge of Everest, from which they would have no difficulty in descending to Camp IV. Independent observations by Kempson and Gavin from the Lho La, and by Smijth-Windham and myself from a point about half-way up to the high camp, confirmed these views. I think that the examination of this side was well worth while, and that it would be advisable for a future expedition to send a good party to make this route early during the campaign. Even if the east side is preferred in the season previous to the monsoon, a party caught high up on the mountain by the monsoon might well find the western side a most convenient and safe bolt-hole. During the time we were there we observed no avalanches down the slope, and there were no debris giving any warning of rock-falls.

The monsoon was extremely active, and it was clear that we must start the march home. The whole party reassembled at the Base Camp on the 16th June, and started for home on the 17th. Shipton and his men had had no better luck on the North Peak than in the previous year; conditions were tolerable up to about 23,000 feet, but after that they could make no progress whatever on the soft snow.

The expedition of 1936 was defeated by weather conditions which, though not entailing so much hardship as those of 1933, were in some respects more adverse. I trust, however, that our efforts were not altogether wasted, and I offer the following conclusions for consideration:

(1) The method of selection, based as it was on exhaustive discussion with other members of the party as it came into being, worked very well indeed. I think it would have been difficult to find a more competent or more harmonious party than that of 1936. Given one chance, I am certain that they would have distinguished themselves. Some, but by no means all, are inclined to think that a smaller party would provide greater efficiency. In any case this may become a necessity in the future, for financial reasons. In considering the right number of men for Everest, I think it would be dangerous to accept without reserve the analogy of successful expeditions on less lofty mountains than Mount Everest. I feel sure that the real strain begins at over 24,000 feet; if your party is too small you are risking defeat in taking too few men. There are certain to be a number of break-downs and collapses, and adequate reserves are necessary.

(2) There has been criticism of our comparatively late arrival at the Base Camp. Undoubtedly the mountain was in very good condition when we arrived, but it must not be forgotten that we had observed bad weather in this region during our march across Tibet. I submit that if an expedition allows itself to be cajoled into launching its assaults too early in the season, one of those fearful north-west storms which afflict the mountain in the spring might very well destroy one of the assault parties. After all, we were in position to make our assaults from the North Col on the 15th May; that should have given us ample time to carry through the work in anything but an abnormal season.

(3) I anticipate valuable results from Warren's careful study of physiological data obtained this year. The general opinion of the party was that beneficial acclimatization does not seem to occur above about 20,000 feet. The conclusion appeared to be that you must stay as short a time as possible above that height, and this means, in some sense, rushing the mountain. I would most strongly deprecate the carrying of loads by members of the assaulting parties. This was, I know, successfully done on Nanda Devi; but conditions on Everest seem to be different. Men who are going to try for the summit must, I am sure, be saved all extra work. They will need every ounce of strength they possess to carry them to the top.

(4) The question of oxygen should be studied much more thoroughly. We used our apparatus on every possible occasion during the march across Tibet, and came to the conclusion that considerable benefit may be obtained from its use. But it is still far too heavy, and research is being made to find a more convenient and more dependable apparatus. Men are naturally reluctant to carry some 35 lb. dead weight on their backs across the difficult slabs of the north face; and they must have confidence that there will be no break-down of the machinery. Warren proposes to take up this matter without delay.

(5) Although we were not allowed by conditions to set foot on the upper reaches of the mountain, we lost no opportunity of studying them with telescope and binoculars. We came to the conclusion that Norton's route is on the whole the best by which to continue the attempt. It did seem as if it should be possible to work a way across roughly at the place where Smythe returned from his highest climb in 1933. Above the place where he and Wager and Wyn Harris were brought to a halt, a way should be found to the top of the continuation of the 'second step', on to the final pyramid. From here there seems to be a choice of three routes: one traversing back towards the final snow slope at the head of the north-east ridge; another more or less straight up the centre of the final pyramid, where there is a series of linked snow patches which indicate a line of weakness; lastly, to traverse along the face of the pyramid on to the great north-west arete. For my part, I think the second of these routes offers the best chances. The third involves a very long and difficult traverse and would probably exhaust a climbing party.

(6) The 1936 expedition proved up to the hilt that the east slopes of the North Col must be left severely alone once the monsoon has arrived. They are definitely dangerous and their condition varies from moment to moment, and cannot be predicted. If attacks by this route are persisted in after the monsoon has come, there will be further disasters such as that which overtook the expedition of 1922. We have, I think, definitely proved that a reasonable alternative exists on the west side. Early in the season, if the usual north-west wind is blowing, there will be considerable hardship in getting up from the west; but it is well worth while trying to make this route and have it available in case the monsoon comes earlier.

I am now more sure than ever that we have the men to carry through this enterprise to a successful conclusion. But they must have luck with the weather; some day a fortunate party will hit off a season of comparative benevolence, and then I am quite sure that Mount Everest will be climbed.