Himalayan Journal vol.11
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.11

Publication year:
1939

Editor:
Kenneth Mason
Index
  1. MOUNT EVEREST, 1938
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  2. PIONEER EXPLORATION IN HUNZA AND CHITRAL
    (BRIGADIER-GENERAL SIR GEORGE COCKERILL)
  3. THE ATTEMPT ON MASHERBRUM, 1938
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  4. THE DIET PROBLEM FOR MOUNTAINEERS IN THE HIMALAYA
    (DR. G. A. J. TEASDALE)
  5. BIRDS OF A KARAKORAM TREK
    (DR. ELIZABETH TEASDALE)
  6. KA KARPO RAZI BURMA'S HIGHEST PEAK
    (F. KINGDON WARD)
  7. NANGA PARBAT, 1938
    (PAUL BAUER1)
  8. PHOTOGRAMMETRIC STUDIES OF GLACIERS IN HIGH ASIA
    (R. FINSTERWALDER AND W. PILLEWIZER)
  9. A RECONNAISSANCE OF K2, 1938
    (CHARLES HOUSTON)
  10. GANGOTRI TRIANGULATION
    (MAJOR GORDON OSMASTON)
  11. THE GERMAN EXPEDITION TO THE GANGOTRI GLACIER, 1938
    (PROFESSOR RUDOLF SCHWARZGRUBER)
  12. LACHSI AND THE ZEMU GAP
    (H. W. TILMAN)
  13. RECONNAISSANCES OF RAKAPOSHI AND THE KUNYANG GLACIER
    (CAMPBELL SEGORD AND MICHAL VYVYAN)
  14. SIKKIM THIRTY YEARS AGO
    (J. G. FRENCH)
  15. SURVEYS AND VARIOUS EXPEDITIONS
  16. IN MEMORIAM
  17. CORRESPONDENCE
  18. NOTES
  19. REVIEWS
  20. CLUB PROCEEDINGS
  21. CLUB NOTICES

MOUNT EVEREST, 1938

H. W. TILMAN

The expedition to Mount Everest this year differed in many respects from its predecessors. For some time past a small body of opinion has been opposed to the large, cumbersome expedition on various grounds-efficiency, mobility, expediency, and economy. It was probably the last of these which carried most weight with the Mount Everest Committee, for in 1936, through no fault of those taking part, a great deal of money was spent with very small results. It had to be acknowledged that chance held most of the cards and that climbers and equipment, however numerous the one or lavish the other, were no match for adverse weather. If for no better reason than that the odds were heavily against success, it seemed advisable to reduce the stakes.

These statements imply some criticism of the methods of former parties, but I hasten to add that, having experienced a very little of the difficulties they had to contend with, my admiration for their achievements is greater than ever. Each successive party draws on the experience and is inspired by the example of its forerunners. We, the most recent, have benefited most.

I need not waste the time of readers of this Journal by recounting past history; sufficient to say that this was the seventh party to visit the mountain and the fifth to attempt to climb it. At the risk of being thought a monomaniac like Mr. Dick, it is worth pointing out that the money spent from first to last on these seven would suffice for twenty run on this year's lines. Of course we should not have got permission for twenty, but to my mind expenditure on this vast scale gives rise to wrong ideas about mountaineering, especially Himalayan mountaineering.

The invitation to make an attempt in 1938 was made by the Lhasa authorities to Mr. B. J. Gould, whose Mission was in Lhasa in the winter of 1936. In spite of the seven visits to Everest and, we believe, correct behaviour, the Tibetan authorities are still suspicious of our motives. This perhaps is not unnatural if besides trying to climb the mountain we make surveys and collect stones. It is difficult enough to excuse our mountaineering activities without confessing to be mad; how much more so it is to explain away a geologist whose actions must always appear sinister, however saintlike may be his own appearance.

The Committee, having appointed a leader, gave him, as is their

custom, a free hand; and, since the money was raised privately through the generosity of a few friends and well-wishers, they were to a great extent spared financial responsibility. Each member of the party contributed whatever he could afford. Apart from being accorded what many would think a great privilege it seemed to me that a mountaineering holiday was worth paying something for; and I hoped that if each took a small financial interest there would be a corresponding urge to economize wherever possible. It may have had a slight effect and I still think the principle is a sound one.

We hoped to do without newspaper backing, there being general agreement amongst mountaineers that the publicity concerning Mount Everest 'had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished'. On the other hand, some of our subscribers rightly hoped to be paid back, and since Everest has become a matter of world-wide interest, it was advisable to have some official news channel. Otherwise newspapers would, and even so some did, take care that there was no lack of unofficial news. Some friends and relatives of members have complained that the news sent was scanty; but we meant to send as little as possible and only important news at that. It will be generally agreed that for those who want surmise, sensation, and ballyhoo about Everest, liberal provision is always made.

Estimates of equipment and expenditure for a small party had been drawn up by Shipton after 1936. Each man has his own ideas about food and equipment-what is a necessity for one will be regarded by another as grossly superfluous-but the fact that we suffered no hardships shows that if the feeding and equipping was done economically it was nevertheless adequate. Food is a vexed question, but it may be worth mentioning briefly what we mainly relied upon. The principle applied in its selection was simplicity and, as far as possible, the avoidance of tins-sameness, staleness, weight, and cost, all seem to be against tinned food. A welcome exception to the cno-tin' rule was a present of a case of tongues, but a case of champagne from the same source I was hardhearted enough to refuse and have since experienced twinges of regret. I have not, however, yet met any one, even of the 'caviare and quails in aspic' school, barefaced enough to call this item a necessity. We took plentiful supplies of ham, bacon, cheese, butter, dripping, pemmican, and chocolate. In addition to the eggs which we bought en route we had 600 water-glass eggs, so that every day we had bacon and eggs, even on the North Col. Thanks to an Easiwork pressure cooker we ate normal food like rice, lentils, meat, potatoes, vegetables, up to Camp 3. High up such things are difficult to cook in the usual way. Ang Tharkay, our Admirable Crichton who was in charge of the porters, carried a load, and cooked for us, after a brief demonstration from a master baker who happened to be with us, turned out succulent bread and scones from atta and dried yeast-very unlike the flaccid, flocculent stuff that bakers produce with self-raising starch and chemicals. Added to this, which many would consider sufficient, some of us were mightily relieved to find a large stock of 1936 supplies at Rongbuk, amongst it valuable foodstuffs like pickles and liver extract. Up to 23,000 feet the food problem is not difficult, but above that a satisfactory diet has yet to be found. Lloyd and I got outside a cup of pemmican apiece at Camp 6, but I am afraid most will regard this feat as legendary. Sugar and glucose were eaten in quantity, but a meal consisting of these hardly gives one the comfortable sensation of having dined.

On the 14th February Ship ton and I reached Kalimpong, where Shipton's valuable services were lost owing to his going into hiding to complete a book which he had carelessly omitted to finish before leaving. A wire notifying us of the dispatch by rail of the 'expedition bits' advised us of the imminent arrival of our stores. A dozen Sherpas were enlisted in Darjeeling and came over to help pack the 'bits' into reasonably compact mule-loads. By the end of the month the rest of the party-less Smythe who was also in the act of giving birth to a book-had arrived, Warren bringing with him the oxygen apparatus which had only just been got ready in time. We had two types of apparatus-a 'closed' type in which pure oxygen is breathed through a mask, and the old-fashioned simple type where the oxygen is obtained by means of a tube to the mouth. Professor Finch, who had had experience of oxygen high up in 1922, persuaded me to take the last against the advice of the pundits who were all in favour of the new type. Neither is pleasing either to think about or to wear, but the comparative success of one and the failure of the other were instructive.

We left Gangtok with 60 mules on the 4th March. Mr. Gould, who was away, had kindly opened the Residency for us and H.H. the Maharaja, to whom we are indebted for much help, gave us a farewell dinner. Speeches were made, but only two, and in reply to H.H.'s good wishes, observing how faithfully my comrades were dealing with the banquet provided, I ventured to suggest that they had the appearance of men who had either just successfully terminated a long fast or were about to undergo one; and, in view of the slightly less ample diet in store, I reminded them of a pertinent remark of Thoreau's, that great apostle of the simple life: 'Most of the luxuries of life, and many of the so-called comforts, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind'.

At Tangu we were held up for a week by deep snow, and it was not until the 18th March that we crossed the Sebu La on a stormy day-weather such as I imagined would be normal during the march across Tibet. Odell missed the way and his absence caused those who had not travelled with him before some anxiety. When he cast up that evening the Sherpas rather unkindly accounted for his belated arrival by pointing out that there was a nunnery in the direction in which he had wandered. After this first day we had sunny weather, and the wind which generally got up by midday was not unbearably violent. I thought it was unusually mild weather for late March compared with that experienced by others. So did the Tibetans, but Shipton, adopting his nil admirari attitude, saw nothing strange about it, so I was forced to conclude that the extreme rigours of a Tibetan spring were travellers' tales.

After delays inseparable from the Tibetan system of transport we reached Rongbuk on the 6th April, ten days earlier than the earliest of our predecessors. Mindful of the awful warning of 1936 we had taken the precaution of coming early. Those with a highly developed sense of humour will appreciate the fact that after this display of forethought we were caught by a yet earlier break in the weather.[1] In spite of the comparatively mild conditions on the march, wind and dust had taken their toll. Oliver and Lloyd had colds, Odell a bad cough, Warren went to bed with 'flu and Shipton with stomach trouble. On the 7th forty-five men from Sola Khombu arrived bringing with them 1,300 lb. of food. This was good staff work, for that was the day we had told them to come, though we had asked for only thirty men. We took them all on, however, and, after a day devoted to ceremony at the monastery, began moving stores up to the old Base Camp, using our full strength of sixty-one. The Abbot, who is now very old, seemed pleased to see us, and gave us a large meal, his blessing, and some advice. An earth tremor which had been felt there in February was thought to have in some way affected the mountain. We were warned to be careful, especially Lloyd, who in spite of his superior beard was considered too young.

On the 9th we all moved up to the old Base Camp, and after making one carry to Camp 1 we reduced our porters to thirty-one. It was difficult sorting out the sheep from the goats, for all were keen to stay. Except for a few whom we knew, there was nothing to go on besides appearances, which seldom count for much with Sherpas, and the advice offered by their friends amongst the Darjeeling men was not always disinterested. The men who were turned down consoled themselves by taking away with them five of our thirty precious pairs of boots-a loss as unexpected as it was serious because theft on that scale by Sherpas is unusual. I made a futile attempt to swap one of the Darjeeling men, who for the last fortnight had been speechless with laryngitis, for a new man who was more likely to go high. But he refused to go without his boots, which were what we really wanted, and passive resistance easily won the day. We got neither the boots nor a better porter.

Camp at the entrance to the Arun gorge. 7th May 1938

Camp at the entrance to the Arun gorge. 7th May 1938



The oxyzen apparatus

The oxyzen apparatus



The traverse and final climb to Camp 4, North Col. 24th May 1938

The traverse and final climb to Camp 4, North Col. 24th May 1938



Our reduced porter strength meant that four relays of loads had to be made to each camp on the glacier. There was an unseemly amount of stuff to shift. As usually happens, we took up too much food; moreover no one believed in travelling light, at least not on the East Rongbuk glacier. Our combined library alone was in every sense weighty. Shipton took the longest and bulkiest novel that has appeared in recent years. Warren's reading was not only professional but practical, comprising a two-thousand-page work on physiology and, even more appropriately, a rather longer text-book on tropical medicine. I rather think Odell had a volume on geology, but if not he made up for it himself by daily writing the equivalent in what he called, humorously enough, field notes. Oliver may have had Clausewitz on 'War' and Lloyd 'Inorganic Chemistry', but I had carelessly come without the Badminton volume on Mountaineering.

It was not until the 18th April that we occupied Camp 2, where I immediately went to bed with 'flu. We were now recording temperatures of 46 and 47 degrees of frost. After making one carry to Camp 3 we sent the porters down to Rongbuk for a rest whence they returned on the 22nd. On that day I myself went down to recuperate, thereby missing the one humorous incident on a trip deplorably lacking in such-a day out with a glacier drill. I believe the ice was too hard or the drill too soft, but anyhow the fair face of the East Rongbuk was not seriously impaired. Before going down we discussed plans, or more accurately the others discussed while I listened, for since my 'flu began I was inaudible and remained so for the next month-whether the others noticed any departure from the normal I cannot say. We decided that the North Col slopes should be examined and that then Shipton and Smythe should go down to Kharta for a rest, leaving the others to occupy the Col and make an attempt if conditions warranted. They were our most likely pair and had had most experience of the mountain; both were agreed that the most probable time for an attempt was the end of May and were averse from making an earlier one.

I rejoined the party at Camp 3 on the 26th April. They reported that there was much ice on the North Col slopes, and owing to the prevailing wind and intense cold were not in favour of doing anything more yet. Furthermore, none of us was really fit owing to coughs, colds, sore throats, and the after-effects of 'flu. No one wanted to hurt Warren's feelings-is it not said, 'honour a physician according to thy need of him'?-but it was freely hinted that a 'nose and throat5 man from Harley Street should have been attached for rations and, discipline. According to plan, therefore, Shipton, Smythe, and Oliver, with nine porters, crossed the Lhakpa La (22,000 feet) en route for the Kharta valley on the 27th. Two days later, the wind and cold showing no signs of abating, the other four of us followed with thirteen porters. The remaining porters were to retire to Rongbuk and to meet us at Camp 3 about the 15th May, after they had moved that camp a little nearer to the Col. Owing to its low altitude (11,000 feet) the Kharta valley was the place where we should most quickly throw off our colds. Drugs being of no more use on Everest than anywhere else, the only remedy is to go down lower. The alternatives to the Kharta valley move were either to remain at Camp 3 and carry on, or to go to Rongbuk. From his own experience in 1924 General Norton had warned me against committing the party too early with the probable result of putting most of us hors de combat with frost-bite. At the moment conditions were such as to render this less a probability than a certainty for any party above the North Col. At Rongbuk we should have been nearer and able to watch the mountain, but it would have been less beneficial to health, and, as things turned out, would have availed us nothing. The wind continued until the 5th May when snow fell and continued daily for the next week. On the 6th May Karma Paul wrote in his diary, 'the mountain is as white as anything'. The lull between the wind and the establishing of monsoon conditions, on which all depends, never came, nor after the 5th May was the mountain again in a condition to climb. To blame the weather for lack of success is a failing not confined to mountaineers; but the mountaineer has his code and must alone be the judge of what risks are justifiable and what things are possible; if he is over cautious he inevitably fails, and if over bold he may meet with disaster-or on the other hand he might pull it off. When the prize is great there is a temptation to take risks, but it is important to remember that mountaineering, even on Mount Everest, is a form of amusement in which most of its devotees are unwilling to be killed rather than accept defeat.

Our Camp amongst grass and trees at the head of the Arun gorge was salutary for both body and mind after the harsh conditions of the glacier. 'A good time was had by all' except myself; I went down with a second attack of 'flu, or a recrudescence of the first, and only left my bed to begin the walk back on the roth May. We reached Rongbuk, travelling via the Doya La, on the 14th, taking five days instead of the usual four owing to my feebleness. Ponies were unprocurable. Ship ton and Smythe were to return by the Lhakpa La and meet us at Camp 3 on the 20th.

Camp 4, North Col, 23,000 feet, and the North Peak, Changtse, 24,730 feet. 29th May 1938

Camp 4, North Col, 23,000 feet, and the North Peak, Changtse, 24,730 feet. 29th May 1938



View west of the west shoulder of Mount Everest, from Camp 4, North  Col.. Pumo Ri in the distance to the right. 24th May1938

View west of the west shoulder of Mount Everest, from Camp 4, North Col.. Pumo Ri in the distance to the right. 24th May1938



View west from Camp 4, North Col. The Lho La lies directly below Pumo Ri at the head of the main Rongbuk glacier in the middle distance. 	29th May 1938

View west from Camp 4, North Col. The Lho La lies directly below Pumo Ri at the head of the main Rongbuk glacier in the middle distance. 29th May 1938



Our first sight of the mountain was not reassuring. It was covered with snow and a plume was blowing off the summit from the south-east instead of the usual north-west. Those whose gloom was perennial-who wore a belt in addition to braces-thought the monsoon had arrived, but we only voiced that fear for the pleasure of hearing it scoffed at by the others. On the 18th we reached Camp 3, picking up the other porters at Camp 1. Instead of treading bare ice as we did a fortnight ago a foot of snow now covered the glacier, and we found water at Camp 3 whereas before we had had to melt ice.

Early next morning clouds poured over the Rapiu La in ominous fashion, bringing in their train intermittent falls of snow; but Odell and Oliver, after visiting the lower slopes, reported the snow in good condition. Lloyd was sickening for his turn of 'flu, but next day, the 20th May, four of us tackled the slopes, helped by four Sherpas. Originally we intended taking up loads, so Oliver went first to prepare a track, but finally we decided not to take porters that day. The rest of us followed an hour later, and a large serac, which fell just to the left of our route at the foot of the Col, reminded us of the virtues of an earlier start. We took a line almost straight up the middle which, though perhaps rather well adapted to act as an avalanche shoot, gave us good snow and easy climbing until within about 300 feet of the crest. Here the angle steepened considerably, forcing us out on a long traverse to the left before we were able to strike directly up again. Oliver, who had done all the work so far, was suspicious of the traverse and waited until the rest of us had come up before embarking on it with his two Sherpas carrying a rope for fixing. A short way out they got bunched together and the snow at once avalanched. The leading man, a Sherpa, was clear of the cleavage, which was about 2 feet deep, and the line we were paying out got mixed up in their climbing rope so that we easily held them before they went far. This incident, which was hardly worth mention, and was not reported to The Times, was heard of and reported by the yellow press with its accustomed felicity. I see from cuttings that the party, according to one report, was 'caught by the tail of the glacier’, and in another 'carried away by the monsoon'!

Having thus 'tried it on the dog', Odell and I took over the job of cutting and stamping out a track and fixing a rope. On such a hot afternoon a very little of this work sent us back to camp at 4 p.m. Ship ton and Smythe had arrived there, having crossed the Lhakpa La very early that morning on account of the soft snow. After watching our performance with interest they were relieved to see us coming down. It snowed steadily that evening for some hours, and the roar of the resulting avalanches continued far into the night. Followed as it was by a hot, muggy morning this fall of snow gave us something to think about. We argued that the slopes would be unsafe for three or four days and that if the west wind for which we prayed came, the possibly resultant formation of 'wind-slab' might make them dangerous for an indefinite period. Having in mind the queer behaviour of the North Col slopes in other years, our thoughts began to turn to the route up the west side which had been warmly recommended by the 1936 party, who, nevertheless, had not gone up it. We decided that Ship ton and Smythe, taking half the porters, should go round there and if they succeeded in reaching the Col should attempt the mountain. The plan was not ideal, for it would take at least a week to execute, and the division would leave both parties weak in porters. But it did promise that one or other party would reach the Col.

A cold windy night followed by a cold windy morning had the effect of making us drop the plan for the moment, and next day, after we had examined the slopes, their condition seemed good enough to warrant a start the following day. On the 24th, therefore, all the Europeans except Lloyd, who went down to recuperate, and twenty-six porters went up to the Col. Shipton and Smythe finished off the route to the top, the others fixed the ropes, and by midday all were up. Loads were dumped on the 1936 site where the apex of one of their Pyramid tents showed through the snow. The outlook from there was more forbidding even than from below. The mountain was white, heavy clouds billowed up on both sides from the Lho La and the Rapiu La, the air was very still, and the snow underfoot deep and soft. Even this, however, did not convince us that the monsoon had begun in earnest. As with a man marrying for the second time, hope was indeed triumphing over experience.

Next morning Smythe and I took fifteen more laden porters up to the Col. We reached it by 10 a.m. and returned by midday. More discussion followed, when it was decided that Shipton and Smythe should retire to Rongbuk to await better things, and that the rest of us should occupy the Col in order to examine conditions higher up. Uncertain whether it would 'go' we were still reluctant to commit ourselves to the west side and it was no use keeping more men than necessary at Camp 3. Nevertheless, when more snow fell the following afternoon we reverted to our first plan. On the 27th Shipton, Smythe, and fifteen porters went down to Rongbuk with the intention of returning by the west side when conditions on the mountain improved.

West side of the North Col, from West Camp 3, c. 21,500 feet, showing debris of the great avalanche. 5th June 1938

West side of the North Col, from West Camp 3, c. 21,500 feet, showing debris of the great avalanche. 5th June 1938



Camp 5, 25,800 feet, showing Article Sledge Pyramid tents used for the first time at these altitudes. 7th June 1938

Camp 5, 25,800 feet, showing Article Sledge Pyramid tents used for the first time at these altitudes. 7th June 1938



A day later Odell, Oliver, Warren, myself, and thirteen porters went up to Camp 4. It was very hot, mist hung over the slopes, and the snow in places seemed to be rotting. We crossed the traverse one by one. Eight porters went down with orders to come up next day if no snow fell, but a foot of snow fell that night so nothing was done. Snow fell again the following day, but on the 30th we had scrambled eggs for breakfast and became pretty active. Before leaving camp we saw the eight porters starting from Camp 3, but a prolonged bellow from us was heard by them and acted upon with almost indecent alacrity. They returned to camp. Leaving Oliver to examine at the end of a long rope the snow of the western slope, the rest of us plodded through knee-deep snow up the North Ridge. Warren tested the 'closed5 type apparatus with unlooked- for results. As it seemed bent on suffocating him he did not wear it very long. Accompanied by one Sherpa I pushed on to about 24,500 feet, but it was obviously no use trying to occupy Camp 5 at present. More snow fell that afternoon, and the next day we retreated. A suggestion that two of us should go down by the west side was coldly received on account of 01iver5s report on the snow.

On the 1st June we were back at Camp 1, and the following morning Oliver and I walked up to Lake Camp to see Shipton and Smythe who after a day or so at Rongbuk were, with Lloyd, moving up to the west side. A change had taken place in the weather; a strong west wind was driving low clouds before it, and through breaks in the flying scud we could see the snow being whirled off the north face in a most encouraging manner. Such a wind seemed likely to form 'wind-slab5 on the lee slopes, so bowing to Smythes reiterated warnings we decided to bank all on an approach from the west. I joined Ship ton's party, which we reinforced to a strength of seventeen porters, and the others were to follow after fetching some necessary loads from Camp 3. After one intermediate camp on the main Rongbuk we marched up the short glacier lying between the north face of Everest and the North Peak which leads to the west side of the Col. Thick mist caused some trouble amongst the crevasses of an otherwise simple ice-fall, but by 2 p.m. we were camped on the terrace at the foot of the slope. The height of this West Camp 3 must be about 21,500 feet. Wind was still blowing snow about on the Col and the Yellow Band looked hopefully free from snow. We were to learn that its appearance from below was deceptive.

Walking up to the foot of the slope next morning the most phlegmatic might have remarked on the fact that the way led over the debris of the father and mother of all avalanches. This had apparently come down a few days before, possibly the day on which I had suggested that two of us at Camp 4 should descend that way; one result of it was to leave the first 500 feet of our route bare ice. Above this, by an unpleasant traverse to the left on ice, where it was impossible properly to safeguard the porters, we got on to snow which was still in place and which we sincerely trusted would, at that early hour, remain in place. On the whole it is not surprising that earlier parties have not used this route. When we reached the Col at 11 a.m. the sun had been on the slope for an hour and the state of the snow warned us that it was high time to be off it. The sky had a filmy appearance and the sun was surrounded by a double halo, but no exceptional weather followed these alarming portents.

Next morning, the 6th June, delayed by having to make up loads, we started at 10 a.m. for Camp 5. Lloyd was wearing the 'open' type oxygen apparatus. The snow slope of the North Ridge up which we had toiled so heavily a week ago was now firm snow, thanks no doubt to the wind. Approaching 25,000 feet two of the porters succumbed to altitude and the others seemed not to be very happy. When still some 300 feet below the Camp 5 site a snow-storm upset them so much that they wanted to dump their loads and go down. In the end better feelings prevailed and by 4 p.m. all were up. Leaving Shipton and Smythe there with seven porters, Lloyd and I took the rest down. Two of the seven who remained actually went down several hundred feet to bring up the two abandoned loads-a very fine piece of work.

The Camp 5 party could do nothing next day on account of wind, but on the 8th they moved up to the site of Camp 6, finding it very hard work making a route up fairly steep rock which in most places was deep in snow. The climb of about 1,400 feet up to 27,200 feet took them eight hours, and the seven porters, who stuck nobly to their task, only got back to Camp 5 very late and very tired. Next morning Shipton and Smythe started, but, like Lloyd and I later, they were out too early and had to go back to the tent to warm up. After leaving the little patch of scree on which Camp 6 was pitched, almost directly below the north-east shoulder, they struck diagonally upwards and were soon wallowing in deep powder snow. They quickly realized the futility of persevering under those conditions and returned to camp and thence down.

Meanwhile Lloyd and I, having had a day off at Camp 4, took three sick men down the west side the following day, and on the day Shipton and Smythe were returning we started up. On the way we saw Odell, Oliver, and Warren with two Sherpas coming up the west side, and we also met the seven porters returning from Camp 5. We had with us six porters, one of whom gave out half-way; Lloyd was wearing the 'open' type of oxygen apparatus again. It was therefore rather a queer climbing party, but one of the 'closed' type had gone wrong (apart from its general uselessness) and there were not enough cylinders up for two to use oxygen all the time as Lloyd was doing. At Camp 5, which we reached at 3 o'clock, we met Shipton and Smythe on their way down. Their report of conditions higher up put the summit out of the question; we therefore decided to go for the summit ridge and to work along it to the 'Second Step'. Two of our porters were persuaded to stay, the rest went down.

Gyangkar range from near camp 6 on Mount Everest. 8th June 1938

Gyangkar range from near camp 6 on Mount Everest. 8th June 1938



Camp 6, 27,200 feet, and the summit of Mount Everest, 29,002 feet. 	9th June 1938

Camp 6, 27,200 feet, and the summit of Mount Everest, 29,002 feet. 9th June 1938



A gale in the night made the double-skinned Pyramid tent flap so furiously that sleep was impossible. Leaving at 8 a.m., and helped slightly by the tracks of the first party, we reached Camp 6 soon after midday. Lloyd, using oxygen, led while I followed roped to the two porters. He got in some thirty minutes before us, evidently receiving more benefit from the oxygen as we got higher. For the short distance we went next day he again went better than I did, but under the circumstances that is, perhaps, no criterion. What I did hope and expect was that the oxygen would give him enough 'boost' to make light of the rocks which ultimately defeated us. Lloyd's opinion, however, is that less effort was required and that consequently he was less tired. We sent the men down, collected snow for cooking, and turned in, for the wind was already rising. We ate pemmican with equanimity if not with gusto. At night it blew so hard that once more we slept little.

Starting at 8 a.m. in a gentle west breeze, we had not reached the steeper ground above before my hands were numb and Lloyd was complaining that his feet were much the same. We retreated to the tent and at 10.30 tried again. As our first objective was the summit ridge immediately west of the north-east shoulder, we had to climb a steep rock wall some 50 feet high before reaching easier ground. Not liking the look of this from closer up we turned half-right towards an upward sloping snow corridor, but there a few thigh- deep steps were sufficient to send us back to our first choice. There seemed to be three or four possible lines up the rock, but all of them we tried with an equal lack of success. Each looked simple enough, as no doubt it was, but the smooth outward sloping rock, sometimes snow-covered, easily withstood our somewhat irresolute attacks. While I was reconnoitring the fourth and last possibility, Ang Tharkay, with another man whom we had told to come up, was seen reaching the slabs just below the tent. Here was an excellent excuse to cease operations had we been in want of one, so down we went. Had we reached the ridge about 200 feet above us we should have been 1,200 yards from the 'Second Step' and about a mile from the top. It is doubtful if progress along the ridge was possible for long and the 'Second Step' looked very difficult. It will be a lasting regret that we were unable to try.

From the camp we descended in wind and driving snow which made route-finding difficult, all the tracks having been covered up, but at 3 p.m. when we left Camp 5 the storm was over. We finished an inglorious day in suitable fashion. The porters were behind roped, Lloyd and I ahead unroped, so that Lloyd's fall into a crevasse close to Camp 4 will probably evoke neither surprise nor sympathy. I had to leave him down there, properly penitent we hope, before a rope was brought from camp and we hauled him out. Only Odell, Oliver, and a few porters remained on the Col, the rest having gone down that morning. Ongdi, one of our best men, had developed pneumonia which obliged Warren to go down with him. Pasang, another good Camp 6 man, was lying there paralysed. At first he was thought to be mad for he was unable to articulate, but it soon became clear he had had a stroke and was paralysed all down his right side. The Sherpas, who were shocked at this misfortune, regarding it as a judgement for inadequate supplication to the gods of the mountain, showed little disposition to help him.

Oliver was keen to go to Camp 6, more for the sake of treading classic ground than anything else. I sympathized, but having a very sick man on our hands, no hope of climbing the mountain, and some anxiety about the descent, the prudent course was to go down. The ice traverse on the west side put that out of court for a helpless man, so, taking what we could carry, we started down next day by the old familiar way. I kept three men back to look after Pasang, but, after a futile attempt to construct a stretcher from tent- poles, they carried him pick-a-back through the soft snow to where our fixed ropes began. From there we treated him as a load, lowering him rope's length by rope's length down the snow-slopes for nearly 1,500 feet. The traverse was awkward to negotiate and the whole job took time, but by midday we joined the others on the glacier where ready hands soon carried the helpless man to Camp 3.

So ended the 1938 attempt. We did not leave Rongbuk until the 20th June, but in the meanwhile the weather gave us no encouragement to wait longer. The mountain became, if possible, whiter. There was some talk of coming back in the autumn, but none of the party was available, and the chances of finding favourable conditions in, say, October are exceedingly remote. Even accepting the doubtful assumption that by then the snow has been blown off the summit rocks, the wind and cold must be increasing instead of diminishing, the days getting shorter, and the north face of the mountain receiving less and less sun.


Eric Shipton at the foot of the ‘Yellow Band’, c. 27,300 feet. 9th June 1938

Eric Shipton at the foot of the ‘Yellow Band’, c. 27,300 feet. 9th June 1938



The Summit Ridge and the summit of Mount Everest, from Camp 6, 27,200 feet, 9th June 1938

The Summit Ridge and the summit of Mount Everest, from Camp 6, 27,200 feet, 9th June 1938



Looking down on camp 6, 27,200 feet, and the North Peak, 9th June 1938

Looking down on camp 6, 27,200 feet, and the North Peak, 9th June 1938




It remains to sum up our conclusions. I hope it will be agreed that a small party run on modest lines has proved itself as likely to reach the top as a large expensive one. Two groups of two-a third could have been found if necessary-were in position at 27,200 feet, fit and ready to make a serious bid for the summit had conditions favoured them. To have reached the top would have been more convincing, but I think enough was done to satisfy most candid men. Judging by some of the parties at work in the Himalaya this season, the saner methods advocated here are already in vogue-the use of an aeroplane by one party being a startling exception.

Another lesson learnt, or rather rubbed in, was the impossibility of climbing the last 2,000 feet with snow on the rocks. Siege tactics are impracticable at that height, apart from the danger of playing about in loose snow on steep slabs. The proposition had already been stated categorically by Norton and Smythe, but even so, should similar circumstances occur again, our successors will probably think, as we did, that they know better.

Some no doubt think that a stupid prejudice against wireless cost us a possible chance, but few, I hope, will again be in favour of taking a transmitting set which costs £1,000, which means another useless mouth to feed, and imposes much extra work on the leader. A small portable receiving set is a different matter, though I cannot see how it would have helped us this year. On the 4th May we might have heard that a disturbance was approaching, but the information would not have induced us to alter our plan of delaying the attempt until the end of May because at the time no attempt was possible. Even had some omniscient being at the other end told us that from early May onwards monsoon conditions would prevail, we should have been well informed but unable to do anything about it, except, perhaps, pack up.

We have learnt a little more about oxygen, but it is my belief that the mountain could and should be climbed without. The point has not been debated by a representative body of mountaineers, but my feeling is that the majority would not rest content with an oxygen climb and that the result would be another long-drawn-out series of attempts to climb it without. Nor would the scientists leam anything of that in which they profess to be interested-a man's reactions at 29,000 feet-whether he died a quick or a lingering death-if he is breathing the equivalent of sea-level air. Moreover, would that august body, the Alpine Club, accept the ascent officially? And would it matter, the oxygen school replies, if it did not? I am aware that the exponents of oxygen can point to many examples of what they say are artificial aids already in use-special food, warm clothing, snow glasses, nailed boots, sleeping-draughts, and ask why we jib at using oxygen. They argue that if oxygen was available in the form of pills we should use it quickly enough. Well, perhaps we would; pills at any rate, I hope, would not weigh 25 lb., but it will be time to discuss this when the pills are provided. In the meantime we are an illogical people and mountaineering is an illogical form of amusement which most of us are content to have as it is. To put the matter on the lowest possible moral grounds, I am not convinced on this year's showing that the advantages conferred by the oxygen apparatus outweigh the ethical objections to its use.

To conclude: the weather is all important; for success the conditions on the last 2,000 feet of the mountain must be perfect. The odds against finding such conditions are long, and if consecutive expeditions are not practical politics, the question arises whether it is worth while persevering with a system of haphazard visits even if the outlay is only a quarter of what it has been in the past.

K2 , 28,250 feet, from the Tatar La, 19,000 feet, 27 miles east-north-east.  11th August 1926. (Photograph, K. Mason)

K2 , 28,250 feet, from the Tatar La, 19,000 feet, 27 miles east-north-east. 11th August 1926. (Photograph, K. Mason)




[1] The Survey of India map 'Mount Everest and Environs', scale 1 inch = 2 miles, 1930, is still the best general map of the district. A sketch-map of the region north of Mount Everest appears in Himalayan Journal, vol. viii, 1936, p. 7; a detailed map of the north face of the mountain is given in Himalayan Journal, vol. ix, 1937, p. 126.-Ed.