EVEREST - 1953 1

Charles Wylie





Charles Wylie

Planning for Everest 1953 started as soon as the Cho Oyu expedition returned to England in July 1952. It got into its stride in September when the summer holidays were over and the Himalayan Committee—the sponsors of the expedition—could meet to take basic decisions. And it received 'Full Steam Ahead5 when Colonel Hunt arrived from Germany on 8th October.

This is not the place for a detailed account of our preparations. However, some aspects deserve mention as they played no small part in the success of the expedition.

To start with, our plans were firmly based on the considerable fund of hard-won knowledge and experience which we inherited from our predecessors. We knew, for instance, very much what to expect from the weather, and when to plan to put in the assault. We knew quite a lot about the effects of altitude on the human body; about the benefit of oxygen, about acclimatization, about diet, about protective clothing; much data on these matters had been collected, not only on Everest, but on Cho Oyu with Everest in mind. Our Swiss friends had pioneered the route on the Nepalese side, above the ice-fall and nearly to the South Summit, and this knowledge they generously put at our disposal.

The fund of knowledge was ably assessed at the start of our preparations, and as a basis for them, by Colonel Hunt in the form of a detailed plan, from which stemmed logically anything and everything connected with the expedition, from the number of tents required at the South Col to the latest date for the dispatch of our oxygen cylinders. This plan ran like a thread through the period of preparation and indeed throughout the whole expedition, for it was followed, except for minor changes, in the event on the mountain.

The salient points of the plan were that the climbing party should be of ten climbers and a reserve, the doctor; that thorough acclimatization should be carried out before attempting the climb; that this acclimatization should aim at making all members fit to live without deterioration at 21,000 feet for the period of the assault; that an Advanced Base should be established at 21,000 feet at the top of the Western Cwm, from which the assault would be organized and launched: climbing and living above this Advanced Base would be confined to that essential for each member to do his allotted task in the assault—for instance, summit climbers would not go above this height until they attempted the summit; that a really adequate quantity of stores should be lifted to the South Col to give the summit parties good support as high as possible; that the summit camp should be placed as near to 28,000 feet as possible. Lastly, the plan recognized that the chances of success would be greatly increased if oxygen was used thoroughly and with confidence; oxygen was to be used by all above the South Col and by some from the Lhotse Face Camp. In addition, a large number of cylinders were to be taken for training, which could also be used as supplementary oxygen during the climb.

Sir John Hunt has kindly consented to the publication in our Journal of the Everest 1953 story under the joint authorship shown below. Where not otherwise indicated the text has been taken from the article in Alpine Journal by Sir John and Michael Westmacott. To them and to all the other narrators our most warm thanks are due.


Six months were spent in making our preparations. During that time a considerable number of people became involved in helping us in one way or another. The fact that the expedition was well launched, well equipped, and well provisioned was largely due to the hard work and enthusiasm of one and all of these people, whether members of committees, manufacturers, packers, dieticians, or our two hard-working secretaries. Their willingness to put every effort into their work and the encouragement of the many hundreds of people who wrote to us to wish us well were a reminder to us throughout the expedition that the effort was not ours alone, and that success would bring inspiration to people the world over.



On the last day of February the main party reached Bombay, where we were most hospitably received by A. R. Leyden, the local Secretary of the Himalayan Club. He, too, arranged our affairs so efficiently that the transhipment of our 480-odd packages through the Customs to the train presented no problem. This was typical of the invaluable and unstinting help given to us by members of the Club, both on the outward and return journeys.

The main body travelled with the baggage, a long and tiresome rail journey with several transhipments of kit, finishing up with the pleasant walk over the pass from Bhimphedi to Kathmandu. Meanwhile the rest of the party assembled separately by divers routes, mainly by air, by ones and twos at the Embassy. Here, once again, a British expedition was welcomed and looked after with the greatest kindness by H.E. The Ambassador, Mr. C. H. Summer- hayes, and by Colonel and Mrs. Proud, the First Secretary and his wife. To complete the party we were joined here by Tensing and seventeen Sherpas, the nucleus of our high-altitude porter team, who had been selected and enlisted in Darjeeling by Mrs. Henderson, the Club's excellent Darjeeling Secretary. The Sherpas5 welcoming grins, the gaily striped pangdens of their attendant Sherpa- nis, the assortment of battered trilbys and odd pieces of climbing clothes gleaned from past expeditions, quickened in us at once latent memories of high hills and a growing sense of high adventure. We felt the expedition was really beginning. It was particularly good to get to know Tensing, about whom we had heard so much. We were all struck by his charm and sincerity, his cheerful personality and his authority with his Sherpas. We were lucky to have a man with such qualities both as Sirdar and a member of the climbing team.

The baggage arrived over the rope railway at Thankot, and with the help of the Indian Army Sappers engaged on building the road into Nepal, was ferried to Bhadgaon, at the east end of the valley, where the parade ground had been put at our disposal by the kindness of General Kaiser Shamsher, the Defence Minister. Here I enrolled some 350 coolies, mostly Tamangs from the valley or districts adjoining it. This young army would have been so unwieldy on hill paths that we had to divide it into two. We did so reluctantly, as it meant dividing also the climbing party, the members of which we had hoped would have the chance to get to know each other well on the march. However, this object was largely achieved by dividing the party so that a large majority, including most of our Sherpas, went with the first party, and only the minimum with the second.



On 10th and nth March, while the newshawks took their final photos, the long trains of coolies filed through the narrow streets of Bhadgaon on the first stage of the seventeen-day journey to Thyang- boche. For two hot days we descended to the deep cut of the Sun Kosi, which we crossed at Dolalghat at only 2,000 feet. A 4,000-foot ascent next day brought us to a delightful camp site on the open grassy Chyaubas ridge. My party followed this ridge the morning after a storm. The rain had swept the air clean over all Nepal. The whole Himalayan chain, from the Everest group to Annapurna, stood out with astonishing, dazzling, clarity. The ridge was carpeted with tiny blue gentians and dotted with rhododendron trees in full bloom—it would be hard to imagine a more delightful scene.

That night we camped at the Gompa at Risingo, a neat and flourishing Tamang village. The inside of the Gompa had just been exquisitely painted with fearsome allegorical designs of great intricacy. The painter had been hired from Lhasa by public subscription of the village and had taken a year to do the work.

From here we descended for two hours and then climbed to a broad hill-side giving a wonderful view of Gauri Sankar and Menlungtse. We were lucky to be travelling before the haze came up from the plains. Roberts's party, following about a fortnight behind, had no such views.

Our routine was to leave camp soon after dawn and put in two or three hours' march in these, the best hours of the day. Then we would halt by a river and wash and bathe, while Thondu, our excellent cook, prepared a large breakfast. The coolies would catch up and pass on while we lazed about reading or writing, taking photos, bird-watching, or following our various pursuits as we felt inclined. Then we would go on past the coolies again to choose the camp site and check the loads in. The marches were easy, for the coolies did not cover more than 10 miles in a day, and we were able to enjoy the delights of Himalayan travel to the full. Whole hill-sides were ablaze with scarlet rhododendrons and white magnolias. The fruit trees were in blossom. The weather was fine and cool and our camps delightfully sited. Birds were mating, and we saw minivets, sunbirds, rose finches, verditer, flycatchers, and many other fascinating hill birds. We were soon in Sherpa country, and the people became increasingly interesting.

The coolies seemed to enjoy the march almost as much as we. They were being well paid, not only for the outward but for their unladen return journey as well, and would often hire their own carriers—normally the village belles—to carry their loads from stage to stage. There was rakshi on sale at almost every chautara and gay songs and the rhythm of madals would echo round the hills as we marched, and late into the night in camp, as youth and damsel vied to cap the other's couplet with one more daring than the last, as is the custom in the hills.

We also took advantage of the long march to break ourselves in to heavy load-carrying and to accustom ourselves to wearing oxygen masks. We soon knew that John Coats, the designer of the masks, had done a first-class job. We found we could race uphill at full speed, panting hard, or sleep a whole night through wearing a mask, without feeling any restriction in breathing.

After moving across the grain of the country for thirteen days, we turned north up the valley of the Dudh Kosi to Khumbu, the home of our Sherpas. Each day's march brought us to bigger and bigger country. Hill-sides rose 5,000 feet in a single sweep above the gorge. The white heads of 20,000-foot peaks began to appear all around us, instead of gleaming far away to the north.

At Namche we were surprised to find an Indian wireless post, through which we quickly arranged, through the kindness of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, to send urgent messages or dispatches. It was due to the presence of this post that the news of the success of the expedition reached England in time for Her Majesty's Coronation.



Next day we reached Thyangboche. Here we paid off our Tamang coolies. They had done very well, having given little or no trouble and having delivered all our many hundreds of loads intact and without loss. We now had a few days to rest and enjoy ourselves in the wonderful surroundings of Thyangboche before starting out on our acclimatization climbs.

On the march from Kathmandu we had noticed how well sited were each of the Gompas we had passed. Thyangboche was no exception; in fact we thought its setting would be hard to beat anywhere in the world. The Gompa itself, squat and forbidding, surrounded by a cluster of little whitewashed houses, crowned the point of a shoulder high above the Imja Khola gorge. In front of the Gompa was a grassy alp surrounded by rhododendrons, azaleas, and silver birch trees. Ahead, in full view, some 12 miles away lay our objective, the summit of Everest, as Michael Westmacott has described it, "a massive shoulder hunched above the tremendous South Wall of Nuptse'. To the right, standing alone, rose Ama Dablam, a fantastic leaning tower of near-vertical precipices, which looked as nearly inaccessible as any mountain can be. Above our alp the early morning sun shone through the wafer-thin crenellations of the beautiful ice-fluted peaks of Kangtega and Thamserku. Across the valley and beyond Namche were rocky spires and more snow peaks. As if this was not enough, the area of the Monastery has become, thanks to the teaching of Buddha, an animal sanctuary. Blood pheasant, ram chickor, kalej, the brilliant cock manal, as well as musk deer could be seen quite close to our tents.

The lamas were most hospitable. The Abbot, a youth of 17, was still studying at Shigatze, and the senior lama, a portly figure of great dignity, deputized for him. Our Sherpas were specially blessed, and we were all treated to tea while the acting Abbot described how a yeti had visited the alp two winters before. Looking out of the window he pointed out where it had rootled about looking for grubs in the ground and where it had sat sunning itself on a rock. John Hunt laid ceremonial scarves on the Abbot's chair and on another reserved for the Abbot of Rongbuk, who periodically pays visits to Thyangboche and other Gompas in Sola Khumbu.



After three very pleasant days at Thyangboche we left in three parties for our first period of acclimatization. Each party went up a different valley with the object of camping at about 17,000 or 18,000 feet and climbing, if possible, to 20,000 feet. We took with us some of our training oxygen cylinders to get used to using the sets and to experience the beneficial effects of oxygen. We also tried out for forty-eight hours our special high-altitude ration; perhaps we were not high enough, but this ration was generally disliked and remained unpopular for the rest of the expedition.

Hunt, Gregory, Lowe, and Tensing camped beneath the South Face of Nuptse and climbed a peak of about 19,500 feet, which they named Chukhung Peak. Evans, Bourdillon, Westmacott, and Band went up the valley immediately to the south of Ama Dablam, camped on the south-west ridge of that peak and climbed to about 19,500 feet, some using open- and others closed-circuit oxygen sets —the closed-circuit sets, developed by Bourdillon, were in theory the answer to the oxygen problem, but they still had to be proved at high altitudes. They then camped on a col which they named the Mera La, at about 19,800 feet, leading over to the Hongu basin. The third party, consisting of Hillary, Noyce, Ward, and Wylie, went up the Chola Khola and camped at the col at its head. From here, using oxygen, they climbed a delightful peak of about 19,000 feet to the south of the Col. The following day they crossed the col and camped in the valley which lies between the Chola Khola and the Ngojumbo. From this camp they climbed the fine 20,ooo-foot peak, known as Kangcho, at the head of the valley.

By 6th April we were all back at Thyangboche for two days' rest and reorganization, after which we set off again in three parties, this time differently composed. Hunt, Noyce, Bourdillon, and Ward went up the Imja Khola, camped at the edge of the wide basin to the north-east of Ama Dablam, and climbed the rocky 19,500 foot northern outlier of Ama Dablam, Ambu Gyabjen. They then re- crossed the Imja and went up the westernmost of the valleys coming down from the south face of Nuptse. From here they crossed over on to the Khumbu glacier, climbing en route an attractive 20,000-foot peak known as Pokalde. Bourdillon returned to Thyangboche to meet the consignment of oxygen being brought up by Roberts, while the others went on up to Base Camp on the Khumbu glacier.

Evans, Gregory, Wylie, and Tensing with seven Sherpas specially selected for work above the South Col, camped at the head of the Imja glacier beside a lake. Putting a further camp at about 18,000 feet, they climbed a 20,000-foot peak, which they named the Island Peak because it rose in the middle of the enormous area of ice formed by the glaciers flowing from Lhotse and the Imja-Barun watershed. Tensing led very competently, most of the way. The high-altitude Sherpas were trained in the use of the open-circuit oxygen set. Most of them said that it made going uphill seem like going along the flat; Ang Temba, however, not to be outdone, claimed that it made uphill seem like downhill.

All these climbs were carried out in the spirit of an Alpine holiday, and in perfect weather. The country was often unexplored, and all the climbs were new ones. Altogether this period was most enjoyable. It was also of great value: at the end of it we were all fit and acclimatized to about 20,000 feet; all the climbing party and high- altitude Sherpas had used oxygen and had gained confidence in its value; we had used all our equipment and tents. Best of all, the whole party, climbers and Sherpas alike, now knew each other on the rope and had shaken down properly into a happy, well-knit team.


The job of the remaining party (Hillary, Lowe, Westmacott, and Band) during the second acclimatization period was to go straight up the Khumbu glacier and select the best route up the ice-fall. As they moved up the glacier they were caught in a heavy snowfall. This proved to be the first of a spell of daily falls, which continued for the next five weeks. With the party were about forty coolies, who were not equipped for snow; however, snow blindness was prevented, except in a few mild cases, by the ingenious improvization of goggles from string, sticking plaster, and tiny squares cut from the spare talcs of our Panorama ski goggles. Thus forewarned, we told the main body of some 300 Sherpa coolies to bring goggles of their own. So well is Khumbu equipped from climbing expeditions that more than half were able to do so.

On 12th April Hillary's party camped at the site of the Swiss Camp I at the foot of the ice-fall. Next day they made their first reconnaissance. They found the ice-fall had changed considerably for the worse since 1951. It was in fact four days before Camp II was established, just over half-way up the ice-fall, about 1,000 feet above the beginning of the steep bit.

After trying various alternatives, they chose a central route, well out of range of avalanches from the flanks. The dangers of the ice- fall itself, however, could not be avoided. The steep section below Camp II lay over a crazy pile of ice-blocks of all shapes and sizes. The whole section was threatened by seracs. In between were gaps and holes often hidden by fresh snow. The larger crevasses were crossed by sections of our aluminium ladder, later to be replaced by tree trunks brought up from the woods near Thyangboche. Hand- lines were fixed at several places, including two vertical pitches known respectively as 'Hillary's Horror' and 'Mike's Horror'.

Camp II was sited on the edge of a fiattish shelf reached by traversing a constantly changing area of crevasses and unstable blocks. There were continual cracks and rumblings to be heard at this camp. Later crevasses started to open right under the tents; the Sherpas refused to sleep there and the camp was abandoned. Fortunately by then it had served its purpose as a staging camp for parties ferrying loads up the ice-fall.

Above Camp II the best route proved to be on the right, coming back to the centre at the top of the ice-fall. Here the large slices of ice which break away from the Western Cwm had not yet started to break up into the small blocks of the lower part of the ice-fall. The route finished up winding between huge, iceberg-like blocks. The 40-feet vertical side of the final block was climbed by Hillary up a small crack. This was obviously the place for our rope ladder, a present from the Yorkshire Ramblers. The top of this block was joined to the floor of the Western Cwm by a narrow neck of ice which fortunately remained in situ until the end of the expedition. A few yards beyond this neck Camp III was pitched at the very top of the ice-fall, at 20,200 feet.

By this time Hunt's acclimatization party had arrived at Base Camp, and they took on the work of improving the track. More ropes were fixed, more logs brought up and laid across crevasses, more marker flags planted. They, and each successive party going up the ice-fall, improved steps and stamped down the new snow until in time the route became a 'main road' climbable, in good conditions, in three hours from Base to Camp III. Up till mid-May, however, conditions were seldom good. Snowfalls continued daily, and the day's first party often had to clear away a foot of fresh snow from the tracks. This made the Sherpas5 task very much more difficult.


While this work was going on, the rest of the expedition had come up to Base Camp, bringing with them all the stores from Thyangboche. Major J. O. M. Roberts had arrived from Kathmandu with seventy coolie loads of assault oxygen cylinders, which had been flown out from England at the last possible moment, to give the maximum time for manufacture and assembly. With him had come James Morris, the Special Correspondent of The Times, who henceforth became a very active member of the expedition. A further nineteen Sherpas had been recruited locally to help carry stores as far as Advanced Base. Base Camp had been moved to a fresh site, which we found preferable to the old Swiss Camp I.


On 24th April, after two days' rest at Base, the first teams started ferrying loads up the ice-fall. The Sherpas were divided into three teams. Two teams worked a two-day round trip shuttle service on the ice-fall. One team would carry to Camp II and sleep there; next day they would dump their loads at Camp III and return to Base. While the first team was carrying to Camp III the second would be on its way to Camp II. The third team was based at Camp III and ferried loads on up the Western Cwm to the site of the Advanced Base (Camp IV). A member of the climbing party always led each ferry team of Sherpas. We estimated that it would take about three weeks to lift the 4 tons of stores we required at Advanced Base; and so it worked out. The ferry teams stuck to their schedule in spite of heavy snowfalls, and in spite of casualties through coughs. After ten days Colonel Hunt was able to give everyone two clear days down at Lobuje-a delightful grazing ground on the edge of the Khumbu glacier, about two hours below Base Camp. This did us all a lot of good in many ways; in particular it helped clear up the cough infection which had hit the Sherpas badly.


From Camp III, at 20,200 feet, on 22nd April, the route into the cwm was explored by Hunt, Band, and Hillary. On the 25th the big crevasse, discovered during this earlier reconnaissance, was bridged by three sections of the ladder, and a way found by Hunt, Hillary, and Evans among the maze of crevasses in the floor of the cwm to the site of the Swiss Camp IV at about 21,200 feet.

Then came the task of moving the bulk of the loads from Camp III to Camp IV. Another ferry service of seven Sherpas with Noyce and Gregory started on this job on the 26th. They were seriously handicapped by heavy falls of snow, which made it necessary to remake the tracks afresh every day, no small effort at that altitude.

The time had now come to consider the second major technical obstacle—the Lhotse Face. On 2nd May, Hunt, Evans, and Bourdil- lon, using closed-circuit oxygen, left Camp IV for a preliminary reconnaissance. They were followed next day by Wylie and Ward. Moving with great difficulty owing to recent heavy falls of snow, they passed the site of the Swiss Camp V and climbed a short distance up the steep section of the Lhotse glacier, probably reaching 22,600 feet. They returned to Camp IV and the following day established Camp V on the site of the Swiss autumn camp. Hunt then returned to Base with two sick Sherpas, while Evans and Bourdillon, supported by Ward and Wylie, continued the reconnaissance.

On 4th May a single tent was put up at a height of about 23,000 feet. This bivouac on a narrow ledge was dignified by the name of Camp VI. It was in the same place as the Swiss autumn camp and was reached by much the same route; some of the Swiss ropes were still in place. The going was extremely arduous and the route-finding very difficult, in spite of occasional traces of the Swiss. On the 5th Bourdillon and Evans continued to push up the face, in atrocious weather and through deep unstable snow, to a height of nearly 24,000 feet, before returning to Camp IV and eventually to Base.

This reconnaissance enabled the Leader to decide the plan of assault. A theoretical plan had, of course, been worked out in London as a basis for the planning and preparation of the expedition; since that time two possible alternatives had been evolved, both based on a double assault, with a possible third attempt timed to take place some time after the first two in the event of their failure. Broadly speaking, Plan A would consist of two successive attempts using open-circuit oxygen apparatus; in Plan B, one attempt would be made with the closed-circuit system and the other with the open circuit. The general pattern of each type of assault was to be similar, with the important difference that in the second alternative (Plan B), the closed-circuit attempt would be made direct from the South Col without using an intermediate camp on the south-east ridge, thus saving time and economizing on the amount of stores to be lifted up the Lhotse Face. As a result of the trials of both types of oxygen equipment during the reconnaissance, the closed-circuit cum open-circuit plan was adopted.

All was now prepared for a crucial stage of the attempt—the preparation of the face and the building-up of the South Col camp. The reconnaissance had confirmed what we had gathered from Swiss accounts: that a great deal of work would be necessary to make a good route for porters, and that even then the face presented a major obstacle, both on account of the actual climbing difficulties and of the rarified atmosphere. The face is very steep and very long, probably 3,000 feet from Camp V to the top of the glacier and another 1,000 feet on the rising traverse to the col—a total of 4,000 feet from the bergschrund to the South Col. The combined effects of altitude and of daily falls of fresh snow made movement exhausting, even up a prepared track. The Lhotse Face was clearly a problem which threatened to exhaust the resources of the party.

The reconnaissance had taken place during a break in the work of ferrying the loads upwards, during which most of the Sherpas and about half of the climbing party went down the glacier to a grazing alp named Lobuje for a well-earned rest. With their return on 6th May the second half of the Build-up programme was resumed, the teams being reconstituted so as to provide variety. In the first half, the main work had been in the ice-fall: now the emphasis was in the Western Cwm. At the same time, a party was sent to prepare tin Lhotse Face, following the report of the reconnaissance party. This consisted of Lowe, Westmacott, and Band with four of the best Sherpas: Ang Nyima, Da Tenzing, Ang Namgyal, and Gyaljen. Unfortunately Band fell sick before this party set out. Gyaljen and Westmacott were by no means well.

Alter the Swiss experience of the direct route towards the South Col, crossing the bergschrund and making straight for the couloir beside the Eperon des Genevois, we had chosen the more indirect route by the Lhotse glacier. The term is misleading for it is, in fact, a glaciated slope rather than a glacier. Its character is very different from that of the ice-fall. Photographs taken in 1951 and 1952 showed exactly the same conformation of walls and ledges as faced us this year. There was a comforting feeling of stability, at least as far as the larger features were concerned. The technical difficulties, however, were no less and the general angle considerably greater. Ice- walls succeeded sloping ledges, apparently without end. A thousand feet of fixed rope was used on the face. It was a period of tremendously hard work for those engaged in preparing the way.



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By the 10th May the plan of assault had been agreed in detail. Michael Westmacott, George Band and I were to prepare the ice face of Lhotse so that the loads could be carried forward to the South Col. We were to work without oxygen as high as possible, in order to conserve our supplies, and at one stage it was expected that one camp somewhere near the top of the face would be sufficient. In actual fact, there were two camps established on the Lhotse Face during the preparation of the route, Camp VI, a single tent, which was removed after the route was established, and Camp VII, which was the main camp used. I do remember during the first few days of the work on the Lhotse Face, when the difficulties appeared very great, that the question as to whether a third camp should be placed on the face was debated over the wireless and was firmly decided against.

On the 10th May I accompanied John Hunt, Ed. Hillary, and nineteen Sherpas from Camp III to Camp IV, and in the late afternoon I moved up to Camp V at the foot of the Lhotse Face with four of the Sherpas, Ang Nyima, Da Tensing, Ang Namgyal, and Gyaljen, who were to help me in the absence of Band and Westmacott. George Band, who was suffering from a very sore throat, had gone down to Base Camp, and Mike Westmacott was on his way up and had not yet arrived. We had brought with us a few days' food, but the main part of our loads consisted of 400 feet of Beales line, 35 pitons, and two piton hammers.

It snowed heavily and blew strongly that night—in fact, snow had fallen daily since nth April, and we accepted it as usual, but it made all movements tedious and slowed down our progress. On 11 th May Ang Nyima and I set out with pitons and rope to occupy Camp VI, 23,000 feet, leaving Ang Namgyal, Da Tensing, and Gyaljen to follow later with our bedding and some food. Gyaljen suffered from altitude headaches, but I gave him A.P.C. and he came gamely on. Snow began to fall before midday, the climbing was very steep, many steps had to be cut and we took 5 ½ hours to reach Camp VI. On the first steep ice pitch we discovered a Swiss fixed rope and used it in a slightly altered position. We also discovered 400 feet of fixed line below Camp VI and replaced this with new rope. Just before 4 p.m. Ang Nyima and I occupied the small platform that we called Camp VI. We took the loads from the three Sherpas who had followed so valiantly, and they went back to Camp V.

Reconnaissance in the ice fall

Reconnaissance in the ice fall

Sherpas crossing a crevasse on legs and section of a light bridge

Sherpas crossing a crevasse on legs and section of a light bridge

Wylie and Sherpas on the Lhotse Face

Wylie and Sherpas on the Lhotse Face

On 12th May Aug Nyima and I cut steps and fixed ropes for perhaps 600 feet above Camp VI. The climb alternated between steep green ice-walls and terraces of knee-deep snow. In the evening after the usual snowfall the weather cleared and we sat in the evening sun looking out across the jagged tops of Nuptse, Pumori, and Cho Oyu.

John Hunt came up to Camp VI on 13th May to see closely the nature of the difficulties and to try and judge when the route would be completed for the 'lifts5 to the Col. That day we began step- cutting at the tent door and cut great bucket steps down the 400 feet of steep ice below and fixed 400 feet of new line. Mike Westmacott, who was working on the lower part of the route from Camp V, delivered my mail. He was suffering from altitude and went down to Camp IV to recuperate.

On 14th May Ang Nyima and I left Camp VI at 8.30 a.m. determined to reach the site of Camp VII and fix the route. The wind was bad that day, and my feet froze severely even in the high-altitude boots. We became caked with ice and the cold air gave us very sore throats, but the snow was in many places firmly wind-crusted and therefore easier, and we reached the flat site of Camp VII in four hours and sank down. The height was about 24,000 feet. We fixed four ropes on the descent. During the afternoon it was fine for the first time in five weeks; the wind had dropped and the sun beat down on to the face, and we nearly passed out with the terrific heat.

The 15th of May was a rest day, and I slept for 17 hours. Wilfrid Noyce, Ed. Hillary, and four Sherpas came up from Camp V and arrived in such good condition that Ed. Hillary persuaded the Sherpas to carry tents, primuses, and fuel (some 25 lb. each) up to the site of Camp VII. This was a wonderful effort and allowed us to move up and establish Camp VII and work above from there. Ang Nyima, who had worked prodigiously and enthusiastically, went down, and Wilfrid Noyce stayed to help me. That night Wilfrid persuaded me to take a sleeping pill, and I swallowed this at 7.30 p.m. thinking that it would give me a good night's sleep before the ambitious day on the 16th. I slept like a log and at seven Wilfrid woke me and I knelt and started the primus, but went to sleep in a Kneeling position. Then Wilfrid began to shake and pound me, but I rolled over and slept until 9 a.m. By slapping and pounding me he Jerked me into doing things, hoping the exercise would revive me. I got; out of the tent, roped up, and carrying our lilos, sleeping-bags, and clothing we staggered off. After two hours we were only two or three hundred feet above Camp VI, and I kept succumbing to attacks of sleepiness and Wilfrid led me back to camp, where I fell into the tent and slept until evening. I woke to hear Wilfrid wirelessing the doctors for advice, and after a drink I slept heavily until next morning, 17th May, when I awoke feeling normal and fresh.

A day had been lost, and we pushed quickly up to Camp VII, pitched the tents and, after a drink, we climbed the great cliff behind Camp VII and cramponned up the face a few hundred feet. The climbing was steep, but much less step-cutting was necessary, and we returned to Camp VII with the hope that on the morrow we could establish the route up to the traverse and possibly reach the Col itself.

At Camp VII we met Michael Ward and several Sherpas who had brought up supplies for the camp, and acting on instructions from John Hunt, Michael stayed to assist me, while Wilfrid went down to be in readiness to escort his South Col party. I decided to keep Da Tensing at Camp VII also.

The 18th of May dawned and looked promising, but as we set out a tremendous wind started up and did not leave off until 10 a.m. In the wind we soon iced up, and Michael had his hands frozen, but we pushed on and finally turned back some 300 feet short of the beginning of the traverse and dumped an aluminium stanchion, karabi- ners, and 100 feet of line destined for the steepest part of the traverse. All that night the tents cracked and rocked in the wind and when the morning of the 19th came and the wind showed no sign of abating, we were forced to stay in camp. The wind was not bad below Camp VII, and about midday George Band arrived from Camp V with several Sherpas carrying oxygen and other supplies destined for the assault. George delivered a note from John Hunt instructing me to come down on the 20th, whether the route was completed all the way or not, to make way for the first South Col lift under Wilfrid Noyce.

On 20th May we made one final attempt to complete the route, but our attack had lost its force, and it was a poor effort. We retreated that day right back to Camp IV—passing Wilfrid and his Sherpas making their way upwards. I was very disappointed that the route was not completed, as it left Wilfrid Noyce and his party a double task—-and Wilfrid did it magnificently.

No praise is too high for this party which laboured on the Lhotse Face, between 22,000 and 25,000 feet for a period of ten days. Severely handicapped in the first part by the atrocious weather— steps had repeatedly to be remade and the track stamped out afresh, the climbers ploughing thigh-deep in heavy fresh snow—and, their numbers reduced by sickness, they did a wonderful job. It had been intended that the route should be prepared at least as far as the initial part of the traverse-from the top of the glaciated slope across to ther Eperon couloir—but this could not be quite completed before it became essential to press on with the assault programme. Eventually it became obvious that the magnificent effort of Lowe, assisteded latterly by Ward, was petering out.

Meanwhile the expedition had been drawing in its tail. Advance Base (hitherto Camp IV) was set up on 18th May leaving open only the most slender lines of communication behind it. The stores were ready, the assault teams were waiting, the weather had at long last improved-it changed suddenly for the good on 14th May—still the way to the col was not open; we began to wonder how much time was left us before the onset of the monsoon. In fact, it was clear that we could not afford to delay any longer before making an attempt on the summit. Although the weather reports showed the monsoon to be still in the area of the Andamans, we knew that it might develop with sudden speed, as had happened in 1936; moreover, the weather was now perfect, and the prolonged period of waiting at Camp IV was proving a strain on us all. But there remained one more thing to do before the assault parties could be sent up. Many hundreds of pounds of stores had to be lifted to the South Col; this was the final and most critical part of the Build-up.



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John hunt was most anxious for the first set of loads to the South Col to go up on 21 st May with myself, the second with Charles Wylie on the 22nd. Altogether some 500 lb. of tents, oxygen, and food would be needed there in order to launch the assaults. When I reached Camp VII again on the 20th, however, the work of preparing the route had been hampered by bitter conditions. There were still some 1,500 feet unexplored.

It remained, therefore, to finish the route across to the Geneva Spur at a little over 26,000 feet, and also to get the loads up. To my dismay nearly all my eight Sherpas were suffering acutely from mountain sickness partly due to their over-heavy loads. I decided next morning, as the groans and coughs continued, to pioneer the route with Anullu, the best of the lot, and to leave the others to spend the day acclimatizing and adding strength in numbers to Wylie's party on the morrow.

The first part of the remainder of the Lhotse glacier was a complicated business of winding in and out of snowy terraces, chipping steps in some of the ice-walls intervening. Once or twice we went wrong and had to return, hoping to be able to warn the others later. We were both now using oxygen, and the benefit of it during hard work was enormous; as I was able to appreciate a week later without it. One or two Swiss ropes from last year we found hanging but did not dare to use. Near the top of the face a big crevasse did its best to stop us. The only practicable crossing required a long stride or jump, from one apparently unsupported ledge of snow to another. In the event the ledges were firm.

From the top of the glaciated face a long rising traverse leads to the crest of the spur. This Anullu led in good time, through trying snow. We reached the spur and looked down for the first time, down a slope of some 300 feet to the tattered remains of the Swiss tents. From here the final pyramid of Everest is a magnificent snowy cone. We laid 500 feet of nylon line to be used as moral support next day. From the camp-site we returned to VII, where Charles Wylie had arrived with nine Sherpas. Hunt had also sent up Hillary and Tensing to reinforce this party, as it was vitally important for the loads to reach the Col the next day. Wylie, Hillary, and Tensing were using oxygen.

On the 22nd these three, with fourteen Sherpas, set out at 8.30 a.m. Slowly they wound in and out of the ice-walls, two small figures in the lead. Very slowly they reached the snow at the side of the Geneva Spur. Here one remained behind. We learned later that Wylie, whose oxygen gave out, had to carry a 20-lb. cylinder for the Sherpa who could not quite make it. Thirteen loads reached the col; a tremendous effort by the Sherpas, and more still by the climbers who had encouraged and nursed them. Hillary and Tensing returned with five Sherpas to IV that evening. The remainder, very tired, were looked after by Wylie at VII, and made their way down on the 23rd.

The way was now open for the assaults.

Using the closed-circuit apparatus, heavier, more uncomfortable but considerably more powerful than the open circuit, Evans and Bourdillon were to make an attempt from the South Col. Their instructions were to reach the South Summit if possible, and then, if they had ample supplies of oxygen, if they were fit and had plenty of time, only then were they to try for the higher North summit.



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ON the 26th at five in the morning the sun touched the tip of the tent, and we began to get ready. By six o'clock we had drunk our lemonade, put on our boots, and checked our oxygen sets. I struggled through the sleeve entrance in my bulky clothes, and Bourdillon handed out my set, whose sharp edges caught on every possible piece of cloth. In the fresh breeze, any exposure of the hands, or contact with metal, meant numbness at once. I retired to the lee of the tent, and found that even in that short time, the valves had frozen. Back in the tent we thawed them out over a candle, and I came out again. This time all seemed well, until, after a few breaths, I had a nasty sensation, which I cannot describe. Taking the set back to Bourdillon, who was coming out of the tent, I remarked in disapproving tones that it made me feel that I was going to die. He said, T expect you were', and tried it himself, with the same result. At last he found that the tap on the oxygen feed was broken in the closed position, and that no gas was coming through. Working with bare hands, blood from an unnoticed cut running over his fingers, he was able to fix a makeshift pipe, and at seven- thirty we got away.

Hunt had already started with Da Namgyal, Balu lying sick in his tent. In spite of our load, which was over 50 lb. apiece, we made good progress, and overtook the other two at the foot of the steep gully that leads to the south-east ridge. In the gully the snow was firm, and we cut or kicked steps steadily until near its top. Here we left the gully, going right, and climbed loose rocks to the site of Lambert's old camp, where we found a small platform built, and the poles of his tent, to which a few strips of torn cloth still stuck. There was cloud above us, and on the Kangshung face, but towards Malalu and Lhotse it was clear; far below us, we saw the tents of Camp VII, orange dots in the middle of a face of astonishing steepness.

We had a short rest, and tackled the ridge. There was no difficulty, and we moved together, usually to the left of the crest, over loose rock, covered with soft snow. It was steep enough for us to be using our hands nearly the whole time. We passed a prominent snow shoulder, and came to a pure snow ridge, at about 28,000 feet. At eleven o'clock, we reached a slight hollow in the ridge, giving some shelter from the wind, which had now freshened, and was blowing across from our right, bringing cloud and snow. We had climbed 2,200 feet in hours, and I thought that this was the place to change to our second oxygen cylinder and second canister; the comparative shelter reduced the chances of the valves freezing at the change-over, and, if one or other set failed after the change, the consequences could more easily be dealt with here than higher up. One cylinder and one canister last about five hours, and if nothing happened to slow us up, the next thousand feet ought only to take us an hour and a half.

After making the change, which went without a hitch, I brought out a flask of lemon drink, but the drink had frozen, and the glass was in fragments. We were very thirsty, and it was a sign of our fuddled state that we wondered for a moment if we could not suck the sweetened ice off the splintered glass. Instead we threw the flask down the South face.

For ten minutes we went very well. We had lightened our loads by 20 lb. each, and the going was good along the left side of the crest of the snow ridge. Suddenly I had an attack of breathlessness, and all at once felt done in. It was a repetition of my experience above Camp VII, but this time we could find nothing clearly wrong with the set. As we climbed on, with no improvement in my condition, and still no fault that we could find in the set, we concluded that my second soda-lime canister must have been damaged, and that carbon dioxide was accumulating in the circuit.

The ridge now steepened, and we took to a snow slope on the Kangshung side. The snow was deep and soft, and we returned to the crest of the ridge, because, as well as running some risk of starting an avalanche, we were making hardly any progress. The crest here has a firm, rocky backbone, with a loose and finely splintered surface, and was powdered with snow. It rises in a succession of abrupt steps, separated by sloping ledges. None of these rakes offers a site for a camp, or even any place where one can put down a rucksack, but they gave us a zigzag route to the foot of the last lift of the ridge.

Here we were on snow again; the ridge eased slightly, and steepened to a final cone; about a hundred feet of cutting through soft snow into the firm slope beneath brought us on to the South Summit. We stood on the corniced little dome which forms this point on the ridge, looking at the next splendid reach to the top. At our feet the ridge fell very slightly, presenting no obstacle, and then swept up in a succession of steps to a great cornice which hid the true top. Along its whole length, the rocks fell away steeply on the left, and cornices hung over the East face. I guessed that it would need three hours work to get along it.

Since changing our soda-lime canisters we had gone very slowly, and now, already, it was 1.15 p.m. Our oxygen was only good for 2 ½ hours more, enough to see us back to the South Col.

Here the wind was from the west, and the East face was everywhere hidden by the cloud and snow of the plume, which eddied round below us, and spilled over the south-east ridge on to the South face. There was not a great deal to see, beyond our immediate surroundings, but we saw a bit of Cho Oyu through cloud, and could see fragments of the north ridge of Lhotse, whose red towers seemed deceptively close, and nearly as high as we were ourselves. I took off my oxygen mask for a few minutes in order to suck sweets, without noticing any ill effect, and after taking a few photographs we started down. It was 1.30 p.m.

Our steps had filled with blown snow, and with our clumsy boots and short crampons, it was difficult, tired as we were, to keep our footing. Bourdillon, who was fresher than I, came last. When we reached the snow ridge below the upper steep rocks, the cloud was much thicker, and moisture was freezing fast on the lenses of my goggles. Even without them I could see only a few yards. At last our discarded oxygen bottles showed up through the mist, and by them we sat down to suck snow and glucose tablets. Below this the ridge steepened, and on the uneven ground, with its treacherous covering of snow, I had several minor slips. At one spot Bourdillon landed, unannounced, half on top of me, and we went down together, while I tried to dig my pick into a mixture of rock and floury snow. Then we stopped, through no fault of our own, and we panted for minutes before we could move again. At those times, after the strenuous exertions of a fall, during which we had probably held our breath, we felt, with desperation, that we would never get our breath back, and on this occasion, even our pleasure at having made some progress in the right direction was damped by the discovery that Bourdillon's axe was on a ledge 30 feet up. I had a few minutes' rest while he borrowed mine to fetch it.

At Lambert's camp we sat on the platform and made a comical, but, at the time, most solemn pact to treat the couloir below us with extra care. We knew that we were too tired to be safe, but somehow we had to get down it. Moving one at a time, and belaying with the axe-shaft driven well in, we had made several rope-lengths when I came off. I was last, and just beginning to move down to Bourdillon. I found myself shooting past him, was slightly annoyed with myself for the slip, and thought that I must keep my crampons off the snow. After what seemed a very long time, the rope pulled slightly at my waist, but there was no check to my speed, and I thought to myself, 'Hello, so Tom is coming too.' Fortunately we were below the steepest part of the gully, and before long the slope eased, and we came to rest in softer snow. My axe came sliding by, and I was able to catch it before giving myself over to the business of getting back my breath. After I had made my apologies to Bourdillon (we were always punctilious on these occasions), we went on down.

We were now below the cloud, and could see the camp on the col, with several figures moving about the tents. Snow gave place to dry glacier, then to flat stones. It was only a question of putting one foot in front of the other. Our friends came to meet us, and, with arms linked, they helped us in, while we told them that we had not been to the top.

Lowe said, 'My, you gave us a thrill', and Gregory and he subjected us to a battery of cameras. They overwhelmed me with their delight that we had been even so high.

Near the tents we sat on a stone, I took off my mask, and Tensing wiped the slime off my face before giving me a dish of sweet lemon drink. Lowe was busy with a cine camera, and remarked in unprintable slang that he had some good records of two people looking tired. It was four-thirty, and for the next two hours we sat around in the pyramid tent. The happy comradeship that evening made the South Gol seem not at all a grim place.

It was a very bad night. Hunt, Bourdillon and I slept in a Meade tent, to make as much room as possible for the assault party in the pyramid. The wind was stronger than ever, and made a continuous cracking noise. The walls of the tent shook all night and, since we were pressed up against them, kept us shaking too.

In the morning there was little sign of the gale slackening, and Bourdillon was doubtful, after our experience of the effects of fatigue the previous day, if he could safely get down the difficult route to Camp VII.

At noon, the wind died down a bit, and he and I made a start with Ang Temba, who had come up the day before, but was no longer fit to stay on the col. Before starting the descent, there is a climb of 300 feet off the col. When we had gone 50 yards, it was clear that Bourdillon would hardly be able to get there, so I went back to the camp for an oxygen set, and for a fourth climber to "strengthen our party. With an open-circuit set, Bourdillon immediately regained his strength, and was able to go on. Hunt joined us, and we roped up with Hunt leading and me last.

The climb down provided little excitement, which was as well. We dropped a glove down the great couloir, and watched it disappear from sight with increasing momentum. We took pains not to have any slips, and towards the end we sat down more and more often, to rest. Just above camp VII, as I was about to let the fixed rope go, Ang Temba, who was in front of me, fell into the crevasse. Very fortunately Wilfrid Noyce was at hand to haul him out. Noyce and Ward had come up from Camp IV to meet us, and when we reached the tents, only a journey of 20 yards, but slightly uphill, and wearisome, they had tea ready for us. It was another example of the splendid backing which on this expedition we came to take almost for granted.

After a rest of nearly an hour, I went on to Camp IV with Ward. He carried my pack, and watched my step, and added my crampons to his load when I took them off at the foot of the Lhotse Face. Below Camp V it began to snow, and in the dim light I kept going off the track. At seven o'clock we arrived.



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By 22nd may we had made the first great carry to the south col and fourteen 30-lb. loads of vital food, equipment, and oxygen were awaiting our use as we descended to camp iv after making this lift, we met bourdillon, evans, and hunt setting out up the lhotse face to attempt the first assault on the summit.

The next two days we rested and watched their tiny figures on the Lhotse Face climbing steadily to Camp VII and then on to the South Col.

It was now time for us to move. On 25 May Tensing and I, supported by Lowe and Gregory, moved up to Camp VII. The following day we climbed the steep glacier above the camp and then began to cross the great traverse towards the South Col. From here we got our first glimpse of Evans and Bourdillon on the south-east ridge, obviously moving strongly. Just before we reached the South Col, through a gap in the clouds we saw two tiny specks moving on the South Summit. It was a tremendous moment for us.

We reached the South Col in time to assist Hunt and Da Namgyal back to their tents after their strenuous efforts in carrying food and equipment to 27,350 feet. Much later in the afternoon, two tired figures descended out of the clouds on the ridge and came slowly down the slope towards the col. It was Evans and Bourdillon. They told us how they had reached the South Summit and the problems they had been faced with and the difficulties they had had with their oxygen sets. They also reported that the ridge leading to the top appeared to be of considerable difficulty.

We went to bed that night elated over the success of our companions but not particularly happy about our prospects for the summit. The next day the South Col wind at its worst was blowing and no move upwards was possible. We assisted Bourdillon, Evans, and Hunt and the Sherpa to the top of the Eperon des Genevois and saw them start off on their long and weary descent to the relative comforts of the lower camps. All night it blew fiercely and although we were ready to leave very early, no start was possible before 8.45 a.m. Our high-altitude Sherpas, who we had hoped would carry our camp high up the south-east ridge had all fallen ill except Ang Nima, so our only alternative was to carry everything ourselves. Lowe, Gregory, and Ang Nima cut a stairway up the firm, steep snow of the couloir. Tensing and I, following in these tracks were able to conserve our strength and make, faster time. We caught them up on the south-east ridge near the remnants of the Swiss tent of the previous spring. Despite our large loads we were all going very well. The ridge above, although steep, was generously supplied with foot- and hand-holds, and as we moved slowly up it, we were able to climb steadily and rhythmically, taking every care.

At 27,350 feet we came to the dump left by Hunt several days previously and reluctantly tied this extra equipment on to our heavy loads. Ang Nima had just over 40 lb., but the rest of us were carrying between 50 and 63 lb. Moving very slowly now, we hauled ourselves up the ridge, all of us breathing oxygen at the rate of 4 litres a minute. A deceptively flat camp-site would appear above us, only to disappear as we reached it. We were all very tired and, indeed, a little desperate when we finally reached a snowy ledge, which although uneven, was sufficiently roomy to pitch a tent.

While Lowe, Gregory, and Ang Nima descended to the South Col, Tensing and I made a very rough platform, tied our tent down as best we could and crawled in for the night. After a somewhat uncomfortable night, I looked out of the tent very early and was greatly encouraged to see every sign of a fine day. We quickly organized ourselves and at 6.30 a.m. set off up the mountain. The first 500 feet was covered very slowly but steadily. We were going well and any problems we met we were able to overcome without difficulty. Then we reached the great 400-foot face running up to the South Summit. This was a different proposition. Not only was it very steep but the snow was, I felt, in a dangerous condition. Laboriously beating a track up it, sometimes up to our knees and often deeper, we were always conscious of the tremendous drop to the Kangchung glacier, 11,000 feet below us. Half-way up the slope I asked Tensing his opinion of it and he replied that he was rather unhappy about it and thought it very dangerous. When I asked him whether he thought we should go on, he gave his familiar reply: 'Just as you wish.5 I felt we had a fair chance so decided to go on. It was a tremendous relief, however, when, 100 feet from the South Summit, the snow became firm and we were able to kick and chip steps up the last steep slopes on to the South Summit itself.

We sat down and had a drink from our water bottle. We had been using oxygen at the rate of 3 litres a minute and I estimated that this would give us another 4 ½ hours on our remaining bottle. The ridge ahead looked both difficult and dangerous, heavily corniced on the right, dropping off to enormous rock bluffs on the left. The only possibility was to keep along the steep snow slope running between them. I cut a line of steps down to the saddle between the South Summit and the ridge and was overjoyed to find the snow, far from being soft and powdery, was firm and hard and that a couple of good blows with the ice-axe would make a step big enough for even our outsize high-altitude boots. We moved slowly and very carefully. I cut 40 feet of steps, then forced my ice- axe into the snow and belayed Tensing as he moved up to me. He then in his turn thrust his ice-axe in and protected me as I cut another 40 feet of steps. Moving one at a time and fully conscious that our standards of safety must inevitably be reduced at this great altitude, we forged slowly ahead.

After an hour's going the South Summit was dropping away beneath us but I suddenly noticed that Tensing, who had been going very well, was starting to drag. When he approached me I saw he was panting and was in some distress. I immediately examined his oxygen set and found that the exhaust outlet from his mask was blocked with ice, I was able to give him immediate relief. We moved on again and soon reached the most difficult problem on the ridge-a great rock bluff which looked far too difficult to tackle directly with our limited strength. There was, however, still one remaining possibility. Attached to the right-hand side of the rock bluff was a cornice and the ice had peeled away leaving a gap running the full length of the bluff and just large enough to take the human frame. With Tensing belaying me I moved into the crack, and cramponing on the ice behind and using every hand-hold on the rock in front I wriggled and jammed my way up and pulled myself out, panting, on to the little ledge at the top. I signalled to Tensing and heaved on the rope until he in his turn struggled up and collapsed exhausted on our little ledge. I really felt now a fierce determination that we would succeed in reaching the summit.

The ridge stretched on in a never-ending succession of corniced bumps and as I continued cutting a trail round the back of them I wondered just how long we would have to go on. We were starting to tire. I had been cutting steps continuously for almost two hours and wondered, rather dully, whether we would have enough strength left to get through. I cut around the back of another hump and saw that the ridge ahead dropped away and that we could see far into Tibet. I looked up and there above us was a rounded snow cone. A few whacks of the ice-axe, a few cautious steps, and Tensing and I were on top.



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As for the mountaineer the climbing of Mount Everest was the summit of ambition, so for every British newspaper its ascent was a news event of the highest importance, the more especially as it came in the year of Queen Elizabeth's coronation. In the 1953 expedition, as in almost every previous attempt on Everest, my newspaper held the copyright of dispatches from the mountain, and from the inception of the venture there was a close and happy co-operation between the Himalayan Committee, the climbers, and The Times. But it was recognized from the start that the newspaper competition for the story would be ruthless and unremitting, and our rivals in Fleet Street would certainly use all their talents and energies to defeat us; so it was decided last February that I should join the expedition as Special Correspondent of The Times, to supplement Colonel Hunt's dispatches with messages of my own, and to ensure that our news got away swiftly, safely, and exclusively. Nobody, I think, will dispute the fact that my newspaper has always regarded the Everest adventure as something more than a mere commercial investment; and thus the friendship and help of Hunt and his team enabled me to establish a link between Printing House Square and the expedition that I shall always remember with pride.

The technical problems of getting news away from the mountain were exacting. The sinews of any foreign news service are the international cables, telephones, and radio links, for without them the hottest news is liable to cool; but between Everest and the nearest cable office or telephone there lie about 180 miles of difficult and roadless country. There was no question of our sending dispatches through Tibet, so our lines of communication had necessarily to run either to Katmandu (like the expedition's) or to the Indian frontier and thence to a cable office on the other side. Long-range wireless transmission was apparently ruled out, for the Nepalese Government, we were told, did not encourage it. When the problems of communications were discussed at the end of last year, ingenious amateurs suggested that carrier pigeons might be used; or beacon fires; or that dispatches might be floated down the Dudh Kosi in watertight containers; or that lamas might be induced to send messages for us by means of their alleged telepathic powers; but the only really practicable way of sending messages away was by runner.

We knew that runners would certainly be intercepted on their way to the cablehead, that they would be bribed to disgorge their news, that dispatches would be milched and hearsay evidence eagerly collated. The most careful plans were therefore laid in Printing House Square to ensure that our communications would be secure. In this we had the advice of Arthur Hutchinson, Delhi Correspondent of The Times, who had handled the dispatches sent by the Swiss expeditions in 1952 and was therefore something of an authority on communications with Everest.

First, of course, we produced a number of codes. These made nonsense of messages encoded, and were printed on plastic-covered paper to prevent damage by heat or damp. For the transmission of film and long dispatches, canvas containers were made, with printed address labels, to be secured by stitching. On Hunt's advice we contacted the Himalayan Club, who not only gave me sound advice on what equipment I should need, but also most generously offered to lend me a good deal of it. Eric Shipton, whose association with The Times has been a long and cherished one, also gave me advice on this score. Black's of Greenock supplied sleeping bags and clothing.

It was decided that our main channel of communication should be the route to Katmandu, despite the concentration of newspaper correspondents that would, we knew, gather there. One reason for this decision was the fact that Hunt's own runners would be going that way, and we could therefore exchange services. Another was that from Katmandu a good radio link to India provided the first stage of our cable communication with London. A third was the presence there of the British Embassy, with its own radio channel to the Foreign Office in London for emergency use. Hutchinson was to move up to Katmandu from India to see that my cables got away safely and to interpret or supplement them where necessary.

At the same time we established alternative routes to the south. The Swiss had sent their dispatches south through the jungle of the Terai to the railhead at Jogbani, and thence to Patna, where a father at the Jesuit college transmitted them to Europe. This priest willingly agreed to do the same again if any runners turned up there from us. It was also arranged that an Indian employee of Hutchinson's should be at Jainagar to transmit dispatches from the cablehead there if necessary. In all these plans we were guided partly by the tremendous competitive efficiency of the London national papers, and partly by the well-known loquaciousness of Indian cable operators.

Most of these arrangements were made in London. They were kept as secret as possible (not very) because we did not wish to encourage other papers to copy us. At a lunch at the Garrick' Club' early in February Hunt, after welcoming me warily to his group, suggested that I should travel to Everest from Katmandu with Major Jimmy Roberts, who was to convoy the last consignment of oxygen to Thyangboche. Accordingly on 19th March I left London by Cornet for Delhi, where Bobby Hotz of the Himalayan Club gave me a superb dinner, a fine camp-bed, and all sorts of kindness; and on the 24th I found myself in Patna, where one catches the aeroplane for Katmandu.

While in Patna I called on our friend at the Jesuit college. This was a curious experience. He is a man of saintly quality, devoted to his mission. We had tea together in the school dining-room, surrounded by eager young Indian pupils, and talking of his work and of the Jesuit concept of duty. Then, a few moments later, we withdrew into his study and discussed codes and stratagems and rates of pay, and all the subtle intricacies of getting news from Everest secretly. We never had cause to use the Patna route, but I am sure there is no one in India better able to keep a secret than our Jesuit confidant there.

On the 25th I flew into Katmandu. The climbers were on their way to Everest by then, and only Roberts was staying at the Embassy. I put up at the Nepal Hotel, on the outskirts of the city, where Hutchinson was waiting for me. It was a memorable establishment. It was a nobleman's palace, converted for familiar economic reasons into a cross between an Army transit camp and a provincial museum. At every conceivable doorway throughout the building was laid a fibre mat inscribed with the ironic word 'Welcome!' The walls of every room were hung with life-size portraits of the nobleman's relatives (one of them apparently in the uniform of the Nepalese navy, and looking quite extraordinarily like Admiral Beatty). Here and there could be found a stuffed crocodile or a petrified ibis, and in the hall two small tigers were locked in eternal conflict. Sometimes the place would echo with the roars of a rather mangy lion (a live one) that happened to live in a private zoo across the road. Now and again, too, the entire building would reverberate with the exasperated cry of a newspaperman: 'Bearer ! Tea!'

Hutchinson was in bed with a fever, but he told me what developments there had already been in the Everest news campaign. One London correspondent had followed the expedition towards Everest, another was living in the hotel, and more were expected. A number of Indian newspapermen were in Katmandu, already sending home messages of a spine-chilling inaccuracy. Most important for us was the news that Mr. Summerhayes, the Ambassador in Katmandu, had agreed to send to London for us a brief dispatch recording the final result of the expedition, whether success or failure; this kindly service he would indubitably have performed for any other newspaper, if it had the copyright of the expedition and was in possession of the news.

I met Roberts at the Embassy and was instantly struck by his competence and his wonderfully dry sense of humour. There could be no better companion for a Himalayan trek; totally imperturbable, whether by the petulant squabblings of our porters, the powers of penetration of the local children, or the inferior quality of the rakhsi. In the grounds of the Embassy we recruited our porters, weighed the many crates of equipment we were to take, and loaded them into ancient lorries. In all this we had the help of our Sherpas, who had arrived in Katmandu after making the long journey around the south of Nepal from Darjeeling. They included several remarkable characters. There was Sen Tensing, the Foreign Sportsman (known to a new generation of Himalayan travellers as The Snowman); and two hardy mountaineers on their way to join Hunt's climbing party—the veteran Dawa Thondup and Ang Nyima. All three were travelling companions of high calibre.

Like the climbers before us, we motored as far as Bhatgaon, a few miles or so from Katmandu, where our loads were distributed among our porters and we said good-bye to our friends. Soon after noon on 27 th March Roberts and I followed the long shuffling line of porters off the green of the Bhatgaon parade ground and along the road to the east. It was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot, with a gentle breeze off the Himalayas; but our journey, which threatened to become nothing less than idyllic, was soon interrupted. As we sat beside a stream eating our lunch we were approached by a shooting- brake, swaying dangerously and dizzily along the rough track. From it stepped Colonel Proud, First Secretary at the British Embassy.

He had a slightly alarming message for us. Through strange channels a message had reached the Embassy from Hunt, who was now at Namche Bazar. The climbers had found that several of their oxygen cylinders were below pressure, and they feared that those we were carrying (carefully screwed and nailed in wooden crates) might also be defective. Would we please open them all and check their gauges?

It was too late to do anything that day, so we hurried on to our arranged camp site, Banepa, with the intention of opening the crates (there were about sixty of them) first thing next morning. I spent much of the night wondering about Hunt's message. Proud had told me that it had been passed to him by the Indian Embassy, who had apparently received it from a wireless transmitter operating at Namche Bazar. What this could be I had no idea, but I very much feared that the British correspondent who was somewhere ahead of us would stumble across the transmitter and 'acquire5 it for himself. Anyone with command of a radio transmitter in the region of Everest could certainly beat me not only with news of the final result, but possibly with stories of events throughout the course of the expedition. At worst, the existence of the transmitter meant that if careless Sherpas of the expedition talked too much to strangers, other London newspapers could snatch the news from us. At best, it meant that I had available a totally unsuspected means of rapid communication.

We spent an invigorating morning with the oxygen crates, prising them open one by one in quick succession, checking their gauges and closing them again. Almost all of them were at full pressure, which was a relief; for extra supplies, could scarcely have reached Everest in time for the assault. The innumerable Nepali children who watched our activities thought we were pretty queer anyway, but dismissed us as lunatic as they observed this perplexing operation.

The trek to Namche was delightful, enlivened for me by the occasional swinging plank bridges, the groves of gorgeous rhododendrons, the lavish bird song, and odd local music. Once I found an enormous and very damp frog sitting in my sleeping-bag, and for days my porters thought it funny to shout at me 'Sahib! Sahib! One frog in your tent!5 Once (on Easter Day) I had an attack of stomach trouble so acute that every hundred yards or so I had to lie flat on my back and wish Everest to perdition. But for the most part, with the pleasant company of Roberts (who grew daily more like a genial grizzly bear), the journey was a joy.

Twice I sent short dispatches back, addressed to the British Embassy in Katmandu. The first I entrusted to a group of Hunt's porters whom we met on their way back to the capital. The second was taken by a rather dotty-looking young man I recruited in the bazaar-village of Those; he shambled off in the general direction of Katmandu, and I heard later that he delivered the message crumpled and heavily thumb-printed, but intact, and collected his due fee from Hutchinson. I gave one old boy with an immense white beard a copy of the air-mail edition of The Times. He regarded it with such veneration that when I came back the same way more than three months later he still had it protruding prominently from the neck of his shirt.

Below Namche Roberts and I parted company. He wanted to get ahead to report to Hunt. I was to follow with our consignment of oxygen. Thus I was alone when, near the head of the Dudh Kosi, I bumped into another European traveller. This was the British correspondent who had followed the expedition earlier from Katmandu. He had gone as far as the site of Base Camp at 18,000 feet, and was now on his way home. I knew him, for we had worked together briefly in Egypt, and we spent half an hour over a pot of tea and biscuits before going our respective ways. He had much enhanced his reputation by his very amusing dispatches from the Everest region.

Luckily this colleague and rival of mine had apparently not discovered the transmitter in Namche. I myself could scarcely help finding it, for I was met on the outskirts of Namche by a cordial Sikh soldier who invited me along to an Indian frontier post established in the village. This post, maintained by the Indian Government to watch the flow of traffic over the border from Tibet, maintained a radio link with the Indian Embassy in Katmandu. Hunt had already visited it, and had sent his message over it, and the officer in charge kindly sent a short dispatch for me there and then. (In London a sub-editor headed the piece with the phrase By runner to Katmandu'; and our competitors were astonished to find that in Nepal there were men who could run 150 miles in three days.)

The existence of the transmitter posed new problems for me. I could scarcely afford to ignore it altogether, but on the other hand I had doubts about its security. The men who ran it clearly had no interest in our news ambitions, and might (quite reasonably) pass on our news to any other correspondent who turned up in Namche Bazar. Moreover, when the news reached Katmandu it was a fair bet that it would be available to other correspondents working there. All this, I should add, is no reflection on those responsible for the radio link; rather is it testimony to their essential fairness. I therefore resolved that unless other correspondents used the transmitter for news I would not use it except for the final message of success or failure; and even then I would have to disguise the news in some way.

Next day I reached Thyangboche, where I was met at the entrance to rear Base Camp by Tensing, his famous smile at its dazzling best. There I found most of the climbers. With Tensing's help I set about recruiting some Sherpas of my own, to act as runners; and on his and Roberts's recommendation I chose as my cook-sirdar a veteran by the name of Sonam, who became my good friend. May I stress his name to the Himalayan Club, and to future travellers in those parts, as that of a tough, honest, dependable, and infinitely likeable companion ?

On 27th April, with Charles Evans, Alfred Gregory, and a company of Sherpa porters, I set off from Thyangboche for the mountain. We travelled leisurely, spending three days on the journey, and very pleasant it was. At Lobeje John Hunt met us, looking (as nearly always on Everest) like some horrid apparition from the high places; for his face was heavily smeared with glacier cream. At Lake Camp we found Ed. Hillary and George Lowe, and were tent- bound by a savage blizzard. Finally, at Base Camp I was introduced to the few members of the expedition I did not already know; and there I set up my headquarters.

I spent several weeks at Base Camp, once moving down to Thyang- boche to get rid of a heavy cold, and three times making journeys up the mountain, but always returning there to organize my runners. I had a double sleeping-bag; a high-altitude tent; a radio receiver for hearing B.B.G. weather broadcasts (the B.B.G. also broadcast the news of the birth of my second son); a 'walkie-talkie’ set for communication with other camps; my camera, a Japanese version of the Leica; my typewriter; some books; and three desperately heavy sacks of coin for the payment of runners. All this rather cluttered up my quarters, but I managed to make myself reasonably comfortable; and indeed, although I lost about a stone in weight, I began to feel notably fit.

I soon accepted an invitation from George Band and Michael Westmacott to join them in a trip up the ice-fall to Camp III, spending a night at Camp II. This was my first experience of mountaineering. It would be idle to pretend that I found it easy, especially as I was not adequately acclimatized; but they were kindly souls on the rope, and somehow they pulled me over the crevasses, heaved me up the ice-blocks, pushed me over the dizzy makeshift bridges, and dragged me through the wilderness of crumbled ice.

Though I believe I acclimatized rather well, on the whole, I found the altitude something of a handicap professionally. It is well known that natural energies are sapped and ambitions blunted by great heights. I am something of a fanatic for my work, and few things in life give me more pleasure than writing a dispatch on a good story; yet on Everest I wrote much less than I should have done, and found most of the writing a fearful bore. Though in London beforehand I had realized all too clearly the magnitude of the story, on the mountain it seemed to lose a little of its urgency. I took scarcely a photograph, on the dubious grounds that the mountain would always be there tomorrow.

During the long weeks before the assault I sent dispatches home regularly, some by Hunt's runners, most of them by my own men. I built up a small corps of elite messengers, all of them swift and trustworthy. To ensure maximum speed, I offered them pay on what I think is called a sliding scale. They had a basic fee of about £10. If they did the journey in eight days, they got £5 extra; if they did it in seven days, they got -£10 extra; and if, miracle of miracles, they did it in six days, they earned a bonus of £"20. It was astonishing how they responded to these incentives (and I think also to the comradeship and sense of purpose which we shared with them). Time after time the journey, always supposed to take ten days at the very least, was done in six days; and two magnificent runners (John Hunt's book notwithstanding) did it in five. Some of them regularly brought me presents of eggs; one had a deep contempt for the local rakhsi and used to pop over to Those now and again (a mere sixty miles or so) to bring me back some of a special brew prepared only there.

I used to like to watch these runners begin their journey down the glacier from Base Camp. They generally travelled in pairs, and before leaving would come to shake my hand reverently or even to kiss it. Then, tucking my dispatch and the mail inside their capacious cloaks, they would scramble away down the moraine through the towering ice pinnacles; and down the glacier they would go, two quaint figures in embroidered boots and comical hats, loping their way into the distance with the news from Everest.

The fight to wrest the news from us was now at its height. In Katmandu one of the great news agencies, and one of the London national papers, each had powerful receiving sets with which they hoped to intercept wireless messages from Namche and cable messages going out of Katmandu via the radio link with India. A Reuter correspondent had stationed himself at the Thyangboche monastery (he turned up at Base Camp one afternoon and I gave him tea before he went down the valley again) and an Indian working for a London paper was at Namche.

To make sure that at least the news of the final result went over the Namche radio safely—with the competition so immediate and so intense I had to make use of the transmitter—I devised a new code. Our existing codes turned messages into gibberish, but I was afraid the radio people would not accept dispatches unless they thought they knew what they meant. At the same time I felt I could not afford to pass the message over the radio 'in clear'. I therefore, with a certain nasty cunning, composed a new cipher in which coded messages looked as if they were not coded at all. Thus the code phrase for 'Everest climbed' was 'Snow conditions bad'; the phrase meaning Hillary was 'Advanced base abandoned', and that for Tensing 'Awaiting improvement'. The key to this code I sent by runner to Hutchinson in Katmandu, who passed further copies to The Times in London and to the British Ambassador.

In the meantime our reports of the expedition's progress were going through safely. Nearly all my runners were intercepted and questioned, and in some cases attempts were made at bribery; but they were honest men, and, anyway, my rates of pay were high and half the fee was payable on return. (I was later given a lovely description of a famous London correspondent sitting in the Nepal Hotel at Katmandu with a glass of whisky in his hand trying hard to 'pump’a shaggy old Sherpa runner with whom he shared not one single word in any language.) Only one story 'leaked'; that of the first penetration of the ice-fall. This complete monopoly of the Everest news, achieved by the use of an overwhelming variety of resources, had one ill effect; readers of other newspapers will recall the astounding things that were alleged to have happened on the mountain by those who had no access to information.

In the second week of May I went up to Camp IV, where I ate a disgracefully large quantity of the Swiss biscuits that had been found there. The date-line 'Camp IV, Everest' with which my dispatches were headed was, I believe, the highest ever to have appeared in a newspaper. Soon after my return to Base Camp I found myself the only European there, the entire expedition having moved higher on the mountain in preparation for the final assault. Each evening I would climb to an eminence on the moraine for a radio call to Camp III and sometimes Camp IV: besides giving me the news, the climbers would tell me what they needed from base and I would do my best to see that the right stuff went up by the next party of Sherpas. Often hastily scribbled notes would reach me. John Hunt sent me several; heaven only knows how he found time to remember my needs, but he always did. Wilf Noyce sent me a few lines describing the arrival at the South Col. Tom Bourdillon described the first assault, though, unhappily, this description was overtaken by news of final success.

As the time for the second assault approached I felt I must go higher on the mountain again, though I hesitated to move away from my runners at so crucial a moment and I was a little nervous that other correspondents might arrive at Base Camp in my absence. I knew that if anyone had managed to bring into Nepal a radio transmitter, and brought it up to the Base Camp, I would almost certainly be beaten with the story; I therefore asked my runners to put it about in Namche that any transmitter brought up the glacier would inevitably be destroyed with ice-axes. Shortly before I left base an Indian newspaperman did in fact arrive there, though with no radio. I insisted that his Sherpas should be quartered separately from ours, lest any news should pass from one group to the other; but luckily my Sherpas and I were able to rescue some of his men who lost themselves at night in the glacier, so he could scarcely accuse me of inhospitality. Indeed, we spent a pleasant evening together by our camp-fire, and he left next morning.

On 29th May I went up the ice-fall again, in company with Griff Pugh. The route had been badly affected by the thaw, and half-way up a small avalanche, sweeping down a gulley, narrowly missed us. However, we reached Camp III safely and next morning went on to Camp IV. There we found most of the climbers, waiting in a state of high expectancy; a day of beautiful sunshine and excitement that was captured to perfection by Tom Stobart in his masterly film.

I shall never, as long as I live, forget the transformation that overcame the camp when the summit party appeared and gave us the news of their victory. It was a moment so thrilling, so vibrant, that the hot tears sprang to the eyes of most of us. The day was so dazzlingly bright-the snow so white, the sky so blue; the air was so heavily charged with excitement; and the news, however much we expected it, was still somehow such a wonderful surprise; and it felt to all of us that we were very close to the making of history; and away in England, as we knew, an entire nation, in celebration for the Coronation, was waiting eager-hearted for the word of triumph. It was a moment of great beauty.

The date was 31st May. It had occurred to me in moments of wild optimism that The Times could conceivably print the news of Everest's conquest on the very day of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation, 2nd June. I had climbed up the cwm that morning from Camp III, and I was tired; but I felt I must go down to Base Camp again that evening and get the news off by runner first thing in the morning. Michael Westmacott instantly volunteered to come with me down the mountain. I got Ed. Hillary's story from him as he sat in the big tent eating an omelette (he has since become, incidentally, godfather to my son) and we set off down the cwm in the late afternoon.

The thaw had set in, the sun that day had been blazing, and the snow surface of the cwm was crumbling. We kept falling in up to our thighs, and the process of extraction was tiring and unpleasant. Before long the sun had disappeared and the snow valley was cast into shadow. It was twilight when we reached Camp III and drank a little lemonade. Below us the mass of the ice-fall looked, I thought, singularly uninviting.

The route had been obliterated by snow and thaw, and only occasionally did we glimpse, often on some unattainable eminence, the little route flags which used to guide our way through the wilderness. We stumbled and slithered our way through the ice- blocks. Mike prodded his way through with infinite skill and patience, but I was fairly exhausted, often losing my footing on the crumbly ice, getting entangled with the rope, or tottering on the brinks of crevasses. Our progress was therefore slow and rather perilous.

Once we reached a steep snow-slope, and glissaded down it on our feet; I stubbed my toe on an ice-block at the bottom and spent a moment or two cursing creation in general and the foreign department of The Times in particular; I had to hobble home with half a toe-nail, and eventually had the whole thing removed in Calcutta. At the foot of the ice-fall the little glacier rivulets had swollen in the thaw into swift torrents; we balanced our way along their edges, sometimes jumping across to surer footing on the other side, sometimes slipping in so that the water oozed into our socks and over the tops of our boots. One of my crampons had broken and kept tripping me up exasperatingly.

It was long after dark when we reached Base Camp (to be greeted by my loyal Sherpas with the welcome news that no competitors had made their way up the glacier). I slept fitfully that night, my last in the shadow of Everest, and in the early hours of the morning I slipped out of my tent in the moonlight to look once again at the staggering panorama of mountains round about. They shone palely, like ghosts.

Next morning I sent off two runners. The first carried a short code message for the radio station at Namche, for transmission (with luck) to Katmandu. The message ran: ‘Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned may twentynine stop awaiting improvement stop all well.' This meant that the mountain had been climbed on 29 May by Hillary and Tensing, and that all was well. The second runner was to go direct to Katmandu carrying a duplicate message and a longer account of the victory. In case the radio people refused the message, two other runners were ready to leave for Jainagar by the difficult route through the Terai; a prospect they did not much like.

All this done, I felt that it was time for me to leave Everest. I would get back to Katmandu as soon as possible, to pick up any instructions and if possible fly home to England; if not (as happened; I would spend a few days in the capital and then come back along the trail a little way to meet the returning climbers. Accordingly I packed my possessions, assembled my Sherpas, shook hands with Michael Westmacott, and set off down the glacier. I skirted Namche by devious mountain paths, because I did not particularly want to meet the Indians (they might ask difficult questions about my code message) and I camped the next evening in a village in the enchanting valley of the Dudh Kosi.

It was 1st June, and as I went to sleep I wondered with some anxiety whether my dispatch was indeed winging its way to Katmandu and London; whether the Indians had accepted it, or whether my only link with Printing House Square was my other lonely runner making his way over the mountains to the capital.

I slept like a log, and awoke next morning to learn that miraculously my wild ambitions had been achieved. On the very eve of her Coronation, my radio told me, the Queen had been told of Everest's conquest. The Times had printed the news in that morning's editions, the vast Coronation crowds waiting in London's rain had been told in the dark of the night, the world was rejoicing with us; all was well.

I leapt out of bed in my tattered old shirt and holed socks, bearded and filthy, and shouted to my Sherpas, peering owlishly from the upper windows of a neighbouring house, "Chomolungma finished!' I shouted. 'Everest done with! All O.K.!'

'O.K., Sahib', the Sherpas shouted back. 'Breakfast now?'

What a wonderful adventure it was! Enough to stir a man's heart for a lifetime!



⇑ Top



L. G. C. E. PUGH


Toughness as a cult has no place in the ascent of a really high mountain: conditions are sufficiently difficult even when everything is made as easy as possible. In climbing a really high mountain like Everest, meticulous care is required in design and planning of all the equipment. This was achieved under Colonel Hunt. On the whole the equipment was very successful; there was no significant frost-bite, and hardship was reduced to a minimum.

This was achieved largely because the 1953 expedition had much more effective scientific help than any previous expedition to Everest. Since the 1938 British expedition the applied sciences that deal with problems of the kind met in climbing high mountains have advanced enormously and they are better co-ordinated, so that nowadays knowledge from many sources can be quickly and effectively brought to bear. The Medical Research Council, the Ministry of Supply, the War Office, the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farn- borough, and many firms in industry helped in the preparation of the expedition, in fact the enterprise was, in every respect, a national effort. Moreover, we had a training expedition to Cho Oyu in '52 on which the scientific problems were studied on the spot.

Scientifically speaking there were three main problems affecting the climbers in their great undertaking: oxygen lack, cold, and nutrition. I will deal with the protective equipment against cold in this, the first of my talks, and I propose to divide it into two parts. First I'll speak about the enormous range of climatic conditions with which an Everest expedition has to cope, and then go on to explain how the difficulties were met.

Himalayan expeditions have to pass through an astonishing range of conditions . . . from tropical heat, with shade temperatures in the 9o's, to arctic cold, with night temperatures of zero F. We had no data from previous expeditions about temperatures above 24,000 feet, but it was thought that at 23,000 feet, temperatures down to minus 40° F. might be expected, though the fact that past expeditions didn't suffer more severely from cold than they did suggested that, in the fortnight before the monsoon, the weather at the high camps on Everest might be somewhat warmer. All the same, a good expedition must be equipped to compete, not just with average conditions, but with extremes. Otherwise, if anything goes wrong, there'll be casualties from frost-bite, if not worse.

  1. Broadcast on B.B.C. Science Survey, autumn, 1953. By permission of the Medical Research Council.

Another feature of the Everest climate is the wide fluctuation in temperature. At midday the sun is only twelve degrees from the vertical, the thin air absorbs less of its radiation than at sea-level. Measurements on Cho Oyu showed that at 20,000 feet the sun temperature was 165° F., while the shade temperature was near freezing-point. Because of the high radiation the temperature in an ordinary tent rises to over 85° within an hour of sunrise. A man climbing in the sun may receive as much heat from the sun as his body is producing, but if the sun clouds over, or if he enters the shade, this source of heat is and he cut off, is immediately exposed to intense cold. Smythe recognized this in 1935 and expressed the opinion that Everest couldn't be climbed in the shade.

These wide variations in conditions, as well as in the bodily heat production, according to the rate of climbing, demand clothing that can be readily adjusted. Sweating wets the clothing and spoils the insulation. It may also cause a drain on the fluid and salt reserves of the body. Another effect of the high radiation is that it melts the snow even as high as 25,000 feet, so, if boots are not waterproof, they become sodden with moisture. Wet boots provide little protection from cold, and they freeze solid during the night so that they cannot be put on in the morning.

Temperature, however, is only one of the factors that has to be taken into account in planning equipment for Everest. Wind is another. Balloon data from Indian hill stations indicated that winds up to 100 m.p.h. were to be expected on the South Col and above. It would, of course, be impossible to climb in such a wind and climbers would have to wait in camp for conditions to improve.

As a result of techniques developed during the war it is now possible to work out the amount of insulation that must be provided by clothing and sleeping equipment for any given climatic conditions. The unit of insulation in general use is the CLO. One CLO is defined as the insulation needed to keep a man in a state of thermal balance when he is sitting in a room at 70°, with 50 per cent, humidity. To carry out ordinary minor activities under arctic conditions a man needs 4 CLO: for sleeping at least 10 GLO. We hadn't time actually to measure the insulation of clothing for Everest, but experience of arctic clothing based on these principles was a sufficient guide for practical purposes.

Above 20,000 feet the question of weight becomes extremely important, since the success or failure of the expedition depends on getting enough equipment up to stock the high camps with the bare necessities. If protective equipment is too heavy, you can be sure that the mountaineers will leave half of it behind and so endanger their safety. At high altitudes man's physical strength deteriorates rapidly and it is essential to provide the maximum comfort that physical conditions allow so as to conserve strength and allow of as much rest as possible. As far back as 1924 Norton emphasized this need for comfort in the high camps on Everest.

Such then were the conditions governing the design of the equipment for Everest. I'll now try to describe some of the individual items.

Let us take clothing first.

The clothes, boots, and gloves of a typical arctic assembly weigh about 23 lb.; for Everest this was reduced to 17 lb. The outer wind- proof smock and trousers were made of the same cotton-nylon fabric as the tents, chosen, after laboratory tests, for its wind-proof and tear-resisting qualities. The main function of these garments is protection against wind-chill. Special attention was given to the way they fitted because tight wind-proofs impede movement and spoil the insulation of the undergarments. The suits had nylon linings to make them slippery and easy to put on.

Protection against cold was provided by down jackets and trousers. This down clothing is now widely used in the Alps having come into fashion just before the war. Down clothing is much lighter than other types of protective garments, but it has the disadvantage that the down loses its insulation where it is compressed, as in sitting down. In addition to these suits we had loose-fitting pyjama-like pants, string vests, and three sweaters.

Special boots were designed for use above 20,000 feet. Here lightness, impermiability to wetting, and warmth were required. It has been found experimentally that as far as energy expenditure is concerned 1 lb. carried on the feet is equivalent to 4 lb. carried on the back. Wetting comes not only from the melting snow outside, but from foot perspiration inside. So both the inner and outer layers of the bottoms were waterproofed to keep the insulating middle layer dry, thus preserving the insulation and preventing them freezing hard.

Conventional arctic boots have relatively thin uppers and a very thick sole. But this tends to impede movement as you cannot feel the ground properly. The Everest high-altitude boots had kapok filled uppers nearly an inch thick and relatively thin soles. The soles were shod with microcellular rubber. This has three times the insulation, and half the weight for a given thickness, compared with the hard rubber of an ordinary mountaineering boot. Wearing these boots one's socks do become damp with moisture given off from the feet, but there's no discomfort and the skin doesn't become sodden. Above all the boots mustn't be too tight. . . many cases of frost-bite are due to tight boots.

Other items of clothing such as gloves and goggles are important too, but I must turn now to tents and sleeping equipment.

For messing purposes up to Camp IV (i.e. 21,200 feet) we had a large arctic tent designed for the Army. For sleeping we had several types of tent including Swiss and American patterns, but undoubtedly the best was the two-man Meade tent. (Meade, by the way, has been a famous Himalayan explorer.) It has A-shaped poles at each end and can be put up very quickly, even in a high wind. Such a tent with the normal single entrance is much too hot in the daytime for Himalayan conditions, so to increase ventilation ours had large sleeve entrances at both ends. This sleeve entrance, tightly fastened at the neck, is the best way of keeping out snow in a snowstorm. An important feature of all tents was the sewn-in ground-sheet which is, of course, waterproof. In spite of their weight, 15 lb., the Meades were taken for the two highest camps. We had some lighter ones but they proved to be too small to be acceptable.

And now to the last item of equipment about which I can speak this time . . . sleeping-bags and inflatable mats. For the Himalayas double bags are essential because of the range in temperature conditions. In all about 9 lb. of down are needed to provide enough insulation, and the bags must be long enough to pull over the head. Also they must be wide enough to allow one to turn over in, and lined with a slippery material, such as nylon, so as to make this easy. At high altitudes turning over in bed is an effort and makes one breathless.

What I said about the importance of saving weight is very well illustrated here. The climbers thought their bags too heavy, and as a result they left the inner component of these behind when they went up to the South Col. They all suffered severely from cold.

As with the down suits, these sleeping-bags are compressed where the climber's body presses on them, so it is necessary to provide some additional insulation between the bag and the ground. This was done by using inflatable sleeping-mats of a design evolved during the war. They were like ordinary rubber camp mattresses, but had a double layer of tubes to increase the insulation. The tubes were constricted at the ends to provide a buffering effect which stopped one bouncing when turning over. These mats made a great contribution to comfort and were as pleasant as one's own bed at home. Bellows were provided to inflate them, in order to prevent cross- infection with cold germs from the Sherpas, who otherwise blow them up for the climbers with their mouths. The bellows were very popular with the Sherpas who are quick to accept an innovation if it is good, and all of them disappeared mysteriously when we got back to Katmandu.

So much then for equipment. I hope I've said enough to illustrate the meticulous care with which it was designed. It was a success, but if we were in the future doing it again there 5s no doubt we could improve it still more.


One of the main problems facing mountaineers on Everest has always been high-altitude deterioration. This going-to-pieces starts at altitudes above 20,000 feet, and comes on more quickly and more readily the higher you ascend. The symptoms are increasing lassitude, incomplete recovery from fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of body weight, and eventually decreased performance. Men can stay four to five weeks at 20,000 feet, but only ten days at 24,000 feet, and three or four above 26,000. It was accepted as long ago as 1933 that the time spent on Everest above 23,000 feet must be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, up to 18,000 feet, given time, men can become completely acclimatized.

Now physiologists had long suspected that an important factor in high-altitude deterioration might be insufficient food and fluid. In 1935 Ship ton brought back some records of food intake on the expedition of that year, according to which the calorie intake above 17,500 feet was only 2,000, and above 21,000 feet as little as 1,500. This amount of food was far too small to balance the daily expenditure of energy and it is not surprising that members of the party lost between 11 to 2 stones in weight. No records of fluid intake were available, but it is certain that the requirement was large, because of the increased loss of moisture from the lungs at high altitude due to the dryness of the air and the large volume that has to be breathed.

On Cho Oyu in 1952 we made a careful study of the problem of nutrition at the various stages of the expedition.

Cho Oyu was a fairly typical post-war British expedition. We lived largely off the land, supplementing our diet from bulk stores of tea, sugar, jam, biscuits, chocolate, milk-powder, and so on. The locally available foods were rice, potatoes, lentils, coarse stone- ground wheat-flour called atta, which is made into a sort of pancake called a chupatty, and a coarse meal made of roasted barley called tsampa. Climbers usually take this in their tea. A very limited amount of chicken and fresh meat was available, and we usually had one or two small eggs each for breakfast.

During the three weeks approach march, our main meals were breakfast and supper. Breakfast was a European type of meal with cereal, eggs and bacon, jam, butter, biscuits, or chupatties. Supper consisted of huge platefuls of rice or potatoes and a little curried meat or chicken. On the march we ate chocolates and sweets. Our fluid intake consisted almost exclusively of hot drinks . . . chiefly tea . . . and amounted often to nearly a gallon a day.

Above 18,000 feet our appetites fell off remarkably; we hadn't sufficient pressure-cookers; adequate cooking was difficult because water boils at reduced temperature at high altitude. The butter ran out. The kitbag containing all the tea was stolen. Owing to difficulties in distributing and sorting the bulk stores, parties sometimes had little to eat but potatoes.

Under these conditions, food intake fell off from about 4,300 calories per day on the march to 3,000 above 18,000 feet. A large proportion of our food was taken in drinks in the form of sugar, and sugar intake averaged 12 ounces per man per day ... a week's ration at home. Some climbers developed a craving for particular foods that were not available, such as tinned salmon and pineapple. This feature had often been noted before on Everest, for example Smythe wanted frankfurters and sauerkraut, Somerville's favourite food was strawberry jam and condensed milk, and Ship ton had a craving for a dozen eggs.

Between 18,000 and 22,000 feet on Cho Oyu fluid intake was found to be 5 to 7 pints a day and it was fairly obvious that if this intake was to be kept up at the higher camps on Everest, the stoves would have to be improved. Above the snow-line, of course, all fluid has to be obtained by melting snow, and supplies are bound to be inadequate if fuel is short and the stoves are inefficient.

When the information gained on Cho Oyu was reviewed, it seemed that although most climbers eventually get adjusted to the bulky and strange diet, their physical efficiency is probably impaired during the first six weeks of an expedition. It is known in fact that the body takes a considerable time to get adjusted to any radical change of diet.

Also we had experienced cases of chronic bowel disorders which were probably kept going by an unsuitable diet.

At high altitude large amounts of sugar were obviously needed, and something would have to be done to satisfy the climbers' food preferences. Experience has shown that tired men, particularly if they don't feel very well, would rather eat nothing than put up with food they dislike, and if they don't eat, they deteriorate rapidly, quite apart from the effect of altitude.

To ensure adequate fluid supply, really efficient paraffin cookers were needed, and enough fuel would have to be taken up to high camps to give each man nearly a gallon of fluid a day.

In preparing the 1953 expedition, we decided to make a complete break with tradition and take nearly all our food in the form of composite rations like the Army used for supplying landing forces. A composite ration means simply that the complete menu for each day is packed in a single box, so that you open a box a day and have everything you need. The advantages of this system are that you can have European food; and the sorting and making up of loads and the distribution of rations is greatly simplified. Shortages of essential items due to pilfering or over-consumption are avoided and there is less chance of getting diarrhoea from contaminated food.

These advantages are gained at the expense of additional weight and cost. Weight was relatively unimportant up to 18,000 feet, as there were plenty of porters available. The cost (about £1,000 for three months) we felt would be justified if it meant keeping the party fitter than they would otherwise be, and if even a single casualty were avoided. For use at altitudes above 20,000 feet, where economy of weight assumes over-riding importance, we designed a special high- altitude ration which came to be known as the assault ration. The problem of organizing and packing composite rations for three months is one of considerable magnitude and in this respect we received vital help from the Army.

I will tell you briefly of what these rations consisted.

First the general purpose or compo ration. It was packed in weatherproof fibre-board cases in 14-man-day and 28-man-day units. The 14-man-day boxes (weighing 45 lb.) contained an evening meal, a breakfast, and food for the day's climbing. There was a different menu for each day of the week; the boxes were labelled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. There were five kinds of meat as well as salmon, four kinds of vegetables, tinned fruit, cake, jam, butter, chocolate, and other items. All the items in this box were in tins. The 'soft' items like sugar, tea, and milk-powder, were packed separately, in the 28-man-day boxes, so you only had to open one of these every other day.

The assault ration consisted of essential foods like sugar (14 ounces), milk-powder (3 ounces), biscuits, sweets, oatmeal, tea, lemonade powder. The plastic bags containing these items were sealed under a vacuum. This greatly reduced their bulk ... a 7-ounce packet of sugar, vacuum packed, is a hard rectangular object, but once the seal is broken it becomes soft again like any other packet of sugar. To save weight, and because of the extreme cold, no tins were used in the assault ration.

In order to cater for the food idiosyncrasies shown by individuals at very high altitude, before we left we asked each member of the party to select one or more articles he thought he'd like to eat high up. This miscellaneous collection of foodstuffs, which included sardines, French saucissons, and various kinds of tinned fruit, were packed in two boxes and called the luxury boxes.

It was intended that each man, before going high should open his assault ration, discard what he didn't want, and substitute something from the luxury box.

How did we get on with these rations? It was generally admitted that the party was fitter at all stages of the expedition than on Cho Oyu last year, and we lost less weight. . . for example, an average of 2 lb. in the first twenty-six days after reaching Thyangboche, compared with ii lb. in the corresponding period last year. On the average only 4 lb. was lost during the month spent in the Western Cwm, 20,000 feet.

Because of better acclimatization and more palatable food, the party lost much less weight above 20,000 feet than on any previous expedition on which weights were recorded.

We ate normal food right up to Camp IV (21,200 feet), and only used the assault ration for the Lhotse Face and above.

At Base Camp and in cwm the compo was supplemented with fresh food . . . we had sheep and yak meat . . . and the climbers insisted on having potatoes sent up into the cwm (in spite of their weight). Pressure-cookers made it possible to provide normal meals up to Camp IV and above.

As regards the assault ration ... by general agreement seventy of them were modified at Base Camp . . . the pemmican and cereal, both of which were accepted last year, were rejected. The modified ration had an energy value of about 3,000 calories and weighed 2 lb.

Most of it was in fact eaten . . . certainly nearly all the sugar .... The luxuries were very popular: Hillary had sardines and a tin of apricots with him on his assault, but each man seems to have eaten something different. Some food from the Swiss expedition was salvaged on the South Col, and this was all the more welcome because it was unexpected.

The most popular kind of drink was lemonade ... in fact Tensing used to call our expedition 'the lemonade expedition'. Sugar doesn't taste so sweet at great altitude and people would take two or three ounces of sugar in each mug-full. As planned, fluid requirements were on the whole well met, and it is doubtful if men were ever short of the right amount of fluid for more than a day at a time.

Now in conclusion I don't want to give the impression that every Himalayan expedition should take out all its food from England. Undoubtedly experienced Himalayan explorers can and do get used to living off the land. But when a really high mountain is to be climbed I do believe that everything possible should be done to bring the party to the mountain in the best possible condition, and to reduce the terrible effects of the altitude on the human body.


In 1922, the year of the first attempt on Everest, physiologists thought that 25,000 feet would be the limit to which men could climb by their own unaided efforts. Balloon ascents in the 1870's had proved the danger of rapidly ascending to 25,000 feet and over. At 25,000 feet the balloonists lost consciousness and two men in a famous ascent from Paris in 1875 lost their lives having reached 27,000 feet. Although it was well known that mountaineers ascending slowly acquire a remarkable degree of adaptation to altitude, it seemed a fair guess that above 25,000 feet men would not be able to go on climbing.

But the physiologists were wrong. Since 1922 no less than nine men have climbed to 28,000 feet on Everest without the help of oxygen equipment and have returned alive. The reason for their failure to get higher seems to have been a combination of climbing conditions and the effects of oxygen lack.

On top of Everest the pressure and density of the air, of which oxygen forms a fifth, is reduced to a third of what it is at sea-level. The air is so thin and the partial pressure of oxygen so low that it is questionable whether a man could get enough oxygen to supply his muscles during climbing. Low oxygen pressure impairs the functions of the brain, and this would be one of the chief dangers to the climbers, because it produces a condition very like alcoholic intoxication. There is over-confidence, failure to appreciate danger, as well as disturbance of balance and muscular co-ordination. But all these symptoms can be removed by breathing oxygen, and experiments in decompression chambers have shown that on pure oxygen unacclimatized men can do hard physical work as well as they can at sea-level at pressures corresponding to 33,000 feet.

There' are two main reasons why it has taken thirty years to convince mountaineers of the usefulness of oxygen on Everest. First, they were so very keen to get to the top without it. Secondly, the oxygen sets tried on the mountain before the war didn't give really convincing results. Oxygen has in fact been taken on every expedition to Everest except the reconnaissances. Finch first used it in 1922. He found it increased his climbing-rate between 23,000 and 27,000 feet and gave relief of fatigue. In 1924 Odell reported that on the whole he was better without it, but he only used one litre a minute which we now know wasn't enough to be effective. Lloyd in 1938 claimed subjective benefit and improved performance, but Shipton and Tillman were not convinced that he went any better than they did without it. They felt that the weight of the apparatus counterbalanced any improvement gained from the oxygen.

Last year on the expedition to Cho Oyu experimental work was done which suggested that to ensure success much more oxygen would be needed than had been taken before. Everything depended on whether it would prove possible to carry enough cylinders and equipment up to the South Col and the top camp ... in fact, on how many Sherpas could be found to carry it up.

The work on Cho Oyu helped Dr. John Cotes to modify the design of the oxygen masks so as to handle very large volumes of respiration without undue resistance to breathing. It was this resistance to breathing that caused Finch to abandon his mask in 1922 in favour of a simple tube held between the teeth and a reservoir bag—this has since been found experimentally to be a relatively inefficient method.

Although we didn't notice much improvement in our climbing- rate at 20,000 feet on Cho Oyu, there was a striking relief of breathlessness and of the sensation of heaviness in the legs which is -characteristic of climbing at high altitude. -We thought that, given enough oxygen, men should be able to do a longer day with less fatigue at the higher altitudes, and would remain in better physical condition. We also estimated that the mere elimination of the need to rest every few paces to recover breath would double the rate of progress above 27,000 feet.

After the Cho Oyu expedition the Everest committee appointed as oxygen comptroller Peter Lloyd, who had used oxygen on Everest in 1938 (and as oxygen officer for the 1953 expedition, Tom Bourdillon). At the committee's request a group of experts was brought together by the M.R.C., under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Matthews, to consider the amount of oxygen needed and the most suitable kind of apparatus to use. Two types of equipment were considered, one based on the open-circuit and the other on the -closed-circuit principle.

With an open-circuit apparatus, you breathe in a mixture of air and oxygen, and breath out to the atmosphere. But only a small fraction of the oxygen taken into the lungs is used: nine-tenths of it is breathed out again and wasted. The effect of breathing oxygen- enriched air is, as it were, to reduce the height at which the mountaineer is climbing. However, with open-circuit sets, not enough oxygen can be provided to bring a man down to sea-level; for example, breathing at 100 litres a minute at 28,000 feet, 4 litres a minute of added oxygen brings a man down to 15,000 feet. On the other hand, with a closed-circuit set you breathe pure oxygen at the prevailing barometric pressure, and this means that even above 30,000 feet you get enough to bring you right down to sea-level. In a closed-circuit set there -is no communication with the outside atmosphere, and oxygen is breathed in and out over and over again. The carbon dioxide given off by the lungs in breathing is absorbed with soda lime, and fresh oxygen is admitted to the system at the rate at which it is absorbed. Although with the closed circuit the amount of oxygen used is halved, there is no saving in weight because instead of the oxygen saved a 10-lb. cannister of soda lime has to be carried to absorb the carbon dioxide.

Besides bringing a man down to sea-level as it were, closed- circuit sets have the advantage of conserving the heat loss from the lungs. It can be calculated that at 29,000 feet about half the total heat produced by the body is given off via the lungs in warming and humidifying the intensely cold dry air inhaled, so that the conservation of body heat becomes a difficult problem.

Open-circuit apparatus has been fairly well tested on Everest; it is simple and reliable to operate. Closed-circuit apparatus is much more complicated and has many practical snags. While closed- circuit sets have been in use for many years for mine rescue and fire fighting no existing set could handle the volume of respiration of men climbing at altitude, nor are they built to supply oxygen over long periods. It was clear then that entirely new sets would have to be developed for Everest and it was doubtful if they could be made reliable enough in the time available. This being so, it was decided to concentrate mainly on the well-tried open-circuit principle and take some closed circuit sets for trial.

I'll now try and tell you something of the experience of the party on Everest in the use of oxygen this year.

Sixty light alloy and a hundred R.A.F. cylinders containing in all nearly 200,000 litres of oxygen were taken out compared with 28,000 litres in 1922, and 30,000 litres taken by the Swiss in their expedition to Everest last autumn.

The open-circuit sets weighed about 30 lb. with two cylinders of oxygen each holding 800 litres. This would give a man a 6f-hour supply at 4 litres per minute.

The closed-circuit sets weighed 35 lb. with one oxygen cylinder and a 10 lb. soda-lime cannister. On arriving at our base we found that 18 cylinders had leaked leaving about 150,000 litres of oxygen, most of which was used; ... in fact all but six cylinders. About one- third of the oxygen was used for training and a small amount for experimental purposes.

The European party used oxygen above 22,000 feet for climbing and where possible for sleeping. Much of the work preparing the route on the Lhotse Face was, however, done without oxygen. During the assault phase there is no doubt oxygen was of immense value in preventing high-altitude deterioration. Men recovered from fatigue in a way not possible without it. Including the sets, climbers carried 50-lb. loads up to 28,000 feet—whereas previously 15 lb. was considered the limit. For the most part the Sherpa porters didn't have oxygen on the way up to the col and they didn't have any for sleeping. Only two of them were still fit enough to carry loads above the col.

The party found that below 22,000 feet oxygen had little effect on climbing-rate but above that height the improvement became increasingly apparent so that the rate of climbing above the col was two or more times that of Lambert and Tensing in 1952. In part this was due to the fact that climbers were able to keep going at a steady pace, instead of having to stop every few paces to recover their breath.

All the party reported a striking improvement in well-being and increased energy. They were able once more to take an interest in their surroundings and enjoy climbing. This in itself seems a good reason for taking oxygen.

The sudden cutting off of oxygen during climbing caused breath- lessness and weakness. If the supply failed gradually, however, people were apt not to notice that something was wrong, and this in itself is a characteristic effect of oxygen lack. As long as they rested and recovered their breath before removing their masks, they had no symptoms on going off oxygen, except in certain cases using closed circuit. At night oxygen induced sleep and warmth and the climbers were wonderfully refreshed by it.

The first assault was done with closed-circuit sets. Bourdillon and Evans climbed from the South Col (25,000 feet) to the South Summit at 28,700 feet and back in a day. On the first part of the route, they climbed at the rate of 900 feet an hour. This, considering the loads and the ground, approaches alpine speed. Over the last 700 feet Evans, however, had trouble with his set.

The second assault was done with open-circuit sets, Hillary and Tensing going from the top camp at nearly 28,000 feet to the top and back to the col. On the first part of the route they climbed at 400 feet an hour, but this should not be compared with the closed- circuit performance as they were using steps cut by the support party, nor with Lambert and Tensing's rate of 230 feet (last year without oxygen). They had some trouble with the formation of ice in the masks, but Hillary had no difficulty in correcting this. Hillary has described how he removed his oxygen mask on the summit and was able to set the shutter speeds of his camera and take photographs. But after ten minutes he noticed he was fumbling and getting fuddled, so he put his mask on again.

What would have happened if he had not restored his oxygen supply we just don't know. Be that as it may, it is clear that oxygen played a vital part in the final ascent and confirmed the conviction of G. I. Finch and the other climbers who pioneered its use over thirty years ago.



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ON 17th April 1953 we of the tail of British Everest Expedition reached Thyangboche and I was thankful to hand over the oxygen loads. I now had about six weeks to roam, explore, and climb as the spirit might move me. But first I visited the leader and others at Camp I. I went up there in a holiday mood, persuading myself of the advantages of for once being at the foot of a high mountain without any obligation of having to try and climb it. Later, when the time came to take leave of this grand party and to turn my back on such great events as were brewing, these advantages seemed less obvious.

Back in Thyangboche plans had to be finalized and my own followers organized. During the long months of anticipation in Malaya it had been amusing to pore over the map and trace imaginary routes. But the quite sizeable 1951 and 1952 Ship ton expeditions, operating for the most part in a number of small mobile parties, followed by the 1953 training sorties, had in fact left few obvious plums for the picking in the immediate area of Namche- Thyangboche, or to the west and east, and I had arrived with a very open mind. Here expert advice had been available. Charles Evans recommended an attempt on Pethangtse, which but for bad weather might have been climbed in 1952. However, I felt disinclined to commit an untried party to a longish and uninhabited approach involving the crossing of three high passes, and it was in the end Tom Bourdillon who gave me the clue to my final plan.

Eric Ship ton's explorations in 1951 had shown that the Imja glacier system was, to the south, considerably less extensive than that indicated on the current map. The basin of the upper Hongu did not, however, account for the whole of this lost territory and it was evident that there must be to the east of Kantega and the other grand peaks which overhang Thyangboche a vast glacier cirque which might drain into the lower Hongu or, and more likely, form the head basin of the Inukhu. This river runs down parallel to and east of the Dudh Kosi and was shown on the map as rising from comparatively confined and unlikely sources. One of my local Sherpas, Dhanu, who came from Chaunrikharka, one march below Namche, said he knew of a yak pasture surrounded by fine peaks two days' walk over a high ridge above his home, and this could only be in the Inukhu. This then was the plan, to penetrate the hidden basin and if possible to attempt Kantega from the east.

I had few illusions regarding the strength of our party. There had been a heavy run on Darjeeling Sherpas in 1953 and I had in the end obtained only one. This, however, was a man of character and sterling worth, Sen Tensing, the 'Foreign Sportsman' of Himalayan literature. My own name for him is the 'Snowman', as he is an expert on the species and has an ambling bearlike gait. The best local Sherpas had already been engaged for the ice-fall, but in any case the matter of selection was taken out of my hands, for S. T. comes from Phorcha village, which looks on Namche as a sink of vice, sin, and iniquity, and only men of Phorcha would do. Thus four men, friends and relations, were selected and I added, despite protests, Dhanu who had carried my load to Camp I, making a total of five porters. This number I found satisfactory for five weeks' self-contained travel, given some relaying of loads and rerationing at villages within two or three days' distance of our bases. In addition, besides S. T., there was a Gurkha Rifleman from my regiment, Dimansing Rai.


Imja-Inukhu-Hongu. 1924-1926 Survey

Before embarking on the Inukhu-Hongu exploration we went up the Lumding Khola, which flows into the Dush Kosi some 12 miles below Namche. From the confluence the valley runs up sharply north-west, but the way in is over a 14,200-foot pass from ghat (8,800 feet) in the Dudh Kosi. This is a yak route later in the year and from Ghat to the Lumding pasture at 13,000 feet is one long day. The pass was well snowed up during our visit and as the last 100 feet were up a narrow crumbling rock funnel, I could feel nothing but admiration for the slim and athletic yaks which must run this route. During the days we spent up the Lumding the weather was thoroughly bad, thick mist, rain, and snow showers after 8.30 a.m. every day and no clearance in the evenings. Nor did the peaks reveal themselves easily, for a feature of the valley is a 2,ooo-foot rock step at the i4,ooo-foot level, giving the first impression that it is the valley head, while in fact the whole glacier system is dammed in above the step. The peak that I was after, Numbur, 22,817 feet, I did not consider climbable from the Lumding, even by a strong party.







Owing to the weather all this took some time to find out and when we left for the Inukhu on 9th May we were already twelve days out of Thyangboche with nothing to show for it. This march was a short one, to a camp above Chaunrikharka. The next was steep and weary, up through the mists and dripping pine trees towards our pass. I stumped ahead and the army dragged behind, talking volubly. About half-way, everyone sat down as if for ever and S. T. produced a jack-knife and embarked on a tedious and rather horrid operation on his horny feet. This drove me up into the mists and sufficiently far ahead to disregard the thin shouts about camp sites which drifted up from below. By these means we reached the edge of the scrub line at about 13,500 feet and camped at the early hour of 1 p.m. in a wetting rain which later turned to snow.

The 11 th of May was a long and varied day, with all the interest of a descent into new country, despite an average visibility of 500 yards. An adequate path climbed over two cols of about 15,500 feet, separated by a half-mile dip, and descended to the Inukhu at 11,500 feet. I was happy to find this was a sizeable river, about equal to the Dudh Kosi and it evidently drained a large area. We proceeded up the west bank and camped as it grew dark at the first huts of the Lungsama yak pasture at 13,200 feet. The huts were deserted but the homely scent of yak was in the air.

The next morning was brilliantly fine and I set off by myself at dawn to get an idea of the lie of the land. My diary notes ‘Map all to hell', but one cannot both blame the map-makers and claim the satisfaction of penetrating to all intents unmapped country. I began by climbing up the hill-side immediately to the west of camp, but soon realized that the main attractions lay much farther up the valley and the camp, as a base, was much too low. So I sloped down to the valley floor and about 2 miles and 1,000 feet higher up the was here, having been earlier dispatched in search of milk, and I sent him back to bring up the rest of the retainers while I continued my own walk another 1,000 feet, above a step in the valley and to the edge of a flat glacier plain.

The initial key to the topographical problem to the east appeared to lie in the actual position of Mera Kharka (or grazing pasture) shown on the map as in a tributary of the Inukhu itself, and of the 21,120-foot peak of Mera. Local advice indicated a glacier pass to the east of the valley head leading to Mera Kharka in two days, and as this was said to be the easiest approach to Mera Kharka from Lungsama, used by animals later in the year, it was reasonable to suppose that both Lungsama and Mera Kharka did not lie in the same (Inukhu) valley system.

A day or two later the Snowman and I reached this technically easy i8,ooo-foot glacier pass and proved this rather obvious point. We looked immediately across to the 24,000-foot bulk of Chamlang and into the unseen depths between our pass and Chamlang, where only the Hongu could flow. After all the days of damp and drizzle it was exhilarating to be at last in the heart of the snows and unexplored country on a clear, crisp morning and I cared not that our ascent had merely broken a trail for a horde of yaks later in the season. And Mera itself was definitely climbable from the pass.

Before returning to this region we devoted a few days to exploring the northern portion of the Inukhu glacier basin. On 16th May the two of us reached the Thilibu La', about 19,500 feet, and looked directly down the small valley of that name, between Thyangboche, which was just out of sight, and the Mingbo valley to the north. It had been my thought to finish our travels, having connected up with Shipton's tracks in the Hongu, with a direct descent almost onto the roofs of the monastery from the Inukhu. But this was not to be. On the east there are two or more cols, and easy on that side, but those western precipices down which we looked were not for the Snowman and myself and nor, I think, for any other party.

Now, having explored the hidden basin of the Inukhu, which had in the end revealed its secrets all too easily, we turned to the Hongu. Two of the men were sent back to Thyangboche by the Chaunri- kharka route with surplus kit and on 19th May the rest of us, six in all, crossed the Mera La and camped at 17,500 feet on moraine just below the pass. On 20th May S. T. and I attempted Mera from this camp. Mera, no mean peak when viewed from a distance, is an indeterminate, rambling sort of mountain when one is climbing it and the horizontal distance to be covered was considerable. However, there were no real technical difficulties apart from soft snow (it had snowed all night) and a mass of false summits, and we reached the top in six hours as the weather was beginning to close down. The summit ridge, running from west to east, consists of three or four large bumps and we chose the eastern one. To our west a semi-detached wave of ice hanging over the southern precipices may have been about 100 feet higher. These precipices were considerable and Mera from the south must be a very impressive mountain. To the north Everest and Makalu ruled the horizon.

Inukhu-Hongu 1953

Inukhu-Hongu 1953

We moved camp right down to the Hongu the same evening and the next day I descended another 2 miles to Mera Kharka, still deserted, an idyllic spot backed by some attractive- I9~20,ooo-foot peaks. Two days later found us camped by the glacier lake at the head of the Hongu, at the foot of the Amphu Lapcha pass, used both in 1951 and 1952, but not yet traversed from the south. On the way up I noted the pass used by Ship ton when he left the Hongu in 1951, immediately to the south of Ama Dablam and the pass, farther to the south again, reached by Evans's party from Mingbo earlier in 1953. Both appear easy from the Hongu, but the far side of Ship ton's pass is difficult and Evans's pass may be the best approach to the Hongu from the Imja system. He called it the 'Mera La' but I feel this name is best retained for the Inukhu-Hongu col crossed by our party.

We were now almost at the end of our travels, but despite magnificent weather I could not that afternoon suppress some slight anxiety regarding the outcome of the morrow. In recent years three strong parties had crossed into the Hongu from the Imja and much later in the season, and all had remarked on the difficulty of the route on both sides with laden porters. Evans had, while discussing Peth- angtse, recommended his 'Mera La’ as an alternative approach to the Hongu, as he had seen the Amphu Lapcha earlier in the year and it still appeared heavily iced up.

However, taking the line of least resistance and unroped we reached the crest of the 20,ooo-foot ridge above the lake at 10.15 a.m. and saw the cairns marking the true Amphu Lapcha at least half a mile away along the ridge to the west. The direct descent from our own col looked most unpromising so I dumped my load and embarked on a traverse of the intervening ridge. I soon realized that this would not go with loads and at the same time a closer inspection of the north side of the slopes of the Amphu Lapcha itself did not encourage a descent to the Hongu and a re-ascent of the ridge at that point the following day, although we still had food enough for this course.

I was beginning to feel slightly trapped but my travels had brought me to a large and firm splinter of rock on the ridge and from here a very steep snow slope led to a small shoulder of rock and scree 500 feet below. The shoulder formed a gully against the snow and ice face of the Imja retaining wall and this gully, once attained, was obviously negotiable.

The snow was good. The route lay along a gradual traverse, so loads could not be lowered. We had 400 feet of assorted nylon rope and line and securely lashed to the rock splinter I safeguarded the men down one at a time. None of them had had any previous experience of* this sort of ground, but they all went down without a murmur. Dimansing, especially, was magnificent. The length of the 400-foot joined rope enabled S. T. to reach a firm position from which to safeguard my own descent, and on the shoulder we roped into two parties and continued down the gully without incident. The whole descent to glacier level took four hours. We reached the Chukung yak pasture in the Imja in heavy mist and rain as it grew dark that evening and went on down to Thyangboche the next day.

I. Nuptse-Lhotse Wall in foreground, Everest in background. Looking eastward at Everest

I. Nuptse-Lhotse Wall in foreground, Everest in background. Looking eastward at Everest

II. North Peak, North col, North face, South-west Face, South Col

II. North Peak, North col, North face, South-west Face, South Col

III. Lhotse I and II - South Col left

III. Lhotse I and II - South Col left



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Twenty years ago, the flight by two Westland aircraft over Everest was a creditable achievement worthy of the best traditions of human enterprise and adventure. Aviation was still in its infancy, and the numerous problems that confronted the organizers required thorough scientific investigation and research. The success of these flights undoubtedly achieved their main object which was 'the desire to increase the sum of human knowledge of Nature's greatest mountain stronghold'. The photographic record proved the efficacy of aerial survey from great heights in remote and inaccessible region^.

The Indian Air Force, in planning a flight over Everest at the greatly advanced stage at which aviation is today, set itself a comparatively easy task. The four-engined, piston-driven Liberator, fully fitted with an oxygen supply system, was capable of exceeding the height of Everest by a safe margin, but required careful handling of the controls, which incline towards sluggishness in the rarified atmosphere. The object, stimulated by the interest focused on the British Expedition's bid for the summit, was very similar to that of the 1933 Houston flights. The original intention—that of synchronizing the aerial photography of the Everest massif with the final assault by the British Expedition—was dropped in the interest of the safety of the climbers, who might well have been disturbed in their arduous task.

On the 2nd June the great news of the ascent of Everest was announced. It was the signal for the aircraft, which had been carrying out intensive trials, to stand by in readiness to start operations.

On the 6th June, eight days after the ascent, and after it was confirmed that the climbers were clear of the mountain, our Liberator aircraft took off at 0800 hours headed northwards on a steady climb. The captain of the aircraft was Flight-Lieutenant A. E. Paul supported by four aircraft. Two officers operated the still cameras, and two others including myself took cine shots in colour. The plains of Bihar, baked by the intense summer heat, were shrouded by a thick dust haze. It was a relief to climb above temperatures of 1140 F. into the cleaner and cooler upper atmosphere. Very soon the cold began to worry us, and when the altimeter registered 15,000 feet we received orders from the captain through the inter-communication to put on our electrically heated suits and to don our oxygen masks. We were still over the plains, a hundred miles away, when gigantic white towers suddenly loomed through the limpid higher atmosphere into view. Instantly I recognized the Kangchenjunga massif to the extreme right, and Makula slightly right of the Everest group straight ahead. The foothills were obscured by a layer of strato- cumulus clouds and it was disappointing to be denied a view of the approach to Everest through the lovely valleys of Nepal.

After about an hour and a quarter, having gained a height of 32,000 feet, we found ourselves awed spectators of Everest, profoundly impressed by the magnitude and beauty of her form. It was late in the season and the monsoon was expected to break at any moment. We were, therefore, not optimistic about views. When we arrived, however, not a wisp of cloud shielded the entire massif, and it appeared as if Everest stood posed for the photographer. For over an hour we circled south of the peak over Nepal, and 'shot' the region with the aid of four cameras, capturing every possible aspect and detail of the mountain. Ports were provided on the starboard side of the fuselage to enable the camera lenses to be properly aimed. The cold draught at — 270 C. that entered these ports added greatiy to the difficulties of handling the cameras, and although these were provided with electrically heated covers, there were stoppages wrhich made a second sortie the following day necessary.

It was perhaps unusual luck to be blessed with two splendid days in succession and to find Everest in supreme repose during a somewhat prolonged pre-monsoon lull. The complete absence of the famed Everest 'plume' led us to believe that very calm wind conditions prevailed. At no time did the aircraft experience any 'bumps’, indicating absence of turbulence, which very nearly brought one of the Houston flight planes to grief in 1933. In such favourable conditions good photographic results were to be expected and it was a great thrill to observe our efforts yield excellent results. Our photographs greeted the victorious Everest Expedition when they returned to New Delhi and their appreciation was a source of deep satisfaction to us. It was interesting to hear that they had had a glimpse of us through the clouds from the Thyangboche Monastery, but had not for a moment suspected the mission of the strange aircraft!

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